Summer Arrives With Surprises In Major League Baseball
AL East: Entering play June 8, the Yankees – winners of seven straight AL East titles – are slipping into oblivion. The O’s, on the other hand, are flying high (pun intended). Surprising pitching by Bruce Chen, Daniel Cabrera and BJ Ryan have Lee Mazzilli’s club leading the division with a 35-23 mark. The Red Sox are four games behind, but have hung around despite injury issues of their own.The Toronto Blue Jays have exceeded everyone’s expectations thus far with a 31-29 record while the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (20-38) continue to make people wonder why they’re even in the league.
AL Central: It’s a two-team race so far and all indications point to being just that throughout the summer. The Chicago White Sox are off to a blistering 39-19 start and are doing so based largely on a starting staff that has the best ERA in the majors. The Minnesota Twins have won three straight AL Central titles and despite the Sox’ hot start, have not gone away. The Twinkies are just four games back. The rest of the division has been left in the dust, as both the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians are middling in third place and the Kansas City Royals 20½ games out.
AL West: Texas Rangers manager Buck Showalter has a history of turning bad teams around. After an 83-79 season a year ago, Texas is in a virtual tie for first in the division alongside the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. As for the Halos, they’ve survived injuries to 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero and closer Francisco Rodriguezto remain tied. The Seattle Mariners (25-31) shelled out more than $100 million for free agents Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre and so far, the investment has not been sound. The Athletics don’t look like they’ll make it back to the postseason. The A’s traded two of their big three starters (Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) during the offseason in hopes of obtaining more young arms. but the newcomers have not panned out.
NL East: Depending which way you look at it, it is the best or the most mediocre division in baseball. The Washington Nationals (32-26) have used their new home to their advantage, posting a 19-9 mark at RFK Stadium. After a hot start, the Atlanta Braves (31-27) have struggled with injuries to Mike Hampton, John Thompson, Chipper Jones and a suspect bullpen, The New York Mets (31-27) have ridden the wave of Pedro Martinez’s right arm and dynamic personality to a strong start under first-year manager Willie Randolph. The Philadelphia Phillies (31-28) have been the hottest team in the division as they crawl to 1½ games of first. Then there is the Florida Marlins (28-27) who despite a starting staff that includes AJ Burnett and Dontrelle Willis,the Fish are floundering in last place.
NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals have run away and hid so far from the rest of the division, getting off to a blistering 38-20 mark. Strong pitching and a dominant offense – even without Scott Rolen – have the Redbirds in good position for the summer months. The Chicago Cubs have had injury problems with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. But after a slow start, the Cubbies have turned it around to push their record to 31-27. The surprising Milwaukee (28-30) and Pittsburgh (27-30) won’t win the division, but both are playing beyond expectations. Bringing up the rear are the Cincinnati Reds (22-35) and perhaps the most disappointing team in the National League, the Houston Astros (21-35).
NL West: A red-hot month of May pushed the San Diego Padres into first place with strong starting pitching and a strong 19-9 mark at Petco Field have been enough so far to hold off the Arizona Diamondbacks. Yes, the 111-loss D’backs of 2004 have rebounded with offseason acquisitions Troy Glaus and Javier Vazquez, to get off to a 31-28 start. The Dodgers – started off strong, but have fallen back in the standings and without Barry Bonds, the Giants are an old team with little offensive punch. Having lost 10-of-11 games, the Giants (24-32) are already nine games back and with Bonds return still up in the air – San Francisco is going to have to wait at least another year to win their first World Series title. As for the Rockies , well, Coors Field is a beautiful ballpark with a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains.