HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

July 9, 2007

Already at the halfway point

By Jesse Menden

At the beginning of last week, the Major League Baseball season officially passed the halfway point.

Around the league, teams have played like most people predicted before the season began.

The Boston Red Sox have the best record in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels are good, very good, and Detroit and Cleveland are at the top of the AL Central. Also with no shock, the New York Yankees have been teetering on disaster for a good part of the season.

In the National League, the West division is a three-horse race as most people thought it would be heading into the season.

There have been some surprises, though, starting with the Milwaukee Brewers. I don’t want to say I am shocked to see the Crew at the top of the NL Central, because I’m not, but I am surprised they have continued playing so well.

At the beginning of last week, the Brewers had the best record in the NL. Without a doubt, they have been fattening up on their inferior division foes, posting a baseball-best 23 wins against teams in their division (they are tied with Atlanta).

In the AL, Seattle has been one of the more surprising teams. Last year at the halfway point, they were hovering around .500. This season, they are slightly better, and more importantly, are putting pressure on the division-leading Angels.

Another surprise has come out of the AL East. It was expected that the Yankees would not be that good this season, but the whole division, outside of Boston, is pretty bad.

The injury-riddled Toronto Blue Jays are below .500 despite a ton of talent on their roster. The Baltimore Orioles also have shown very little improvement over last season.

Another team that has underachieved is the Chicago White Sox. A team that marches out Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye should not be last in the AL in runs scored with 309 (and trailing the next team by 50 runs).

At the halfway point of the season, most of the division races are close, but not overly competitive.

The AL East is over. The Red Sox will win without a doubt.

The AL Central is shaping up nicely. It has the makings of a three-team race, especially after the Twins proved they could beat the Tigers by taking two-out-of-three games in their last series.

Cleveland has also proven they are a force to be reckoned with. Before last week’s series against the Tigers, in which they lost two of three games, the Indians were 22-14 against teams with a .500 record or better, and 17-7 in the Central.

Even though Detroit is behind in the standings right now, they should win the division. They have the best batting average in the majors, and several pitchers coming off the disabled list to give their pitching staff a shot in the arm.

The AL West is more competitive than expected, thanks to the Mariners. At the beginning of last week, they had the most wins of any team since June 2, with 19 wins. We will have to wait and see if that good play continues with new manager John McLaren at the helm.

The Angels are still the team to beat. But with the Oakland Athletics’ typical second-half surge (.619 win percentage after June 1 since 1999), it should be interesting right to the end.

In the NL, the East is surprisingly still close. Atlanta was just three games behind New York last week.

The Mets should be at the top when the season ends. They are one of the top fielding teams in the league, and their pitching has been solid lately. They lead the league in opponents batting average.

Meanwhile, Atlanta seems to be going the wrong way. They were just 13-15 in June.

The gap in the NL Central is large, but is getting smaller. While the Brewers have one of the best records in the NL, the pace the young team set will be hard to keep going, and the Cubs are starting to serge.

Chicago was 16-9 in June, after nearly falling apart in May. But they still have a lot of work to do.

After a so-so month of May when the Brewers went 14-15, they rebounded nicely to go 17-9 in June. If they ever get on a little losing streak, a little home cooking seems to remedy it. Their 30 wins at home is the best in the NL. They hope their young talent and a large lead can keep them at the top in the Central.

As expected, the NL West is a crap shoot, and will be for the rest of the season. At the halfway point, San Diego, Arizona, and Los Angeles were all within two games of first place.

The division-leading Padres are at the top for a reason, they have the best earned run average in the entire league and it isn’t even close. Their staff is over a half-run better than the closest team.

Arizona, led by a strong pitching staff (sixth best in the NL), is in the mix too, but their bats need to step up to stay in the race. Since June 5, they are batting below .200 with runners in scoring position and are 14th overall in batting average in the NL. Finally, the Dodgers are a solid team in all areas except fielding, where they rank second-to-last in the league.