The Pittsburgh Pirates, of all teams, were in first place as the first half of the baseball season drew to a close.
What’s next, postseason baseball in the nation’s capital? It sure looks that way.
After an eventful and unexpected first half, the season restarts tonight with the non-waiver trade deadline looming and many teams harboring playoff hopes.
“There’s several teams involved in races right now,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, whose Tigers joined the Phillies and Red Sox on the list of big-spending underachievers in the first half of the season.
“There’s probably going to be a lot of teams that would like to go out and get somebody. But the more teams that want to get something, the tougher it is to get it.”
And there’s even more motivation for deals to be made in the first year of baseball’s expanded postseason. The road to the World Series will be a little wilder this time around. A new format kicks in this year that adds an extra wild-card team to each league. That means 10 teams will have a chance to get in and go for it all.
The Orioles, who trail the Yankees by seven games in the American League East, haven’t been to the postseason since 1997; the Pirates haven’t been there since 1992; and the nation’s capital hasn’t hosted a playoff baseball game since 1933, when Mel Ott homered in Game 5 of the World Series to help the New York Giants beat the Senators for the title.
That was long before Natitude, long before “that’s a clown question, bro” and certainly way before the All-Star Game decided home-field advantage in the World Series. That, by the way, belongs to the National League after its 8-0 win over the AL on Tuesday. And if Bryce Harper and the Nationals or Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates somehow buck the odds and make it to the Series, they’ll be hosting the party.
“We’re playing for a lot more here,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re playing for a city, the goal being to re-bond the city with its ballclub.”
ON THE TRADING BLOCK
• Francisco Liriano, Twins: Got off to a horrendous start and was moved to the bullpen. But it’s what have you done for me lately, and the left-hander, who will be a free agent this winter, is 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA and .175 opponents’ batting average since rejoining the rotation.
• Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, Phillies: The Phils already moved Jim Thome. Now these two mainstays, who are eligible for free agency at the end of the season, could be available for the right price.
• Carlos Quentin, Padres: Topped 20 homers in each of the past four years for the White Sox, and has seven in an injury-marred first year in San Diego.
• Zack Greinke, Brewers: A free-agent-to-be, the Rangers, Angels, Braves and Orioles are among teams kicking the tires on a deal. Greinke is 25-9 overall with the Brewers including 9-3 with a 3.32 ERA this year.
• Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, Cubs: New Cubs honcho Theo Epstein needs a lot of pieces to turn the team around, and two chips he has to play are starting pitchers.
• CC Sabathia, Yankees: He’s on the disabled list with a strained left groin, and the Yankees desperately need their horse back at the top of the rotation. With Andy Pettitte out until late August at the earliest with a fractured left ankle, big No. 52 is more important than ever.
• Evan Longoria, Rays: The third baseman is on the shelf with a torn left hamstring that could keep him out for a while. In the meantime, the Rays will try to stay within shouting distance of the Yankees and the wild card.
• Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He has emerged as perhaps the best player in the game. But he’s played in just two games since May 14 because of a strained left hamstring, the kind of injury that can linger.
RACE FOR THE BOTTOM
• The 2013 draft is highlighted by Ryne Stanek and Karsten Whitson. The right-handers for Arkansas and Florida, respectively, are favorites to top the next draft class.
Expect a battle royal to see who gets the first crack to pick them. At 33-52, the Cubs and Rockies have the worst records in the majors, but the Astros are a half-game better, the Padres one game ahead and the Twins and Mariners are not far away. The Cubs could stack the deck in their favor if they trade Dempster and Garza.