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Season of sequels and surprises

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In a summer of Hollywood sequels, the 2003 baseball season and some of the division races looks like sequels themselves. The are on the heels of the once again with the trying to convince people they can compete with the big boys. The are on top of the NL East with the and battling in second place believing this will be the year they dethrone the 12-time defending NL East champs. The have made an -like turnaround, and there is now a three-team race with the and again. A fan attacked an umpire during a -Royals game, reminiscent of a year ago when two fans attacked first base coach Tom Gamboa. The spent more money and the , , and all hired new managers, yet all remain at the bottom of their respective divisions. Despite the similarities to the 2002 season, 2003 has brought us quite a few nice surprises. Instead of the small-market , we have the this season, who, despite losing All-Star first baseman during the past month, seem to keep winning. Thus far, we have had only one manager fired, as the Florida replaced Jeff Torborg with Jack McKeon, and it actually made a difference. not only got to the 500 home run milestone but also got caught cheating using a corked bat that he supposedly only uses in batting practice. Yeah right! In the meantime, while Sosa¿s 500 home run plateau was overshadowed, two others reached respective milestones during the 1st half. joined the 500 home run club, yet hears announcers everyday question whether he is a Hall of Fame player. Do you mean to tell me that Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto are Hall of Fame players and Raffy is not? GET REAL! First ballot for Raffy and his Viagra! Even more spectacular was striking out his 4,000th batter en route to his 300th victory on the same day. The only way it could have been written better, was if it was against the . Although I have to disagree with Roger in his bid to land in the Hall of Fame with a cap. After all it is not like they are going to put Wade Boggs in the Hall of Fame as a Devil Ray for picking up his 3,000th hit in a Rays uniform. Yes Roger, you accomplished a lot as Yankee as well as a Blue Jay but you made your mark with the . It used to be during the first half of the season we would find a few managers on the hot seat. Now that we have come up with the observation that only one manager has been fired during the first half of the season, the official hot seat now belongs to that of the closing pitcher. This role usually was handled by whoever had the closing duties for the Atlanta in previous years. Remember , and Kerry Lightenberg? Now it is , lights out! However, while the have found their man to close out games, a lot of teams this year have been juggling there closers in search of the right clown. Let¿s start off with the Toronto who came into the season with as their closer. After a few blown saves and an ERA larger than Martha Stewart¿ s legal fees they moved him into the starting rotation and handed over the closing duties to , who at the time had an ERA under 3. Six weeks later, Politte has an ERA over 6 and has landed on the disabled list, handing closing duties over to the recently cut Yankee . I suspect this is not the last stop on the closer merry go round for the as Politte should be back and the are in a pennant race. But what the heck, it is not as if they would want back. Koch is no longer the closer in Chicago. After a horrendous start and an even worse July, duties have been turned over and split between and Tom ¿Flash¿ Gordon, who seems to be settling in as the new closer. Remember in Detroit? The next best closer if the could win some ball games. Enter Franklin German, who has since been replaced by one Chis Mears. But wait, it gets better. The actually used , , and before trading for . The joined the circus, giving up on and his 7 ERA and have since handed duties over to either or, in all likelihood, Justin Spier. Had enough? Before made his way back from an injury, the juggled between and . The lost in spring training so they turned to , and now a revitalized . Now although these teams players are not on the hot seat, the ' went down early in the season and was replaced with , and , then came back and got hurt again. And Rob Nenn went down early, leaving duties to one . Might I suggest to all you amateur pitchers out there to look into the role of a closer, as there are many opportunities arising everyday! Here is a brief breakdown of the first half of the 2003 season by division.

NL East

The scary thing about the is the fact they lost , , , , , and , all with ERAs in the 3s or lower. Heck, hypothetically they even lost , who has seen his ERA balloon up to an uncharacteristic 4.63 in the first half this season! However, we all know it is not about pitching anymore or the Jones Boys in Atlanta. The resurgence of along with MVP candidate has the offense in a groove. Plug in , who had a terrific two months at the beginning of the season, and a healthy and it has all added up to a Major League-best 61 wins and possibly another division title for the Atlanta . After a big off-season spending spree and a slow start the seem to be starting to live up to expectations. Despite picking up sluggers and to add to their offensive arsenal, they added to an impressive mix of young pitchers like , Bret Myers and , who have been getting the job done. What more can you say about the ? They have a Hall of Fame legend managing them, they have no idea where they will be playing next year and they have two different home ballparks yet they continue to win. The have a good mix of young players and every time one of their young pitchers goes down they come up with another one. Anyone hear of two months ago? Now he is the hottest pitcher in the game en route to his first All-Star Game and has the actually trading for talent, rather than giving it up. Last and the very least we have the ! ? ? ? ? ? If it were 1990 the would be in first place!

NL Central

Can somebody tell me the last time a team from the NL Central made a trip to the World Series? The Houston lead the way once again but somehow I just don¿t see them getting out of the first round should they hold on and win the division. Surprised? The can boast that they now have the best player in baseball as is taking a legitimate shot at the Triple Crown this year! If the had any pitching to add to their wonderful pool of offensive talent they might actually be in first place. Instead we all wonder when the next time will land on the DL. Shame on for corking his bat and taking away the real newsworthy story of and , who have formed a 1-2 punch that could rival the D-Backs 2001 Johnson-Schilling duo! Before went down, I thought Dusty Baker and the Cubbies had a legitimate shot at winning the Central Division. Oh well. There is always next year. The ! Is this team still in existence? At least the fans have Bob Uecker to entertain them during games.

NL West

Last year the lost the World Series, then their manager and then a few key ingredients. But they proceeded to bring in a few new faces and have not missed a beat! continues to chase down his godfather Willie Mays and third place on the all-time home run list while has become the pitcher the always thought he would be. However, no story has been better than that of the Arizona , who with high expectations and payroll were 10 games out of first place at one point. Just when things could not get any worse they lost a group of players to injury that included , , , , , , , Shea Hillebrand and then cut at the same time. What happened next? They went on an 11-game winning streak and the Baby Backs were born. They are now sitting five games out of first place at the All-Star break with Schilling, Mantei and Counsell already back and Johnson, Spivey, and Womack due back after the break. Meanwhile, guys like , , , , and are now household names in Arizona. The finally had the healthy pitching staff they had envisioned for several years now, with , , Kaz Ishii, and leading the way, but just as the D-Backs misfortunes turned to fortunes, the started sliding the other way. However, don¿t count them out just yet as they just made a trade for and is still in pursuit of his own 500 home run milestone if he can find a way to stay healthy. The have and who are both having outstanding years and enjoying the thin air of Colorado, but without any pitching they do not seem to be going anywhere. The San Diego have a new stadium set to open next spring! PetCo. Field? Are they for real? This is a team that could not give away all their bobblehead¿s on Dave Winfield bobblehead night!

AL East

Start spreading the news! The have already made a few trades before the All-Star break, bringing in and ! Now while everybody seems to dismiss them as minor trades, when you stick or Karim Garica into this lineup, all of a sudden they look like All-Stars. Since coming over, Garcia and Sierra are batting over .300 with a combined six home runs and 22 RBIs in 132 at-bats. Now add that to a mix of 40-40 man to be , , a healthy and and a now more comfortable , the look like they might find themselves playing baseball in October once again! Forget Torre and Steinbrenner feuding. Doesn¿t anybody remember Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner? They managed to put their differences aside five times! The seem to get a little better each year and each year they seem to trail the by a few games. Why should it be any different this year? Pedro has once again landed on the DL for a brief stint while has come in and locked down the closer¿s job. Just as it is in Atlanta, this team is about offense though. , and are having fabulous seasons and those guys mixed in with superstars and makes a pretty potent offense. Now with breaking out of his early season slump the could sneak up and beat the out this season, but I doubt it! Meanwhile, , , and the Toronto have both the and the peeking back over their shoulder. Unfortunately, the relief pitching is a mess and they certainly do not have the starting rotation to compete down the stretch. Baltimore has and his .349 batting average as well as and his 12 wins, but other than that this team is looking for an identity. Finally, we have the embarrassing . Sweet Lou finally got them to win three games in a row so he dyed his hair. Just imagine what he would do if they won 10 in a row! If they could just add a few veterans to help out young stars like and , this team might just show some signs of life, but than again, who wants to play baseball in Tampa Bay unless it is in March.

AL Central

What could be better than a small market team like the Minnesota in first place? How about the Kansas City ? Despite rumors year after year of moving to another team, the have built a nice nucleus of players around him and this season and now find themselves in a pennant race. In fact, the newest rumor has the actually making a trade for . If this is true, and gets healthy, the could be tough to catch in the central. However, let us not count out those Minnesota , who were almost dismantled in Bud Selig¿s plan for contraction. The still have a great nucleus of young players that have come up together, but their pitching staff has been anything but consistent this year. Meanwhile, the had a miserable first half, yet only find themselves seven games out of first place. Now they have added and to the mix in hopes of catching the . However, the real story for the during the first half of the season was , who continues to baffle everyone that expects him to flounder during his next start. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that Loaiza was going to be a better pitcher in the first half of the season than and , then I would have told you to get real. Yet here we are at the All-Star break and Loiaza will start in front of the home town fans! With bouncing back from a miserable first few months to the season and the key additions of veterans and , the Royal better not fall asleep. The Cleveland are right where everyone expected them to be in the process of rebuilding and doing a fairly nice job. has taken time off from making board games and is having a breakout season, while has become an All-Star. The Detroit brought in Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, a few guys from their World Series win in 1984, to help turn things around, but things have not changed much in Motown.

AL West

Two years ago the Seattle had the best record in baseball and looked like the team to beat. Then the Magical World of Disney and the Anaheim knocked them off the map last season. This year the are back with a nice blend of veterans and youth. The rejuvenated 40-year-olds and lead the way for this team. Moyer has a team-high 12 wins while Martinez has regained his All-Star form, batting .304 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs. Throw that in with All Stars and and young pitchers and and the look postseason-bound again! The A¿s still have the best 1-2-3 pitchers in the league with , and . Mulder leads the way this season with his 12 wins while has traded places with and has cemented the closer role in Oakland. Meanwhile, is slowly regaining MVP form while can¿t seem to stay healthy. However, the emergence of has been the real highlight for the A¿s this season. The Anaheim are finding out just how difficult it is to repeat as world champions. Game 7 starter has had trouble living up to expectations while , and are all having mediocre seasons. They still have the quietest superstar in the game in Garrett Anderson, who just capped off an incredible first half of the season with his Home Run Derby victory at this year¿s All-Star Game. , and hopefully are all out the door in Texas. This team is unloading high-priced veterans and hoping Buck Showalter and company can rebuild quickly around . Would somebody please tell them to get some pitching! To sum it all up, the 2003 season midway through has been filled with plenty of excitement. With and knocking on the 500 home run door we can expect to see two more milestones during the second half and now that Rickey Henderson is back, we should still get our fill of hot dogs!
Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Brewers, Twins, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Padres, Giants, Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rays, Jim Thome, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Brian Fuentes, Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Kevin Millwood, Kerry Wood, Corey Patterson, Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Craig Counsell, Aubrey Huff, Hideki Matsui, Robby Hammock, Brandon Webb, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Valverde

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