Augusta is currently 5 games up on Cincinnati, in large part to an outragous hot streak. Hot streaks happen when you have a couple CY Young candidates at the top of the rotation. Former ROY Pedro "High" Sierra has set a carrer high in wins with his 18-8 record to go with his 2.76 ERA, and fellow All-Star Calvin "Sweet As" Sugawara is 17-10 and 3.53. The 'Bears got a bad break when they lost closer Osvaldo Castillo for the year, but replacement Alex Butcher has been solid in his place. The line-up is stacked with the likes of steady C Victor Lawson (22HR, .277/.346/.485), all-star slick-fielding SS Doug Jennings (26 HR), and three MVP candidates in Javy Alvarez (35 HR/93 RBI, .285/.365/.533), Cleatus Alexander (43 HR/112 RBI, .301/.397/.590), and Marvin Crabtree (.320/.418/.569.)
Cincinnati is getting a career year from veteran starter Paul Merrick at 16-8 with a 3.56 ERA. Reliever Sammy Gueravara is 12/12 in save opps in a 109 IP out of the pen. The line-up is well-balanced and is getting solid production from the likes of 2B Vicente Blasco (.290/.370/.482), RF Peter Quintero (23HR/81 RBI), John Martin (42 HR/105 RBI, .889 OPS), and Harry Sosa (.298/.372/.498 and 36 SB). If Cincy can't make a run at the red-hot Augusta, the wild card is definitely in their sights.
The LA Dodgers have an 11 game lead on Tacoma. Reliever Carlos "Exxon" Valdes earned his 8th career All-star selection and is having perhaps his best year. He is 15-3 with 7 saves in 159 innings pitched. He has an ERA of 1.81 and a WHIP of 0.94. Morris James is doing the heavy lifting from the rotation with a record of 12-7 and a miniscule 2.42 ERA. Closer Travis Jones is having an uncharacteristicly bad year, but seems to be righting the ship at exactly the right time. The legendary lineup features a host of MVP candidates, including Pedro "Hack" Bonilla, whose somewhat human .846 OPS is the lowest of his career, C Clay Stanley (.321/.387/.654, 1.014 OPS), 3B Tony "The Crooner" Bennett (30 HR, 89 RBI, and GG caliber D), and Geovany Molina, who is rebounding nicely from his injury-plagued S22 campaign, with 37 HR and 89 RBI with an OPS of .914.
Tacoma has made pushes here and there for the division, but remains in great shape for a wild card berth if they can't get er' done. Their pitching staff is solid, if unspectacular (4th in runs against) led by Erick Durham (17-9 2.65 ERA), Chris King (12-7, 3.45) and closer Kenta Itou (31 saves). The team's superstar is Vinny Keats, who can do it all; .284/.369/.507, with 24 HR, 85 RBI, 15 SB, and is the front-runner for the gold-glove award in center. Bonk Lincoln (yes, "Bonk." Is WIS even trying, anymore!?) has a .351 OBP to go with his 33 SB and 81 runs scored.
Jackson is 8 games up on Charlotte, who is in grave danger (is there any other kind?) of missing out on the tournament for the first time since season 16. Neither team sent a single player to this season's mid-season classic, which is remarkable considering the legendary status of these two clubs. It was a statistical oddity , as both teams are stacked with solid performers. Two-time Cy Young winner Reese "Smokin'" Hemphill (soon to be FA?) is 13-3 with a 2.68. The Colonels seem to always churn out good young pitching, as Kirk Lee is a candidtae for this year's ROY. He's 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA. 2B Ralph Kydd is living up to his huge contract extension in going .318/.411/.438 with 40 steals and 96 runs. Bryce Dupler (36 HR/102 RBI), C Wes Dickerson (.827 OPS), and FA signing Jaret Walters (25 HR/99 RBI) are the featured stars in a productive offense.
Charlotte got a tough break when they lost 3-time Gold-glove winning SS Deacon Larson for the season. Last-year's MVP Carlos "Exxon" Valdes is having a nice little follow-up season with 40 HR and 117 RBI with an OPS of .923. Wayne Key (39 HR/83 RBI) and Tommy Jordan (32/91) have been huge contributors, and starter Estaban Guapo has been huge in going 15-5 with a 3.58 ERA.
Trenton is 16 up of the New York Mets. After starting the seaon 9-12, Trenton has gone 83-42 since, and is clearly the team to beat. They are first in runs in the AL and 2nd in runs against. Nick Jacquez leads all three triple crown categories at this point (.360/47/143) and appears a shoo-in for two of those. His 47 HR appear to be the only category that might be in question. The team sent 7 guys to the All-star game, including its two-headed beast at the top of the roation in last season's Cy Young Karl Hurst (20-9, 1.84 ERA) and Pat "Puffy" Combs (13-8 2.84). John Suzuki is also a legit MVP candidate with a slash-line of .326/.410/.594 with 35 HR, 83 RBI and 34 SB.Reliever Ricky Mullin is 8-2 with 6 saves in 118 innings pitched.
With original A.Rod franchise Syracuse leaving the World at the end if last season, I'd like you all to "meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and greet the Mets"! The new NY franchise has done a great job continuing the rebuilding process and have set themselve up to snag one of the wild card berths. All-star closer Rex Gray has 25 saves and a 1.90 ERA. A couple of rooks are making solid contributions in Anibal Olivares (31 HR/93 RBI, 9 SB, and only 1 error all year at 1B), and Shawn Durocher, who is playing Gold-glove defense in RF to go with his 27 HR and 83 RBI). LF Philip "Don't Call Me Christopher" Robbins is producing as well, with a line of .270/.340/.438, while scoring 92 runs. Starter Albert Brower was on the verge of having his break-out season (10-8, 3.65 ERA) when he was lost for the year.
Whoever does not win the North is the front-runner, along with Tacoma, for the wild card spots. The Mets and the Minute Men are 5 games out and are just one hot-streak away from applying the pressure. Richmond is on the radar, 8 games out.