Here are a couple of six packs to celebrate one of the best weeks on the MLB regular-season calendar — from the fourth of July through the All-Star festivities in Kansas City:
1. New York Mets: You can make an excellent case for either Terry Collins or Clint Hurdle as leader in the clubhouse for NL Manager of the Year. But we'll lean to the former, mostly on the basis of team shock value.
Yes, the Pirates lead the NL Central, but they flirted with contender status late into July last season. The Mets? No need to recount how far ownership's dire financial situation dragged them down last year, and things didn't look much better this spring after $50 million was slashed off the payroll.
The Mets' lineup doesn't wow you, but somehow, they're third in the NL in runs scored despite being eighth in OPS, 10th in slugging percentage and 12th in home runs.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: Hurdle and his Pirates sat in first place through Wednesday, and at 45-36 were one game better through 81 games than the 1992 Pirates — the last Pirates team to finish above .500.
And they've started hitting, too — averaging 6.56 runs per game and reaching double figures three times in a 13-5 run through Wednesday.
Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan will be in Kansas City, and there's a case for James McDonald, too. No token Pirate All-Star this season.
3. Baltimore Orioles: Even now, few are buying the notion of the Orioles staying ahead of the Rays and Red Sox in the AL East. Run differential tells you so, as the Orioles are at -26 through 81 games, yet somehow are seven games over .500.
But ultimately, this season should be measured by the developments of the 26-under core stars. And in the cases of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen, it's thumbs-up. Not so much at this point, though, for Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter (all with 5-plus ERAs). And we'll see about Chris Tillman and Zack Britton.
4. Chicago White Sox: Picked by most for a second-division finish in a bad division, the Sox instead lead the AL Central halfway through Robin Ventura's first season. Ventura's calm, solid leadership is a big part of it, but here are four more reasons:
5. Washington Nationals: It's always nice to watch a young, emerging team take that step from potential to reality, and that's what the Nats have done under 69-year-old manager Davey Johnson.
And a likely Stephen Strasburg shutdown notwithstanding, there's a good chance things can get better in the second half. Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder isn't bothering him anymore, Drew Storen will be back later this month, Jayson Werth likely by August, and you figure GM Mike Rizzo will make a key addition or two.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers: It's been a painful comedown from a 30-13 start, but what do you expect without Matt Kemp, and now Andre Ethier? But don't discount this team as a first-half flash-in-the-pan just yet.
Kemp, Ethier and Mark Ellis will be back soon enough, and there's plenty of money (and pitching prospects) to add a quality bat or top-level arm for the rest of this season, and possibly longer term.
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