Second Half Preview
I like the All-Star Game and all that, but I gotta say, I'm glad all that's finished. Between the 24-hour Home Run Derby, and all that Kenny Rogers bull, the Break was starting to rub me like a tight sweaty jockstrap. The time for showing off and goofing around's finally over. It's time to look forward to what's in store in the second half of the season. There are lots of great stories, and even worse stories, to keep tabs on. Here are a few of them.
ARE THE ORIOLES / NATIONALS / WHITE SOX FOR REAL?
Of course they're real, geez! Wins are wins, and you can't take them away. And you can't take first place away from a group of guys just because folks think they don't belong there. If the Rockies had the Orioles' line-up, they'd be running away with the NL West. And the White Sox mix of clutch pitching and clutch hitting is the stuff of world champions. But the team that impresses me the most is the Nationals, because they're doing it without any superstars. On the Orioles, you have Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts. On the White Sox, you have Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland, and especially Scott Podsednik. But who's on the Nationals? Livan Hernandez? The guy's fatter than me! Nick Johnson? He can't even play a full season! Chad Cordero? Where'd they find this guy? Is his name Spanish for "Tony Fossas"? Credit has to be given to tough-as-nails (but not as tough as Nails) Frank Robinson for pulling these Bad News Bears together and getting wins out of them. And wins is what it's all about. It's not up to the first place team to prove anything. It's up to the teams behind the first place teams to take them down. (Yeah, I know the Orioles are in 2nd place, but, come on, the Red Sox are in deep, deep trouble.)
ARE THE RED SOX IN DEEP, DEEP TROUBLE?
Gee, you think? The clubhouse chemistry's all messed up. Their lead idiot is verbally mouthing off about team decisions and singing back-up for crappy rock bands. They're going to put their ace pitcher in the bullpen, a move he's not too happy with. Their starting first baseman is complaining about playing time. Their back-up outfielder put up so much of a stink that he was shipped out for peanuts. Manny Ramirez is struggling to hit above .280. Their closer, when he's not bad-mouthing fans or flying cross-country for lunch, is getting knee surgery. Their best hitter doesn't even play the field. And their best pitcher right now is a guy that didn't even finish above .500 last year for a Cub team that featured Nomar, Moises Alou, Sammy Sosa, and Derrek Lee. The O's just took 3 of 4 from them prior to the All-Star Break, and now Boston has to play the Yankees, who are only 2.5 games in back of them, thanks to great pitching and Jason Giambi. And those Blue Jays are right there in the thick of it, too. I can't remember the last time a first place team looked dead in the water like this, but I think the Red Sox are biting down hard on a scuba tank and are just waiting for the bullet. You don't need a bigger boat for this guppie.
WHO'S GOING TO SURPRISE FOLKS IN THE 2ND HALF?
In the National League, I have to go with last year's wildcard team, the Astros. They're actually in a better position than they were last year, record-wise, and the production they lost when Carlos Beltran went to New York has been picked up by my NL MVP Morgan Ensberg. The Rocket's still firing on all cylinders (even if he can't win games anymore), Brad Lidge can be the best closer in baseball when he wants to, and after what happened last year, you know manager Phil Garner has some tricks up his sleeve. As for the American League, I know the hot pick is the Oakland A's, and they looked pretty good these past few weeks. However, I think one team that everyone's overlooking is the Detroit Tigers. Their pitching staff, anchored by Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman (possible Cy Young guy), is kicking butt, they've got closer Troy Percival back throwing gas and getting saves, and their big free agent acquisition, Magglio Ordonez, is back and ready to drive in runs. The Tigers have a nice mix of youth and veterans that could catapault them past both the struggling Twins and the hapless Indians and into the postseason for the first time since I was a rookie. And as my expanding waistband can tell you, that was a long time ago. (No, I'm not on any growth hormone - I'm on a mayonnaise diet!)
Pitchers, I gotta go with the D-Train and Jon Garland - wins talk, and everything else walks (or strikes out). And in D-Train's case, shutouts talk real loud. I already talked about my NL MVP. In the AL, I gotta go with the Pod people. I mean, last year, they had Carlos Lee, and they went nowhere. This year, they switch Lee for Scottie P, and now they're running away with the division. That's no coincidence. That's valuable play. As for managers, you gotta go with the top two winners in the game this year, Ozzie Guillen and Tony LaRussa. Enough's been said about LaRussa that I don't need to talk about him - he's one of the best managers ever, and this year's more proof. As for Guillen, he's got his players playing the way he used to play - scrappy, feisty, clutch, annoying as hell - and it's going to take them far in the post-season. I have to say, though, if Joe Torre can manage to bring the Yankees back from where they were in May, given how out-of-it they seemed, then he might get my vote.
WILL BARRY BONDS COME BACK?
This is probably the biggest question of the second half. And my thought is I don't think so. He says he's been rehabbing for a while, and he says he wants to come back and play for the Giants, and he says he wants to get the home run record. He also said he can't tell the difference between flax seed oil and the juice, which is garbage. I mean, hey, if your head grows to the size of a school bus, and you start hitting home runs on check swings, maybe there's something to that fancy new cream you're using, right? I think of a guy like Barry Bonds playing right now, and I see someone like Sammy Sosa. Sosa used to be an ambassador of baseball, saving the game after the last strike with the help of Mark McGwire (and what looks like a buttload of supplements) (emphasis on the word BUTT). Now look at him. He can barely get the bat through the zone. Every time he actually gets a hit, it's like the Fourth of July, Christmas, and $.99 Whopper Day all wrapped into one. He's getting paid almost $20 million dollars to hit like Tony Womack, but at least Womack can steal a base! Barry's too proud to want to go through something like that, and he's definitely too proud to play for a bunch of stiffs like the 2005 Giants. He'd be better off getting traded to Tampa Bay or Kansas City - at least there he could DH!
Even if he's this close to the home-run record, I can't see him tarnishing his career by limping back into the batter's box. You gotta know when to cut bait, like I did. It takes a certain type of courage to walk away from the game. Everyone knows stories about washed-up players trying to make a comeback after retiring because they don't know what to do, and they think they can still play. That's sad. The strength of your convictions is huge. I walked away, and I did it mid-game - tell me that doesn't take grand huevos! I walked away so I could say I was a .300 hitter in the majors, and I'd do it again. Yeah, people question my heart, but once you retire, what's heart? Can you put heart on a plaque? Does heart count as a resume skill? Can you put heart in a press release or a card show ad? I can't show Hooters girls my heart (obviously!), but I can show them that .300 average, and that counts for something. If Barry knows what's good for him, he should walk away. Thanks for the great career, Barry! Say hi to Cooperstown for me!
WHO'S GOING TO WIN IT ALL?
AL: White Sox, Orioles, Angels, Tigers
NL: Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, Astros
ALDS: White Sox and Angels; White Sox in 3
ALDS: Orioles and Tigers; Orioles in 4
NLDS: Cardinals and Padres; Cardinals in 4
NLDS: Nationals and Astros; Nationals in 5
ALCS: White Sox and Orioles; White Sox in 7
NLCS: Cardilans and Nationals; Nationals in 7
World Series: White Sox and Nationals; White Sox in 6.
Enjoy the games!