Baseball halfway report

Nationals, Pirates most compelling teams so far in 2012

No-hitters, solo and combined, two perfect games, a player hits for the cycle twice in as many weeks – some of the oddities of Major League Baseball as it heads to the All-Star break.

Yet they aren’t as surprising as what’s happened on the team front. Two blinding stories of long-awaited diamond redemption highlight our mid-season tours through the divisions.

NL East – Does 1933 mean anything to you? Aside from the first year of the FDR presidency, it was also the last time the nation’s capital hosted a post-season baseball game. The Washington Nationals, fueled by the scary young talent of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, might end that long, long wait in D.C.

With the once-powerful Phillies floundering amid a torrent of injuries, the Nats have seized control, also exploiting the inconsistency that has kept both Atlanta and Miami from threatening.

Alas, it may be the Mets that are the Nats’ spoilers, with David Wright putting together an MVP campaign and R.A. Dickey baffling one and all with the best knuckler since Phil Niekro.

NL Central –Every baseball fan with a heart wants to see the Pittsburgh Pirates stay in this to the end, or at least end that streak of 19 straight losing seasons.

There’s Andrew McCutchen to do everything, A.J. Burnett to serve the ace role (funny how he did better after leaving the Yankees) and Baldwinsville native Jason Grilli having a career year leading a strong bullpen.

Cincinnati, led again by Joey Votto, stand in the Bucs’ way, and the champs from St. Louis lurk, having played nowhere close to its best baseball yet. Milwaukee found out that life without Prince Fielder is less successful. Houston is taking baby steps, while the Cubs’ 104-year rebuilding project is at least honest about its intentions this time around.

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