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.
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