Once again I find myself somewhat at a loss in trying to find inspiration to write. There’s no good reason for this. I shouldn’t have a shortage of things to say.
Today, the USA women came within minutes of raising the World Cup in a fittingly dramatic finish to their wild run. It’s disappointing that they didn’t win, but when you consider the year Japan has had, any solace a win could bring them is the true storybook ending. But I’m far from a soccer fan and in a week or two, I guarantee I won’t remember how to spell Abbe Wambach’s last name. (Another reason why Japan deserves a win more than we do.)
Meanwhile, another man from Northern Ireland won a PGA Tour major this season, as Darren Clarke took the British Open. Phil Mickelson once again led a late charge for the finish that came up in vain, but I didn’t care enough to watch, so how could I care enough to write.
And of course, the sports world is abuzz with the news trickling out that the NFL is close to a labor agreement that will end the lockout. And just in time to sell tickets for meaningless preseason games! Blech.
Obviously I’m excited for the potential return of our boys in the red, white and blue, but I try to delay my interest level in football for as long as possible. As the Yachtsman and I discussed a little while back, the overload of NFL news that is soon to follow when camps open back up is more than I’m ready for.
It’s with all that swirling in my mind that I find myself wondering why the only thing I’m interested in writing about is baseball.
But I just can’t help it. We’ve passed my personal benchmark for meaningfulness in a season, the All-Star Game. The game that rounds up all the great players who couldn’t get out of participating and pits them against each other in an exhibition game. Oh and it decides home-field advantage in the World Series. What, what? Bud Selig still hasn’t fixed that yet? What an idiot.
In my defense, being any kind of sports fan in NYC means keeping your finger on baseball’s pulse at all times. As the Barrister has attested to before, this city is a baseball town first and foremost. So you can imagine the frenzy it worked itself into as Jeter approached the 3,000 mark. So with that and the passing of the All-Star break, my mind has locked it’s attention on the diamonds and here are, in no particular order, my most intriguing storylines for the second half of the season…
A staff like that can protect a lineup that’s just 10th in the NL in average and hits. (And yet somehow 4th, in walks.) Still, they are the favorites to win it all and rightfully so. But with those expectations comes added pressure. Surely by September and October the spotlight will only get brighter on this group and they won’t be considered underdogs to anybody. It will be interesting to see if they’re up to the challenge.
As of today, the Red Sox lead the division, while the Yankees and Rays lead the AL Wild-Card race and the safe money says the same will be true in September. Still, the Tigers and Angels are within striking distance for a wild card spot and in their favor is the fact they don’t have to play the Yanks, Sawx and Rays as often as those teams have to play each other. So it should be exciting to see who of these three dangerous teams will be on the outside looking in when October rolls around.
For years, the Pirates have seemed to operate almost in spite of their fans, botching draft after draft and shipping anyone remotely talented they happen to stumble upon. But this year, they enter the second half of the season vying for first place in their division.
Entering the season, the popular choice for NL Central division winner were the Cardinals and Brewers. I thought Cincinnati would be in the mix as well, but nobody expected the Pirates to be where they are. The Pirates’ pitching staff is largely to thank. With Jeff Karstens & Paul Maholm leading the rotation and closer Joel Hanrahan converting all 26 of his save opportunities, the Pirates find themselves at the trade deadline actually thinking about acquiring talent rather than watching it walk out the door.
Needless to say, we here at DGWUS are rooting for the Pirates on their quest for their first trip to the playoffs since 1992.
Clearly, the two top free agents next off-season will be the two best hitters in the NL Central: Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. With both men wrapping up the last year on their respective contracts, they’ll be looking to make their presence felt in the second half of the season.
Pujols has already shown what this season means to him. After doctors said he would be out 6-8 weeks with a wrist injury, Albert was back on the field in 2. Pujols got annoyed when a reporter asked if his next contract was on his mind when he first got hurt. The question went unanswered that day, but A-Pu’s quick rehab shows how badly he wants to play.
Fielder meanwhile is easily as intriguing a prospective signing as Pujols. While he’s clearly not as a good a hitter right now, he has the advantage of still only being 27 years old. If he and the Brewers have a strong finish to the season, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to expect a 9-figure, 10-year contract.
Adding to the excitement is how tight the division and wild-card races are right now. Granted there’s still a long way to go, but as of today a half a game separates the top three teams in the Central and there’s only 6 games of difference between the top four teams for the wild-card spot.
So with their teams needing everything they’ve got and their future employers keeping a close eye, I expect both of these players to rise to the occasion and finish out their seasons on a high note.
Ultimately, I think it’ll be Boston, Texas, Detroit and New York in the East, while Philly, Milwaukee, San Fran and St. Louis will square off in the West. While I’d love to see Detroit go on a run and San Fran try to repeat, I believe we’ll see the Boston-Philadelphia match-up most pundits have expected since Day 1. Quite a few people would hate to see that happen (after the Yankees, are there two more disliked teams than the Phillies & Red Sox?), but both teams just have too much pitching to expect any other result at this point. In the end, I expect the Phillies to win it in 6. It’s hard to imagine a team whose 3-man rotation could be a World Series MVP and two Cy Young winners going down to anyone.
And now, George Costanza to bring it all home. George...