There was a public outcry when R.A. Dickey did not start the All-Star game, a journeyman for the Chicago White Sox threw a perfect game and the Pittsburgh Pirates of all teams were in first place as the first half of the baseball season drew to a close.
What’s next, postseason baseball in the nation’s capital? It sure looks that way.
An eventful and unexpected first half that included Dickey knuckling his way to stardom with the Mets, Phil Humber’s out-of-nowhere perfecto for the White Sox and the Yankees muzzling former slugger Reggie Jackson after some disparaging comments about Alex Rodriguez is only expected to get more intriguing as the season rounds second and heads for third.
The non-waiver trade deadline is looming at the end of the month, and the Baltimore Orioles and White Sox got ahead of the curve by acquiring Jim Thome and Kevin Youkilis, respectively, to bolster their offenses. Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels and Arizona’s Justin Upton could be headed elsewhere as the contenders and pretenders separate themselves.
“There’s several teams involved in races right now,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, whose Tigers joined the Phillies and Red Sox on the list of big-spending underachievers in the first half of the season. “There’s probably going to be a lot of teams that would like to go out and get somebody. But the more teams that want to get something, the tougher it is to get it.”
And there’s even more motivation for deals to be made in the first year of baseball’s expanded postseason. The Fall Classic will be a little wilder this time around. A new format kicks in this year that adds an extra wild card team to each league. That means 10 teams will have a chance to get in and go for it all.
The Orioles, who trail the Yankees by seven games in the AL East, haven’t been to the postseason since 1997, the Pirates haven’t been there since 1992 and the nation’s capital hasn’t hosted a playoff baseball game since 1933, when Mel Ott homered in Game 5 of the World Series to help the New York Giants beat the Senators for the championship.
That was long before Natitude, long before “that’s a clown question, bro” and certainly way before the All-Star game decided home-field advantage in the World Series. It’s a new day, and if Bryce Harper and the Nationals or Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates somehow Buc the odds and make it to the Series, they’ll be hosting the party after the National League beat the AL 8-0.
With so much on the line from here on out, the game in Kansas City could be one of the last nights of baseball without any juice for quite a while.
“We’re playing for a lot more here,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re playing for a city, the goal being to re-bond the city with its ballclub.”
HOT RACES: The Yankees hold a seven-game lead over Baltimore in the AL East, but it’s still early and every division is up for grabs. Here’s a few of the races that are expected to remain tight until the final days.
_NL Central: The Pirates are just one game ahead of the Reds and only 2 1/2 games ahead of the defending champs in St. Louis.
_NL West: The Dodgers looked like the class of the league at the start of the season, but injuries to stars Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have brought them back to the pack. And the Giants, just half a game back, are brimming with confidence after Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera and Matt Cain led the NL to an 8-0 win in the All-Star game.
_AL West: The Rangers may be the best team in baseball, but the Los Angeles Angels have rebounded from a slow start to show that this will be no runaway. The Rangers lead by 4 games in search of their third straight AL crown.