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Freud: The MLB lowdown during the All-Star Break

Welcome to the break, kids.

Baseball, despite its best efforts to destroy itself, continues to prove what a marvelous game it is. Yes, I’m still tipsy – in a good way – three days after Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez tossed the team’s first no-hitter in 33 years, and San Francisco’s surprising first half makes me feel better about life, yet there are some fantastic plotlines as baseball reaches its symbolic halfway point.

Albert Pujols is the best player going, and he’s got a shot at the triple crown in a year when St. Louis is hosting Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Yes, the Yankees are in contention, but both New York teams are again proving you simply cannot buy a title. The Tigers have rebounded magnificently from a terrible season and are giving the beleaguered state of Michigan something for which to cheer.

And perhaps the most stunning of all – and this pains me – the Los Angeles Dodgers have overcome Manny-gate and are the best team in the National League.

Thoughts as we hit the second half:

• It’ll be the Red Sox and the Yankees down to the wire in the AL East and it won’t really matter who wins the division except for homefield in the playoffs. One wins the division (likely Boston because of pitching) and the other the wild card (likely New York because of pitching.) No one from the AL Central or West is going to be able to catch either team, especially come trade deadline time.

• Don’t expect as much movement come July 31 because most teams can’t afford it with attendance down, but the BoSox and the Yanks are the two teams who have the budget to make moves.

• The Tigers should hold off the Twins in the Central. No one should be surprised by Detroit’s re-emergence here. This was a good team which just had one of those years when everything falls apart. Jim Leyland has great talent and knows how to use it.

• Texas, with Seattle a close second, has been the surprise of the junior circuit, but don’t expect it to last. First we’ve seen this show before. The Rangers tend to melt during the summer. There’s also the fact that the Angels of Los Angeles/Anaheim/Southern California have understandably under-performed in the first half with injuries to Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter as well as having to deal with the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in April. The Halos at full strength will run away from the AL West.

• It appears the Mets are not waiting until September to implode. It’s unbelievable how much talent that team has and that it still cannot get its act together. The Phillies repeat by default in the East.

• And speaking of underachieving, we present the Chicago Cubs. I know Ryan Dempster went down, but this is a weak division. Milwaukee has no business being in contention nor does Houston. Both have wretched pitching. I really keep on waiting for the Cubs, or the Mets for that matter, to wake up.

• And that leads us to an interesting situation in the NL West. The Dodgers have proven themselves the class of the senior circuit. They didn’t crumble while Ramirez served a 50-game suspension. In fact, they prospered to the tune of a 29-21 record. L.A.’s pitching has been surprisingly strong (a historically strange thing to say) and the West is the Dodgers to win.

• But look out because something really weird is happening. The Giants are for real, kids. I know I bleed orange and black, but San Francisco has the pitching to hang in there (another historically-strange thing to say). Sanchez, Mr. No-No, is the weak link of this staff, and when he does what he did Friday, it’s almost enough to make you think that things are starting to come together by the Bay. Everyone talks about the Giants’ lack of hitting, but San Francisco’s bullpen will tell the tale.

• Yes, Colorado has made a good charge, but don’t expect a repeat of Rocktober 2007. The Dodgers AND Giants are in the way. San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum (it’s either him or Arizona’s Dan Haren for the Cy Young) and Matt Cain are miles ahead on the mound of anyone the Rockies can put there.

• The divisions go to the Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals and Phillies, while the Yankees and Giants take the wild cards. It’s the Red Sox and the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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