July 6, 2010
Now that the 2010 season is half over, it's a good time to stop and look at some of the trends and surprising things.
In spite of limited salary base, the Tampa Bay Rays held on to first place in the AL East until a week or so ago. They are just amazing. Carl Crawford is having another great year, earning a starting outfield position in the All-Star Game, and Evan Longoria is doing fine as well. The Yankees finally took first place, but the Red Sox are also hot on their heels, in spite of an injury-depleted roster, and it looks like it's going to be one hell of a three-way dogfight for the rest of the year. In the American League Central Division, the Twins have slumped recently, while the Tigers have held steady in their pursuit of the division title, while the White Sox have surged into contention as well. In the AL West, the Rangers have surged into first place, thanks to the hard-hitting Josh Hamilton and new member Vladimir Guerrero, while the Oakland A's have faltered. The "LAnaheim" Angels are in second place, and may regret having let go of Vlad.
In the National League there are pleasant surprises in all three divisions this year: The Atlanta Braves had a great month, taking first place in the NL East, hoping to give their long-time manager Bobby Cox (note spelling!) a happy send-off in his final year. Oddly, however, their veteran slugger Chipper Jones is not doing that well, and he has hinted that this may be his last year as well. I hope not. In the NL Central Division, the Cincinnati Reds are off to their best season in over a decade. One key factor is that they have won all nine of their most recent extra-inning games, the first of which was in June 2009. The last team with such a long streak was the Braves in 1999-2000. And in the Western Division, the San Diego Padres have the lead, with the Dodgers not far behind.
As for the Washington Nationals (that page has been updated), they started off the year in great shape, and were five games over .500 as of May 13, but then stalled. They won only eight games in June, the first month month below .300 since the horrible 5-16 record of April 2009. After 81 games (half of the 162 games in a full season), their cumulative record was 35 wins and 46 losses, for a 0.432 percentage, which is at least a lot better than the midpoint of last year (25-56). They can still recover and finish the season over .500, but their dreams of contending for a wild card spot are fading away very quickly. On the plus side, average home attendance surged to 28,340, the highest since August 2008. That was purely a reflection of the sensational Stephen Strasburg, however, and it remains to be seen whether the team can sustain that level of fan enthusiasm for the rest of this hot, hot summer...
Ordinarily, when a team does poorly, it means that some tinkering with the roster is called for. Not this time, if you ask me. The players themselves are doing fine, and are enthusiastic, by and large. All the hype over Stephen Strasburg probably raised uncertainties in the minds of some players, and there may be some jealousy involved. There seems to be an indefinable absence of some X factor, and all it will take is the right sequence of things going right to get the team back to its winning ways. When the Washington Nationals were in "rebuilding mode," they usually traded some of their best players, like Livan Hernandez or Ryan Church. With the deadline less than 30 days away, the two obvious candidates for getting traded are sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, both of whom have said very clearly that they want to stay in Washington. Those two guys plus Ryan Zimmerman have proven themselves to be a reliable power-hitting middle of the lineup, and messing with that would be devastating to the team's chances for getting back to winning on a consistent basis. I strongly agree with Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell: "The Nats would be nuts to trade Dunn or Willingham."
On the other hand, Bill Ladson at MLB.com thinks that Dunn is lacking on defense, and should be considered for a trade. But then he says they should keep Ian Desmond at shortstop even though he leads the league in errors while his batting is OK, but nothing special. That doesn't compute.
I'm pretty sure that Stephen Strasburg does not have enough experience to be in this year's All-Star Game, but he is probably better qualified than the Nationals; reliever Matt Capps, who did make the All-Star roster. For the first two months of this season, Capps was leading the major leagues in saves, but since then he seems to have fallen apart, giving up multiple hits and/or runs in most of his relief appearances. See MLB.com. I'm sorry to say it, but based on Capps' recent performance, if NL manager Charlie Manuel has him pitch in a closing situation, the American League is almost sure to win once again. Every team gets at least one player, and frankly I just don't see any Nationals players who are playing at that high level. Guzman, Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham, and Pudge Rodriguez are all doing well, but none of them are performing at All-Star levels right now. I voted for Zimmerman in the final ballot, but he'll need a miracle to make the All-Stars this year.
Congratulations to the University of South Carolina "Gamecock" baseball team for winning the 2010 NCAA Championship, beating UCLA by a score of 2-1 in 11 innings at the College World Series in Omaha. Another team from South Carolina, the Clemson Tigers, also made it to Omaha this year.
Many thanks to David Steinle for sponsoring the Kansas City Municipal Stadium page. You can do so as well, by following the simple steps on PayPal. Just send me a separate e-mail message to let me know which stadium you want to sponsor.
Thanks to Bill Kalenborn for pointing out that not only did Joe Dimaggio (lifetime batting average .325, from 1936 to 1951) and younger brother Dom Dimaggio (.296, 1940-1953) play in Seals Stadium, so did older brother Vince Dimaggio (.249, 1937-1946). Bill once saw a Giants-Cubs game there.
I'll be away from home for the rest of this month, so blogging updates, etc. will be less frequent until August. Please hold off on e-mail messages until then. Thank you! With any luck, I'll get to see a new stadium or two in the upper midwest...