Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 8:34 AM
It's gone by in a heartbeat, hasn't it?
The first half of this 2012 Major-League Baseball season reaches its unofficial halfway point with this Tuesday's All-Star Game in Kansas City and so everyone will have a few days to catch their breath - and remember MLB doesn't come back from the break till Friday now, not Thursday - before folks hunker down for the second half of the year.
Oh, there's been plenty of surprise teams out there and a fair share of disappointments too and in today's edition of Jim Sez we offer up our American League Report Card Grades plus quick-hitter comments on all 14 junior-circuit squads ... see if you agree (and note all records below are entering this weekend's play).
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE
TEXAS (50-33) - No post-World Series hangover for this crew that entered this pre-All Star Game weekend as the only team with 50 wins and Ron Washington's club can bash your brains in so many ways with an offense that ranks first in the AL in batting average and first in runs scored (434 or an eye-popping 5.2 runs a game). And LHP Matt Harrison (11-4, 3.10) is turning into this year's C.J. Wilson, if you know what we mean!
NEW YORK YANKEES (49-32) - Consider that the Bombers were staggering around for the better part of the past two months but they've come alive and showed signs of running away with the AL East and that's despite the fact 3B Alex Rodriguez has not hit for power, C Russell Martin hasn't hit at all and despite the fact closer Mariano Rivera (knee) has been on the shelf for the past two months. No doubt that manager Joe Girardi has been brilliant in handling his bullpen ... and that never was a strong suit for predecessor Joe Torre, remember?
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (45-37) - Keep in mind that the Chisox's win total for this 2012 was 75 and here they are sitting with the fourth-best overall mark in the AL behind first-year manager Robin Ventura and if there's a first-half MVP it's young LHP Chris Sale (10-2, 2.19 ERA) who's been every bit as magical as New York Mets RHP R.A. Dickey (12-1). Welcome back, Adam Dunn (25 HRs).
BALTIMORE (44-38) - The Orioles have more than held their own in the rough-and-tumble AL East (17-15) and they've found themselves one of MLB's most dependable closers in RHP Jim Johnson (25 saves) and hats off to the Birds for thriving while playing much of this '12 season without 2B Brian Roberts and RF Nick Markakis.
CLEVELAND (43-39) - The Tribe is doing something right 'cause they're playing winning ball despite ranking 11th in the AL in home runs and 13th in the league in team ERA and so maybe Manny Acta's name should pop up a bit more when Manager of the Year talk starts to circulate.
TORONTO (42-41) - Even the basement team in the AL East is playing winning ball at press time and that's a minor miracle considering how this starting rotation has been mangled by injuries but the long ball - read RF Jose Bautista (27) and Edwin Encarnacion (22) - has saved the Blue Jays thus far.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS (46-37) - The Halos' horrendous start has been put in the rear-view mirror and now Mike Scioscia's squad is playing with an almost reckless abandon with energizer rookie OF Mike Trout now being compared with a young Rickey Henderson by the MLB Network folks on Thursday night. Wow!
OAKLAND (41-42) - Don't quite know how the no-name A's hang around all the time (we'll watch Moneyball one of these days!) but fact of matter is this Bay Area bunch wins a lot of games late and it helps to sport the league's best team ERA (3.43).
TAMPA BAY (43-40) - The Rays ranks 10th in the AL in runs scored and 11th in batting average and no wonder as injury-prone 3B Evan Longoria has missed a major chunk of this season and now the bullpen is starting to fray at the edges too. Throw in the fact T-Bay's defense has been awful and it's a wonder Joe Maddon's crew is the north side of .500 these days.
BOSTON (42-40) - Maybe the Red Sox would have drawn a higher grade here but getting swept three in a row in Oakland this past week drops 'em to an average mark at best and no doubt everyday lineup simply doesn't scare anyone even if David Ortiz now has 400 career dingers.
MINNESOTA (35-47) - The Twins have shown some major grit in recent weeks and how about a round of applause for LF Josh Willingham who has whacked 18 home runs and many of them game-changers. Hey, it's tough to win with a 4.99 team ERA (that's last in the AL).
KANSAS CITY (37-44) - The Royals remain one of MLB's real "tease" teams as just when you think they're making progress they take two giant steps back and did you know KayCee ranks dead-last in the league in home runs (66) right now?
SEATTLE (35-49) - Not much was expected from this year's Mariners (see over/under wins total of 72) and the M's have not disappointed and even OF Ichiro Suzuki's hitting just .262 this year. Ugh!
DETROIT (41-42) - No need to start bellyaching about the injuries to this team's pitching staff (especially the bullpen) because RHP Justin Verlander has five complete-game games and 1B Prince Fielder and 3B Miguel Cabrera have 128 RBI between 'em and so where is the criticism of manager Jim Leyland? Hmm.
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NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM CAPSULES ROLL ON WITH THE BILLS AND THE BUCS
On today's pigskin menu, we bring you ...
BUFFALO - In case you have lost count, the Bills have suffered through three consecutive double-digit loss seasons (see 6-10 last year) and a defense that ranked 28th in the NFL last year in rush defense will be getting plenty of attention from head coach Chan Gailey and his staff this summer. The Bills - oddly enough - didn't draft a single defensive lineman in last April's draft (they did have nine picks!) and while free-agent signees Mario Williams (Houston) and Mark Anderson (New England) are rock-solid acquisitions at defensive end you do have to wonder who clogs up the enemy rushing lanes if DT Marcell Dareus doesn't get some instant help. Hey, here's a key scheduling note on the Bills: The AFC East team plays just one home game during a six-week stretch from early October through mid-November (see a Week 7 home game against Tennessee) but it plays four of its final five games at home. Will that be too late to save these Bills from yet another twin-figure losing season?
TAMPA BAY - This is the 10th anniversary of the Buccaneers winning their first-and-only Super Bowl and can you believe that T-Bay has not won a single playoff game since that Super Bowl victory against Oakland in January 2003? Now, first-year head coach Greg Schiano will attempt to change the karma around this franchise and an offense that ranked 30th in rushing (91.1 yards per game) and 32nd in rush defense (156.1 ypg) a year ago is at the heart of the matter for this NFC South club that last year was beaten by the margins of 45, 28, 19, 27, 32 and 21 points in a handful-plus games. If there's a draft pick that really could earn his keep this year - not to say the team's initial first-round choice SS Mark Barron (Alabama) won't! - it's the team's second opening-round pick RB Doug Martin (Boise State) who some folks already are claiming will be Schiano's version of one-time Rutgers great RB Ray Rice. If Martin gets close to 20 touches a game, the Bucs could be way more explosive than their recent outfits here.