By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Who’s On Base?: NL Central at a Glance
GLEN BURNIE – MARYLAND
GLEN BURNIE – MARYLAND— Even in the midst of an incredible home run saga, there does happen to be other news going on around the baseball world. But first, let’s get the home run race out the way. With 38 games left, Bonds has 54, Sosa has 45, and Gonzo has 46. Whew, now that the home runs are out the way, let’s talk about the rest of the league.
First, what more can be said about the Oakland A’s? They have gone from last place in their division to first place in the wild card race, leading the Boston Red Sox by four games. For a team to be able to make that kind of run, help from both sides of the field and from several different players is what makes the difference. The biggest names on the field are Jermaine Dye and Jason Giambi, but other players have continually found ways to contribute to this team’s playoff run.
Miguel Tejada has been one of the pleasant surprises. Last year, Miguel came into his own by hitting a career-high, 30 home runs while batting .275. This year, he is nearly duplicating those numbers with his .263 average and 24 home runs. Another player feeding the A’s success has been the brother of last year’s MVP, Jeremy Giambi. Jeremy has a .297 batting average in just .290 at bats with 10 home runs this year, and is constantly getting better every day.
The last ingredient in the A’s success has been the pitching, which has been nothing less than outstanding. In his last five starts, Barry Zito is 3-1 with a 0.97 ERA. On Monday, Zito pitched a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts as the A’s increased their wild card lead over the Red Sox to four games. Also in the starting rotation are Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, who have 14 and 15 wins this season, respectively. Since we have spoken about the A’s on several occasions this baseball season, let’s switch to the NL and see who is leading the pack in the Central.
Ok, now while we are in the NL Central, I just have one request. Please be very, very quiet because in that division is one of the most underrated players in the world playing in a Houston Astros uniform. His name is not Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio. His name is Moises Alou. Now, I know many of you know who he is and understand he is a very good player. But did you know that he is leading the league in hitting at .367? Or how about that, in his previous four years in the majors, he has driven in 110 runs and could easily break that mark this year as he sits on 84 RBI’s with over a month left in the season? On the same team with the killer Bee’s (Bagwell and Biggio), Alou has managed to continue the strong hitting that he brought from the Pirates, Expos and Marlins.
The most important aspect of Alou’s accomplishments this year is that the Astros are currently in first place, two games ahead of the recently slumping Chicago Cubs. As of last week, the Cubs were in first place and seemed to be holding their destiny in their own hands. Unfortunately for the Cubs, even as Sosa has continued to dominate NL pitching, the rest of the Cubs have fallen asleep. Over the last 10 games, the Cubs have gone just 3-7 and, if they do not turn it around soon, the Cubs will be in danger of not making the playoffs.
“There’s no question we are struggling right now,” said Cubs manager Don Baylor after Tuesday’s game with the Brewers. “We’re sure to get back on track. I just told them to relax,” he continued.
The Cubs just need to stop pressing and get back to playing a fun game of baseball. They also need to take advantage of the hot bat of Sosa, who has hit 10 home runs in his last 16 games. This sort of hitting streak does not normally last for months at a time, but you never know with Sammy.
The Cubs are in danger of falling into third place behind the St Louis Cardinals, who have gone 9-1 in their last 10 games with the only loss coming on an inside-the-park home run in the 11th inning by Ken Griffey, Jr. The biggest surprise of the Cardinals’ surge is that it has been done, for the most part, without their home run king, Mark McGuire. McGuire has had a disappointing season at best. He is currently batting just .197 with 21 home runs in 71 games this season. It is very possible McGuire could end the season with 30+ home runs and still have an average of less than .220. With the help of the soon-to-be rookie of the year sensation, Albert Pujols, who is hitting .333 with 29 home runs and 93 RBI’s, the Cardinals, now just three games back, have been able to keep rising in hopes of reaching the top of their division.
Make sure you check back next week as we continue with “Who’s on Base” and look at the Diamondbacks and the rest of the NL West. Also, please feel free to drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think of this week’s update.