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The Great Races

   by Al McMordie - 06/17/2007

There are several divisions in baseball lacking any pennant race drama this season, but not in the AL Central or NL West. Here's a peek at what are shaping up to be great pennant races.

Indians: Cleveland and Detroit look like the top teams in the AL, along with Boston and LA. Someone is going to have to finish second in the AL Central and the Indians and Tigers appear to be strong enough to go down to the wire, which happened just two years ago when the White Sox and Indians battled it out to the final weekend of the regular season.

The Indians have augmented some much needed pitching to what has been a powerful offense the last three years. Catcher Victor Martinez, CF Grady Sizemore, Casey Blake and Travis Hafner anchor a terrific young offense. They revamped their bullpen for this season. With respect to the starters, C.C. Sabathia is an ace and control specialist Paul Byrd (6-3) has added a split-finger and been very strong.

The big story, of course, has been the emergence of sinkerballer Fausto Carmona, a 23-year old kid who has put it together quickly. Cleveland will also get a break soon as Jake Westbrook continues to rehab at Class AAA Buffalo before re-joining the team. The Indians don’t have many weaknesses and should be a force all summer. Also of note: they are a .500 road team, but 21-10 at home!

Tigers: The defending AL Champs started slow, but their offense has been the big story. They added Gary Sheffield and teamed him with Maggio Ordonez to form one of the best one-two punches in baseball. Detroit leads the AL in offense, runs, and homers. That’s why they started 36-23 over the total. Verlander and Bonderman lead this dynamite young staff put together by Dave Dombrowski, who built the champion Marlins. Like the Indians, the Tigers are going to get a veteran pitcher back soon as Kenny Rogers is rehabbing, and he was their ace last season.

Padres: In the NL west, three teams are slugging it out (the Padres, Dodgers and D-Backs). San Diego is all about pitching. Who wouldn’t want a rotation of Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, and David Wells, not to mention the best bullpen in baseball? But the Pads' offense is lacks punch and ranks last in the NL in batting. That’s partly because their home stadium is huge. In fact, the Padres are 19-11 under the total at home

Dodgers: Speaking of lacking punch, the LA offense is last in the NL in home runs. The pitching staff has a 3.58 ERA, second best in the NL behind the Padres. This is a staff with big names, like Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, and Brad Penny. But age is also a concern, especially with Schmidt (whose fastball is way down) and offensive players like Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Jeff Kent. Schmidt topped out at 88 mph for a second consecutive start for the Dodgers and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Schmidt is unable to locate his slider and curveball.

They need to keep the veterans healthy, which is not always easy to do over a 162-game season. Bill Mueller is the new LA hitting coach after they fired Eddie Murray last week. In the two games since the Dodgers fired Murray, the team scored two runs in 17 innings, and went 11 for 59 against the Angels. Not a good start, or harbinger of better things to come.

Diamondbacks: The D-Backs were many experts' sleeper at the start of the season. And you have to hand it to scrappy Arizona, as it ranks third in the NL in pitching. Randy Johnson is throwing well, as are talented young arms like Micah Owings, Brandon Webb and closer Jose Valverde. Like the Padres, Arizona’s offense isn’t very good, which explains a 40-25 under the total mark. Arizona and San Diego will be looking for bats before the All Star break. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie

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