Let us pretend for a second that up to this point your summer had been filled with weddings, home improvement projects, and countless hours of overtime. You have not had time to pay attention to America’s pastime and took a gander over at the MLB page on ESPN to catch up quickly. Would anything shock you?
The battle in the AL East, between the Red Sox and Yankees certainly would not. These teams do not sell Red Sox tickets and Yankees tickets simply because they have a fervent fan base (which they do), they sell because these two teams are always contenders in the 21st century. However, if you kept scrolling down the page you would likely be shocked to find the Pittsburgh Pirates atop the NL Central standings, not the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, or even the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates have not posted a winning record since 1992, the last season with Barry Bonds in the outfield, so this most likely comes as a surprise. Yes, I heard murmurs promising a talented young ball club, but I have heard these promises in the past and most often they have been empty. Suddenly, for the second consecutive season, it appears the NL Central is ripe for the taking by a young upstart. Currently, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a very respectable 51-44 and dueling with the Brew Crew for first.
Now that pennant race hardly compares to the battle on the East Coast where the Boston Red Sox are 58-37 and the Yankees are a game and a half back at 56-38, but one cannot ask for too much when considering the NL Central. Besides the Cardinals, a much more experienced team with an underperforming pitching staff and Albert Pujols, remain well within a very good weekend of usurping the Brewers and the Pirates to take first.
There is little else to be overly impressed with in the standings. Most of the divisions closely resemble the pecking order at the end of last season. The AL Central is topsy-turvy, but, once again, that is a typical season in that division.
Clicking on the Stats link, you are taken to the leader boards. The first player that stands out is Jose Bautista. Yes, he led the majors in homeruns last season with 54, but no one was quite sure he would remain as lethal a hitter in a second season. Well, he is leading the majors with 31 homeruns through 86 games, so it appears Bautista truly is the new benchmark player for sluggers. He is also hitting .332 with a .465 OBP and .691 Slugging Percentage, so he is more than just a one-trick pony. He is the real deal and the Blue Jays are looking quite wise after signing him to a five-year, $65 million contract with an option for a sixth.
Over in the National League, it appears the Braves may have the new best pitcher in the league. The Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to have the best with Roy Halladay and he has been very good so far this season. Halladay is 11-4 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Those stats are good enough for the second best though, as the Braves Jair Jurrjens is 12-3 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Jurrjens is not a power pitcher, so the fact he relies on his fielders to get so many of his outs may hinder him as the season moves forward.
Now Yankees fans will be quick to throw CC Sabathia’s name out if anyone is beginning to crown Jurrjens the best pitcher in all of baseball and they have a reason. CC is 14-4 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Sabathia is likely to win the AL Cy Young Award if he does not implode over the next coming months, and he may then have the right to claim he is the best pitcher in the MLB.
There are number of other interesting stories, including Jered Weaver and Ryan Vogelsong’s ERA, Adrian Gonzalez’s development into an all around hitter and not so much a slugger, unlikely power hitters named Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, and many more.