.802 OPS (4th in the AL), 4.41 ERA (9th in the AL)
Second baseman Brian Roberts (AL-leading .345 average) has been one of the first half's biggest surprises, Miguel Tejada the AL's first-half MVP (.329, 19 homers, 62 RBIs), closer B.J. Ryan (19 saves) a first-half revelation and the Orioles, overall, a rousing first-half success story. Well, mostly.
Injuries (including pitcher Erik Bedard and catcher Javy Lopez), an ineffective Sammy Sosa (.225, a .208 June) and a suspect rotation finally caught up with the O's, who led the division until the last weekend in June. Winning three of four going into the break helps, especially against Boston, but Baltimore has still lost 13 of its last 19 games.
The O's can score, but without an ace or a deeper rotation, they're in trouble. Help before the trade deadline is possible but probably not enough of it to run with the big dogs.
Grade: Good start, bad finish. -- B-
Boston Red Sox(49-38)
.808 OPS (2nd in the AL), 4.84 ERA (12th in the AL)
The Red Sox wrested the division lead from Baltimore late in June on the back of resurgent run-producing fool Manny Ramirez (a baseball-best 77 RBIs and an OPS over 1.000 since May 31). The Goofy One finally chipped in to help centerfielder and Head Idiot Johnny Damon (.343), DH David Ortiz (.314, 21 homers) and catcher Jason Varitek (.310, 13 homers). Matt Clement (10-2, 3.85 ERA) and reliever Mike Timlin (1.69 ERA) boosted the pitching staff.
Series hero Curt Schilling missed most of the first half with that famously bad ankle, while closer Keith Foulke was terrible (four blown saves, a 6.23 ERA) and now is hurt (knee surgery). Free-agents Wade Miller (2-3, 5.03), David Wells (6-5, 5.00) and Edgar Renteria (.327 on-base percentage) have been so-so. Boston lost three of four to Baltimore to end the first half, and Wells said something stupid at the break. That second part shouldn't be a surprise.
Bullpen help is Boston's top priority before July 31. Schilling may chip in, but the Sox need him back in the rotation. The hitters are still dangerous, though, as the Sox aim for their first East title since '95.
Grade: Sloppy start, but champs are in position. -- B
Chicago White Sox(57-29)
.743 OPS (9th in the AL), 3.62 ERA (1st in the AL)
Frank Thomas is back and slugging (11 homers in 28 games), Scott Podsednik just stole another base (he has 44) and the pitching -- especially All-Stars Jon Garland (13-4, 3.38 ERA) and Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.58), and unheralded Freddy Garcia (8-3, 3.53) -- has been tremendous. Closer Dustin Hermanson has blown one save (21 of 22), and rivals are hitting .220 off him.
The trade deadline has caused some uneasiness (will Carl Everett be around?), and Chicago would love to get more out of third baseman Joe Crede (.242, but with 12 homers). Tough to complain, though, with the best record in baseball.
Now that Thomas has joined Paul Konerko (20 HRs) and Jermaine Dye (19 HRs), forget about smart ball or smallball. And forget about anyone catching these guys. They're doing almost everything right. A deadline trade is possible, but it won't be a big one.
Grade: Running away with it. -- A
.757 OPS (5th in the AL), 3.82 ERA (4th in the AL)
The Tribe feasted on the NL during interleague play (a baseball-best 15-3) -- including a nine-game winning streak over the win-challenged NL West -- and they've held their own since. DH Travis Hafner (.319, 18 homers, 1.020 OPS) deserved a spot on the All-Star team; Grady Sizemore (.287, nine homers) will get there soon enough. Their starters are all better than they look, and Bob Wickman has 23 saves.
A 9-14 April forced them to play catch-up, Juan Gonzalez is still on the DL and hitting coach Eddie Murray was fired. The Indians don't have a winning record against anyone in the Central. Setup man Rafael Betancourt was suspended for 10 days for a positive steroid test.
A young, well-balanced team ready to break out, the Tribe should have a say in the wild card. Their rotation (C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Kevin Millwood) is as deep as anyone's. A trade is possible but not likely.
Grade: A second-half team to watch. -- B
.740 OPS (10th in the AL), 3.88 ERA (5th in the AL)
Carlos Guillen (a .353 average in 57 games) is back and healthy, and so is Magglio Ordonez -- and he looks to have his power stroke (three homers in 12 games). Two years after losing 19 games, Jeremy Bonderman is on pace to win 20, and he's supported by a solid bullpen (a 3.30 ERA, fifth in the AL). Placido Polanco is stroking (.319) since his trade from Philly, and Brandon Inge (.283,) has settled into third, though he needs to cut down on his strikeouts (77 in 336 at-bats).
Ivan Rodriguez still can hit -- just not with much power. (And he won't walk -- he has only five in more than 300 plate appearances.) Bonderman is the only starter with a winning record. And the White Sox have owned the Tigers, going 7-1.
They've come a long way from 119 losses, but they still have a way to go. Don't expect major trades before July 31.
Grade: Better but not winners yet. -- D+
Kansas City Royals(30-57)
.714 OPS (13th in the AL), 5.39 ERA (13th in the AL)
First baseman Mike Sweeney (.318, 11 homers) is an All-Star, but he's about it in K.C. D.J. Carrasco (4-3, 3.57 ERA) has the best record of any regular -- and the only winning one. The Royals are 17-20 since Buddy Bell took over, which is more than respectable for this franchise. And that's a nice change of color for Jose Lima ? if you like gold.
Tony Pena's optimism bottomed out, so he quit after an 8-25 start. The Royals are the worst in the AL in runs scored and next-to-last in runs allowed. A rash of injuries filled the DL (including Ken Harvey). Attendance is lousy.
They'll be sellers, if someone wants Sweeney or Lima, but this is a team in need of a lot -- not the least of which is some direction.
Grade: A Royal pain to their fans. -- F
Los Angeles Angels(52-36)
.745 OPS (8th in the AL), 3.79 ERA (3rd in the AL)
Vladimir Guerrero (.335, 16 homers, 51 RBIs) is playing like the MVP he is, and Garret Anderson (.304, 11, 65) is right there with him. Bartolo Colon (11-5, 3.42 ERA) is a deserving All-Star, the ace of a staff that goes four deep (with Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd and John Lackey). Closer Francisco Rodriguez has 17 saves, with 45 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings. And leadoff man Chone Figgins can -- and will -- play anywhere.
Injuries have kept the Angels from completely running away with the West. The big names who have spent time there include Guerrero, infielders Orlando Cabrera and Robb Quinlan and centerfielder Steve Finley. Free-agent pickup Finley has been disappointing (.225, eight homers) when not hurt. The Angels were swept by Seattle, at home, going into the break. Reliever Brendan Donnelly did time in the pokey for pine tar. And Mike Scioscia looked bad for his run-in with Frank Robinson.
The Angels, the class of this division, shouldn't mess much with what they have. Figgins gives them plenty of backup until everyone gets healthy. They should win this going away.