All-Star Break Deep Breath Time In Majors


Just got done watching the Yankees thump the Red Sox for the third time this weekend on ESPN Sunday night, with ex-Boston manager Terry Francona working the booth. Given the Red Sox injury problems I couldn’t help but wonder if Francona might actually be relieved he is doing TV instead.

It’s all Bobby Valentine’s problem now and if you don’t think the .500 Red Sox (43-43) have problems, then why do they have guys wearing numbers like 77 and 66 in their lineup against their bitter rivals? Those are the kinds of numbers that get passed out in cattle-call tryouts. Or if Wayne Gretzky is playing for you.

As if the Red Sox didn’t have enough problems, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez lasted one at-bat before leaving the game with illness. If ever a team needed a break, for the All-Star game Tuesday night, or any other reason, it’s the Red Sox.

In the crowded American League East, once again New York is showing its superiority. Who would have thought the Yankees could lose closer Mariano Rivera, a definite Hall-of-Famer, and not miss him? Hats off to the New Yorkers and Rafael Soriano, who has 20 saves.

We may be just past the halfway mark in the schedule, but there are assuredly winners and losers at this point–and teams at either extreme might not be crushed if the season ended today instead of resuming later in the week. Chicago Cubs fans are as loyal as ever and the Cubs are probably the worst team in baseball.

Teams that are happy as clams likely include the Washington Nationals, who were expected to be improved this season, but are leading the National League East. If the Nationals qualify for a playoff game they may end up with the first post-season game in D.C. since FDR was president in 1933.

Also happy chappies are the Chicago White Sox, which did not figure to be leading the American League Central, but which are, partially due to the performance of eight rookie pitchers. That makes no sense, but it is working in the Windy City.

The Orioles have been also-rans since Jim Palmer started shaving, but after a swift start are still hanging in there and threatening for a winning record and playoff berth. The Texas Rangers will not count 2012 as a success unless they win the World Series after getting into the championship round and losing two years in a row. Right now Josh Hamilton is looking like the AL MVP and the Rangers are pulling all the right strings, so they might do it.

After a snail-like start the Los Angeles Angels are taking a run at the Rangers. The surprise is that rookie Mike Trout is leading the way, not Albert Pujols, otherwise known as the Most Expensive Player on the Planet. Pujols’ conversion to the American League began as if he was running in chocolate pudding, but he has jump-started his bat. If Pujols puts together one of his scorching streaks in the second half LA could lasso the Rangers, though the odds are better they will catch up to them in the playoffs, if they do.

The Dodgers seemed as if they would be the Left Coast team of the year in April, but after Matt Kemp got hurt the National League LA team came back to earth. Now Kemp is returning and the Dodgers hope their mojo does, too.

At times the Cincinnati Reds play well enough to make everyone think they will run away with the NL Central, but then they take a walkabout. So at the All-Star break who is leading that division? The Pittsburgh Pirates are this year’s feel-good team. The Pirates have had lights-out pitching all season (thanks to Joel Hanrahan, James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, among others), but only recently added hitting to their arsenal. After a record 19 straight losing seasons, Pittsburgh is not only bucking for an above .500-season, but a playoff spot and division title, as well. Andrew McCutchen could become the most popular player in Pittsburgh since Roberto Clemente if he keeps up his extraordinary swinging.

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx has been a well-known phenomenon for years, but lately the magazine’s bad news impact has spread. As soon as SI did an inside feature on Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton he was injured and went on the disabled list. In theory he will be back by September.

Meanwhile, there have already been five no-hitters this season, including two perfect games. There’s bound to be more to highlight the second half.

What I’m really wondering about is if the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg so he doesn’t throw too many innings coming off Tommy John surgery, will they wilt down the stretch?