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2008 MLB Season, A Mid-Year Review

   by Al McMordie - 07/01/2008

It’s almost as if last year’s bizarre football season has carried over into baseball. 2007 was an incredible season of shockers in football. Every week, it seemed, the No. 1 team in the nation got beat. We saw USC lose at home as a 41-point favorite over Stanford, the biggest upset ever based on wagering lines. No team had ever been a 36-point favorite or more and lost straight up.

Ohio State got upset by Illinois, but ended up backing into the national title game because West Virginia lost at home to Pitt as a 28-point favorite. It continued in the NFL playoffs with the fifth-seeded Giants stunning the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So what would be the baseball equivalent? Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays winning the AL pennant. Oh, that’s not that shocking a possibility, now, is it. The Angels, defending champion Red Sox and the Rays are the top teams in the AL. The Rays appear built for the long haul, with excellent starting pitching and an offense that has balance, tops in the AL in steals. Tampa Bay is also fourth in the AL in team ERA.

Young CF B.J. Upton is so talented and versatile he just filled in for 2B Akinori Iwamura in the leadoff spot. Upton has a .401 on-base percentage, 56 walks (second in the AL) and 22 stolen bases (third in the AL). A quality leadoff hitter who gets on base is of great value, not to mention a lineup that is flexible. Sports bettors should note that the Rays are 29-14 under the total at home! That’s what strong pitching and defense can do.

The Angels are also a team loaded with pitching and defense, and it’s no surprise they started 50-28 under the total. And speaking of strangeness, the Angels took the cake this weekend, throwing a no-hitter....and losing! Jeff Weaver and reliever Jose Arredondo combined for eight no-hit innings Saturday at Dodger Stadium during the Angels' 1-0 loss to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers became only the fifth team in the modern era of baseball to win a game without getting a hit. The last team to do it was Cleveland, which was no-hit by Matt Young of Boston for eight innings but won, 2-1, on April 12, 1992.

"This is pretty bizarre," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. "This is definitely the craziest game I've never been part of," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter added.

After getting shut out in consecutive games by the Dodgers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Angels running more. Chone Figgins hurt his knee sliding into home plate two weeks ago against the Atlanta Braves, but is expected back this week.

Arizona looked like the best team in the NL early in the season, but then something happened – they had to play teams outside the crummy NL West. They’ve been in a funk, with barely a .500 record as a favorite. The pitching is fine, although there is concern about ace Brandon Webb’s arm. The team is 1-3 his last 4 starts. Injuries have cropped up, with Orlando Hudson hurting and right-handers Micah Owings and Edgar Gonzalez departing games this weekend with injuries. The offense has a .322 on base percentage, 6th worse in the NL. Don’t be surprised if they go shopping for a bat before the end of July.

The Yankees and Mets continue to struggle around .500 despite having the highest payrolls in the game. And it's interesting to hear defensive finger-pointing from the Mets' Johan Santana. The $137.5 million man has now dropped his last four decisions despite a sterling 3.01 ERA overall, and the team has lost each of his past five starts. "All I can say is that I'm doing my job," said Santana. "Other than that, there's nothing else I can do. I can't go out there and do the things that my teammates have to do." Nice teammate! The most amazing thing about the Mets is that they are 10-9 as an underdog, yet 29-31 as chalk.

As far as bizarre off the field, former Houston pitcher Shawn Chacon gets the bizzaro medal, getting suspended for beating up GM Ed Wade. It was just three years ago the Astros played in the World Series, which shows how quickly things can turn around in sports. The Rockies shocked the NL a year ago by winning the pennant, so perhaps the Rays or some other surprise can keep the baseball world on its head with a big second half run. After all, surprises happen more often than you might realize. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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