- Heading down the stretch, here is how things are shaping up...
Augusta currently holds a 3 game lead over Pittsburgh. With all due respect to the Trenton Thunder, I'd have to say the Steel Makers are the surprise team this year. They've done a great job turning this franchise into a contender. 36 year-old journeyman Aramis Herrera has thrust himself into the Cy Young race with 14 wins and a solid 3.25 ERA. Pitt is getting strong seasons from All-Stars Keith Rivera in his first full season, and from free agent 3B Enos Hoffman, who has hit 26 longballs to go along with a solid .355 OBP. OF Randy Kapler is having his break-out season at 26, hitting 25 bombs and posting a .380 OBP and .546 SLG%
Augusta is getting the job done with their usual cast of characters in Marvin Crabtree (30 HR/80 RBI) and Cleatus Alexander (27/75.) Javy Alvarez is on pace to duplicate his last year's Silver Slugger season when he hit 49 homers and drove in 139 while posting a .397 OBP and .589 SLG%. Mac Sano is having a career year with an OBP of .365 and on pace to score 100 runs. Vet closer Albert Jackson is doing his thing with 27/29 saves. Starters Flip "Lennon &" McCartney and Calvin "Sweet as " Sugawara both have double-digit wins.
Cincinnati is staying within striking distance at 9 back. They've gotten a boost from new-aquisition Davey Diaz, who's hit 22 bombs and driven in 62 since his arrival. A solid top three in the rotation in Craig Jones (16 wins), Richard Lennon (13) and Ugueth Nunez (9) are getting the job done.
In the AL East, Trenton has broken away from the pack this year, and is 11 up on Jacksonville. Nick Jaquez is having another incredible season to lead the attack. He has 33 homeruns and has driven in 91. All-Stars John Suzuki (21 HR, .385 OBP) and SS gold glove candidate Vin Mendoza have had solid seasons. The two-headed beast at the top of the rotation in Karl Hurst (12 wins) and Pat Combs (10 W's), has made it easy for the Thunder to avoid long losing streaks. ROY candidate Victor Moya has 11 wins, and super-long man Ricky Mullin has 11 victories out of the pen.
The South has the closest race going on with Charlotte leading long-time rival Jackson by 1 game. For Charlotte, Carlos "Exxon" Valdes is duplicating his MVP season in which he hit 61 bombs and drove in 147. All-Star Felipe Estrada has a .304/.378/.494 line. Dennis Larson is scoring his usual ton-of-runs, 94 to go along with 43 steals. Tom Lewis is playing gold-glove caliber 2B while hitting 24 homers and scoring 88 runs. They have a pair of ROY candidates in DH Melvin Rose, who has an OBP of .366 and has 31 HR as part of his .570 SLG%, and SP Estaban Guapo who is 12-4.
Jackson has a deep starting rotation led by the great Reese "Smokin'" Hemphill (14-7, 2.60 ERA). Hector Batista is 13-7 and vet Fritz Mullin is staying strong at 36 with a 9-3 record. Ralph Kydd continues his reign as one of the top lead-off men in the game with a line of .331/.408/.481 with 47 steals and 91 runs scored. Bryce Dupler is having another great year at .324/.361/.529
The LA Dodgers have run away with the division for the second year in a row (22 up on Scottsdale), but should be in a fight for one of the two all-important byes. Last year's Cy Young Award winner Travis Jones, who saved an unheard of 63 games in 64 chances, has been merely super-human this year. He is again in the running for the award with his 39 saves, but has come down to earth by blowing 4 chances. I'm sure slash isn't losing any sleep over this development, however. Morris James is 11-5, JD Schneider is 13-6. 1B Andrew Gipson is on pace to eclipse his carrer high of 46 homers and has a line of .292/.413/6.08. Pedro Bonilla is of course in the hunt for another MVP award in going .297/.366/.545. The thrid member of the squad who is monopolizing the MVP candidacy spots, Geovany Molina, is on the DL, but should be back in plenty of time for the post-season.
In the Wildcard race, Pittsburgh is 6 games ahead of both Jackson and Cincy for the top spot. Jacksonville is 4 games back, Syracuse 6, and Sante Fe 8. This should be a wild race to the end! I'll touch more on the teams in this hunt on my next report.