The All-Star break is upon us and hope springs eternal for a dozen or so major league teams. As always there are the usual suspects, along with a few surprises. One thing is certain: the cream always rises to the top over the course of a baseball season.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies appear to be the frontrunners with a solid starter at each position to go along with their Hall of Fame-caliber rotation as they lead the National League (NL) East. As for the west, the San Francisco Giants, the defending champions, continue to get great pitching and clutch play out of their no-name line-up in making another run in the West. The Central Division is wide open with the injury-riddled Cardinals in a dead heat with the Brewers and the Pirates lurking only a game behind.
Over in the American League (AL), tight races abound. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays lead the East in what may be baseball’s best division. In the AL Central – like their counterpart in the NL – appears to also be a coin flip. The Tigers are virtually tied with the surprising Indians; the White Sox await their potent bats to come alive. And in the West, the Rangers and Angels appear to be in a dogfight.
At this point, the surprise teams are the Indians and Pirates. Both of these teams are playing great baseball and their hopes are boosted since they are playing in relatively weak divisions. The Pirates have tremendous young talent and are hoping to achieve their first winning season in 20 years. Pittsburgh is a great sports town and their fans are giddy about what they’ve seen in the season’s first 90 games. Under former Nationals manager Manny Acta, the Indians stormed out of the gate this spring and stand only a half-game behind the Tigers who are blessed with the best pitcher in baseball, Goochland native, Justin Verlander.
It’s also been an exciting season for Richmond-area fans. Regardless of your Minor League point of reference (Yankees, Braves, or Giants), you must be pretty happy right now.Yankee fans abound in Central Virginia dating back to the days of the old Richmond Virginians. A combination of aging superstars, a group of solid young players and the Yankee mystique have the pinstripes poised for yet another pennant. New York was also the site of the highlight of the season to this point, as the beloved Derek Jeter launched a homerun last weekend for his 3,000th hit. It continues to amaze me that no Yankee has ever attained the 3,000 -hit plateau. Barring injury, Jeter should move into the top 10 all time in 2013.
In Atlanta, the Braves are so ingrained in our spirit that it is common to hear people talk about going to the Diamond to see the Braves, even three years after their departure for Gwinnett County. The Boulevard was home to the Braves for some 42 seasons, making the Atlanta Braves “Richmond’s Team.” There are still hard feelings over their departure. Interestingly, the only Richmond alum making a splash in Atlanta is all-star catcher Brian McCann.
The Giants gained instant credibility in Richmond last season by virtue of San Francisco’s first ever World Championship, who this year have a fine pitching staff and a supporting cast that seems adept at placing team over self. Even with a season-ending injury to phenom catcher Buster Posey, the Giants hold a working margin in their division. Darren Ford, Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are former Flying Squirrels who have already suited up in San Francisco. Several more are on the way.
Closer to home, the Washington Nationals are slowly becoming our “home team.” By virtue of MASN and Radio 950, the “Nats” are the easiest team to follow. A young team is coming of age and may challenge as early as this season for a wildcard berth in the playoffs. In one of the more bizarre instances in baseball history, the Nats lost their manager because they were too successful. It was evident that Jim Riggleman was never in the Nationals long-term plans as they called his bluff in the midst of the longest winning streak in franchise history. Riggleman was shown the door and Davey Johnson returned to uniform after a decade-long absence. Only time will tell.
The All-Star game gives us a chance to reflect on what has happened in the season’s first hundred days. Teams are defined as contenders or not. Now the talk turns to the pennant races and the teams that will be the buyers and sellers as the trade deadline appears; nonetheless, a lot of baseball is yet to be played. The adage will again ring true as every team will win 50 games and every team will lose 50. October joy will rest in what happens in those other 62.