Jul 21

Looking At The Pennant Races Heading Into Second Half

By rights the most intriguing storyline of the second half should be the pennant races, as that is the essence of the sport. No matter how hard Major League Baseball tries to screw up the integrity of the regular season schedule, we’re still there watching at the end to see who is left standing.

The New York Mets are one of nine teams at least ten games out of first place in their respective divisions. That puts 21 teams within reach, if you define that reach as the ability to pick up one game a week.

Mathematically, the  “best’’ race is the National League West, where nobody is more than 7.5 games out. Trouble is, three of the five are under .500, including the defending champion Giants. Do you remember when they wanted to get rid of Don Mattingly in Los Angeles? Well, the Dodgers are a mere half-game out.

Another compelling race is the National League Central, where the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are bunched up under a four-game tent. Considering the mediocrity of the rest of the league, all three should qualify, as nobody else is close to becoming a wild-card contender. That would mean the first winning season in Pittsburgh in two decades, or since before Barry Bonds juiced himself out of the Hall of Fame running.

The Washington Nationals, the team supposed to get a pass into the World Series, is floundering and Stephen Strasburg is just 5-7. Not disappointed here, as the arrogance the Nationals showed last year by saving Strasburg under the assumption they will be a playoff fixture might not come to pass.

Once again, that leaves us with the American League East with the most compelling race. Boston, a team given no chance at the start, is in first followed by Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the Yankees, who are some how six games back without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and mediocre years from C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Joe Girardi, to me, is the AL Manager of the Year.

There’s the chance for a compelling race in five of the six divisions. The worst? That would be the NL East.

A lot of things play off the pennant races, including the trade deadline. Every year it is the same, but with each team gearing up for a run there seems another about to unravel and call it a season. The manufactured excitement of the wild card in some cities is often off-set by the resignation summer is over by the first of August in others.

The Phillies are in town this weekend playing the Mets. Take a close look at them as they might break up that group. They are claiming they won’t trade Cliff Lee, but it’s another July and who wouldn’t be surprised to see him check out of one city and into another? It isn’t also hard to see Chase Utley traded.

Minnesota, both Chicago teams, Milwaukee, Miami with the Giancarlo Stanton Watch and perhaps the Angels all could undergo personnel facelifts in early preparation for spring training. The Angels won’t say it, but they’d love to be out from under Albert Pujols‘s contract. Probably the same goes with Josh Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the Mets are saying they won’t be sellers, but we’ve heard that before.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Oct 21

The makings of a great World Series.

Two games in and I have the feeling this could be the makings of a great World Series. Could it be because we have two teams playing and we’re not caught up in a traveling circus of the Red Sox or Yankees?

Even without them playing, the Red Sox are always in the news. The Yankees have been pretty quiet, but there is the underlying assumption – perhaps coming from their fans’ sense of entitlement – CJ Wilson will come running to them.

He’s a No. 2 starter, but being the premier arm on the market he will make his money. However, he won’t be cashing any checks bearing Fred Wilpon’s signature.

If the Rangers go on to win, it could come down to a defensive misplay by by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning when he failed to field a cutoff throw which enabled Elvis Andrus to take to second and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Had Pujols cut off the ball, the Cardinals could be up 2-0.

The first two games have been a study in pitching and fundamentals, and that’s what it takes to win. We should see more scoring when the Series moves to Arlington, where the weather will be warmer.

Close, tense games are only part of what makes a great World Series. There are the compelling story lines of the Rangers trying to win for the first time and the Cardinals attempting to come all the way back from a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25. It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Of course, the definitive great World Series has to go seven games. Really, outside of the 69 Mets, whose rise was one of the great baseball stories of the ages, there aren’t many Series considered great that run short.

Football season is in full swing, but I’m not ready to let go of the summer. Here’s hoping this one goes seven.