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Old 07-11-2002, 12:40 AM   #1
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Talking Mad Dash to the Finish Line

As of July 11th the second half of Major League Baseball will begin. The pennant races will begin shaping up and heating up.

The Yankees proved that money does and can buy championships. This past week they acquired outfielder Raul Mondesi from Toronto and pitcher Jeff Weaver from Detroit. They acquired expensive slugger Jason Giambi during the off-season from the Oakland Athletics. Can any other club do this? Maybe a few. Maybe the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox or the New York Mets as I mentioned earlier.

The bottom line is that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has more money than sense. He has the right attitude about winning, but does he have the right attitude about fair play?

The first half of baseball is history now and, we look forward to the second half, and the pennant races that will be shaping up soon. The first half was full of excitement and the second half will probably be no less exciting.

Floridaís second baseman Luis Castillo had a 35 game hitting streak, Cleveland Jim Thome homered in seven consecutive games, falling one short of the major league record, pitcher Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks ended the first half with a record of 14-3. Bostoní new starting pitcher Derek Lowe pitched a no-hitter in the first half of the season. I could go on and on with great accomplishments that have already happened in the first half of baseball.

Letís look at the National League first. The red hot Atlanta Braves are 56-32 and enjoy a nine a half game lead over the second place Montreal Expos. The Braves have been on fire since early May. The Braves are 44-17 since May 1st. Incredible! They have a record of 37-17 when playing at home.

The Atlanta Braves have one of the best pitching staff in all of baseball. They have since the early 1990ís. The Braves are going after their 11th consecutive Eastern Division title. Atlantaís staff is led by two gentlemen that are well known to all baseball fans and feared by most hitters. Iím talking about Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Glavine is having another good year. Heís 11-4 with an ERA of 2.27. Maddux is 8-2 with an ERA of 2.81. Maddux now has 265 career victories. Just 35 away from 300. Pitchers Kevin Millwood, Jason Marquis and lefty Damian Moss have shown signs of greatness. Give them some more time and watch out.

Atlantaís bullpen has been no less spectacular. TheBraves bullpen has an ERA of 2.29. Four relievers have ERAís less than 2.00. Mike Remlinger, Chris Hammonds, Darren Holmes and Kevin Gryboski have been great out of the bullpen. Closer John Smoltz is tied with the most saves in the majors with 31. He has 17 straight saves without a blown save

So are the Braves doing anything on offense? Yes they are. But it seems to be the little or lesser known players that are driving in the key runs. Players like Keith Lockhart, Matt Franco, Darrin Bragg and Julio Franco. Lockart has only five homeruns and 19 RBIís, but they have been mostly key RBIís. Heís only batting .224, but has raised his average from the .170ís in the last few weeks. Matt Franco recently hit a grand slam to win a game.

Chipper Jones is the best hitter for Atlanta. Heís batting .307, but his average has gone down the last week or two. He has 51 RBIís, but he not hitting for power very much. He only has nine homeruns. Outfielder Gary Sheffield has 15 homeruns and 46 RBIís. Heís batting .265. Outfielder Andruw Jones leads the team in RBIís with 54, but he has been in a hitting slump lately. Imagine when Chipper, Sheffield and Andruw get hot together. They will be unbeatable then.

Third baseman Vinny Castilla has been a great addition at his position and at the plate. Heís a great defensive players and he has driven in 45 runs. He will more than likely drive in 100 runs before the season ends.

The Expos are doing everything under their power to prove they shouldnít be contracted. Even though they are owned by major league baseball they are out there to win and prove to everybody they are worth keeping around.

They even made a big trade recently, acquiring ace pitcher Bartolo Colon from the Cleveland Indians. They would like to acquire outfielder Cliff Floyd and pitcher Ryan Dempster from Florida, but they must have the blessings of major league baseball. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Montreal really wants to compete, even though they have an average of 8,000 fans at their home games.

The biggest disappoinment in all of baseball and especially the NL East has been the New York Mets. They were really expected to give the Braves a run for their money after acquiring second baseman Roberto Alomar from Cleveland, Mo Vaughn from the Anaheim Angels, speedy outfielder Roger Cedeno from Detroit and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz from Milwaukee. Alomar is batting only .268 with 30 RBIís, Vaughn is batting .248 with 34 RBIís, Cedeno is batting .247 with 23 RBIís and Burnitz is batting a cold .206 with 30 RBIís. Those stats wonít win a division or get you to the World Series.

The only acquisition that has been paying off for them is pitcher Pedro Astacio. He is 8-3 with an ERA of 3.18. He played for the Colorado Rockies for several years and with the Houston Astros. His best season was in 1999 with the Rockies when he went 17-11. Heís a promising pitcher with some good stuff.

The Florida Marlins were thought to be a threat this season, but that hasnít materialized. Their young pitching staff is still struggling. Second baseman Luis Castillo and third baseman Mike Lowell have been the only real bright spots on this team in 2002. Castillo is batting .341 and already has 115 hits and Lowell is batting .311 with 14 homeruns and 58 RBIís. Still this team is far from competing in 2002.

The Philadelphia Phillies that played so well in 2001 have virtually dropped out of sight in the NL East race. Philllies are in dead last and 16 games out of first place. Third baseman Scott Rolen is unhappy and more than likely will go elsewhere after this season. He should be happy where he is. He has not put up big numbers this year to warrant a large contract. He batting .253 with 13 homeruns and 58 RBIís.

In the NL Central the St. Louis Cardinals lead the Cincinnati Reds by two games. Cincinnati lead that division most of the first half, but finally the Cardinals are playing ball the way they were expected to. The Cardinals have gone through a lot of adversity lately. Longtime and Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck passed away and star pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room from natural causes. The team is devastated by his death.

The team must stay focused. Thatís easy to say, but they must. They have some great talent on this club. One of the most surprising players has been rookie pitcher Jason Simontacchi. He is 7-1 with an ERA of 2.77. Matt Morris is 10-6 with an ERA of 3.55. He leads the team in strikeouts with 109. He has really been affected by Kileís death. Kile was his mentor.

Woody Williams who came over from Pittsburgh last season has been a pleasant surprise. He is 6-3 with an ERA of 2.35. Pitcher Bud Smith who pitched a no-hitter in 2001 has been a bust so far this year. He is 0-5 with an ERA of 7.18. Maybe he will come around. With Kile gone someone must step up. Travis Smith has been a relief pitcher but he has started a few games and is 2-0. Closer Jason Isringhausen has earned 19 saves out of 23 chances.

Albert Pujols and outfielder Jim Edmonds leads the offense for the Cardinals. First baseman Tino Martinez who was acquired from the New York Yankees has been a bit of a disappointment. He is only batting .248 with 10 homeruns and 43 RBIís. Pujols leads the team in homeruns with 21 and in RBIís with 66.

Like I stated earlier, the Cincinnati Reds led the NL Central most of the first half. And they did it without Ken Griffey Jr. who seems to stay on the DL. The Reds were getting some good pitching performance, but that has fell off lately. Pitcher Jimmy Haynes, formerly with Milwaukee, has been the real workhorse for the starting pitching staff. He is 10-6 with an ERA of 4.44. Jose Rijo tried to make a comeback after seven years off, but has returned to the DL. Elmer Dessens has pitched decently, but he is only 5-4 with an ERA of 2.91. This pitching staff doesnít look very good to carry this team through the second half of the season.

I like the young offense this team has to offer. Outfielders Adam Dunn, Juan Encarnacion, and Austin Kearns. Dunn leads the team with a .300 batting average and with 17 homeruns. He also leads the team with 54 RBIís. Second baseman Todd Walker contributes much to this offense. He and shortstop Barry Larkin lead the team in doubles with 19. First baseman Sean Casey has gotten off to a slow start. Third baseman Aaron Boone is only batting .235, but he has knocked in 45 runs.

I donít expect much from the Houston Astros or Pittsburgh this season. I like manager Jimy Williams of the Astros. He will eventually turn this franchise around. He has one of baseballís best hitters in outfielder Lance Berkman. He leads the majors in homeruns with 29 and in RBIís with 81.

The most disappointing team of all has been the Chicago Cubs. They were really expected to win their division or come real close. Currently, they are 35-51 and 12 and a half games out of first. Why are they so bad this season? Pitching and hitting! They rank 11th in team pitching in the NL and 14th in team hitting. That basically tells the story doesnít it.

Slugger Sammy Sosa has been the only real offense this season. Just like last year. First baseman Fred McGriff is finally starting to hit the ball well and Moises Alou spent most of the first half on the DL. His bat is slowly coming to life. Sosa is batting .307 with 28 homeruns and 58 RBIís. His OBP is .419. McGriff is batting .262 with 17 homeruns and 55 RBIís. His OBP is .354. Alou is hitting .252 with eight homeruns and 27 runs driven in. His OBP is .312. See the big difference in OBPís?

The Cubs pitching was really suspose to be great this year, but 20 game winner of 2001 Jon Lieber has backslidden. He is 6-6 with an ERA of 3.38. Kerry Wood is 8-5 with an ERA of 4.12. Matt Clement has shown signs of brillance, but he is 6-6 with an ERA of 3.85. Rookie sensation Mark Prior has looked real good in some outing and terrible in others. He is 2-2 with an ERA of 3.98. Poor Juan Cruz is 1-10 with an ERA of 4.75. Jason Bere is 1-9 with an ERA of 5.18. Closer Antonio Alfonseca leads the teams with only 11 saves. Pitching must improve dramatically.

Now to the NL West. The defending World Champions the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by two and a half games. Nobody said it would be easy. The Dodgers are 54-34. Itís going to be a cat fight to the finish. Arizona still has that great pitching duo. Curt Schilling has an amazing record of 14-3 already and teammate Randy Johnson is 12-3 with an ERA of 2.47.

Second baseman Junior Spivey has been the real surprise on this team in 2002. He is batting .328 and has had many key hits and RBIís. Third baseman Craig Counsell has also provided a lot of key hits. Outfielder Luis Gonzalez continues to hit well. He is batting .277 with 16 homeruns and 58 RBIís. Centerfielder Steve Finley continues to play great defense and contributes at the plate.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are playing like a team that is hungary for a division title. They have had some good pitching and great hitting. Outfielder Shawn Green has been putting on the offensive show lately. He hit 18 homeruns in a 24 game span earlier this year. Green has 26 homeruns and 68 RBIís.

Brian Jordan who came over from Atlanta in the Gary Sheffield trade is doing his part. He has 13 homeruns and 44 RBIís. Catcher Paul Lo Duca is the leading hitter with a .326 batting average. He leads the team in doubles with 23. Outfielder Dave Roberts has been a pleasant surprise. He is batting .302 and leads the team in stolen bases with 20. First baseman Eric Karros is dependable as always. He has nine homeruns and 42 RBIís.

The Dodgers pitching staff ranks second in the NL only to Atlanta, with a team ERA of 3.56. Odalis Perez who came over in the trade from Atlanta with Brian Jordan is enjoying a great season. He is 10-4 with an ERA of 2.81. He is only 24 years old. Japanese sensation Kazuhisa Ishii is 11-5 with an ERA of 3.58. He leads the team with 100 strikeouts. Another fine pitcher for LA has been Hideo Nomo who came over from Boston during the off-season. He is 9-5 with an ERA of 3.16. Andy Ashby is 7-6 with an ERA of 3.36. Omar Daal is 7-4 with an ERA of 4.15. Closer Eric Gagne who is an ex starter is tied for the lead in saves with 31 in the majors. John Smoltz of Atlanta also has 31 saves.

The Doders really seem poised to win this division or die trying. You canít count Arizona out as long as Schilling and Johnson are pitching well. I donít give San Francisco much of a chance. Slugger Barry Bonds is having another great year with 28 homeruns already and 109 walks, but he is not enough to carry this team to a World Series title. He is batting .345 and has an OBP of 5.62. Unreal! Even with the help second baseman Jeff Kent is giving him at the plate this team is not destined to win their division. Kent is batting .320. Kent and Bonds have had their spats on and off the field. I believe the team chemistry is wrong on this team and kills any chance of them winning their division.

As for the American League I see only one team winning it all. That is the New York Yankees. Slugger Jason Giambi will put this team over the top when the time comes. He started slowly when their season began in April, but he has been a firecracker since. Giambi is batting .318 with 22 homeruns and 71 RBIís.

Second baseman Alfonso Soriano has really done well for his sophomore season. He is batting .315 with 20 homeruns and 51 RBIís. He leads the majors in doubles with 32. Third baseman Robin Ventura who was acquired from the Mets has hit 19 homeruns and knocked in 62 runs. The Yankees offense is awesome. Their pitching has been somewhat lacking lately, but it is still tough to beat. Roger Clemens has got roughed up lately and Andy Pettitte is just coming off the DL, but they will be fine. They just acquired Jeff Weaver so that just goes to show that owner George Steinbrenner will do whatever it takes to win. Doesnít matter if you think it is fair or not.

The only other team I see in the American League that has an outside chance is the Boston Red Sox. Pedro Martinez doesnít seem to be the Martinez of old, but he is still great. One time closer Derek Lowe has been phenomenal. He started for the American League in the 73rd 2002 All-Star game.

Boston added some muscle and speed to their lineup by acquiring outfielder Johnny Damon from Oakland during the off-season. Heís a great lead-off hitter. I also like that they picked up Ricky Henderson. He will give you some key hits when you least expect them. Boston has a chance, but everything must fall in place. They would be smart to pick up Clevelandís Jim Thome if they could. Imagine Ramirez and Thome in the same lineup again. Sure would improve their chances. Just a thought.

I pick the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees to meet in the 2002 World Series if weíre lucky enough to have a World Series. As a longshot I pick Los Angeles to meet the New York Yankees. I pick New York to win it all. Just my humble opinion. See you at the game.

Written by Keith Thronson Mobile Alabama
Keith "baseball nut" Thronson

Last edited by bama4256; 07-11-2002 at 01:27 AM.
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Old 07-11-2002, 02:53 AM   #2
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My guess is that the current division leaders will be on top when the season ends, shortened or not. Really, the only divisions that could change are the AL East where the Red Sox still have a realistic chance of catching the Yankees and the NL West, where the Dodgers will probably win, but the D-Backs and Giants breathing down their necks.
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Old 07-11-2002, 09:25 AM   #3
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It should be interesting to see how much baseball we actually see in the second half. People are predicting hot-hitters like Shea Hillenbrand and Alfonso Soriano or going to cool off once pitchers can figure out their free-swinging ways, but I don't see this happening -- pitchers have already had half the year to do this!
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Old 07-11-2002, 10:36 AM   #4
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It should be a great finish with the race in the standings heating up....I'm stickin' to my guns as I have all year and saying that there won't be a work stoppage this season.

Baseball's a great game with a lot of dedicated fans but this season is all a sham. It's just one bad thing after another, I'm surprised people like me still watch and follow it.
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