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Orioles Sputter To The End of July As All Division Races Tighten

In this strange but always absorbing baseball season, it seems that uneasy lies the head of all division leaders. I follow the Orioles the most closely, of course, and their AL East lead is down to two games in the AILC . This stands for All-Important Lost Column meaning that a game lost can never be made up but a game not played could still be a win.

A three-game series in Toronto against the second place Blue Jays this weekend should clarify a few things. I am hoping that Chris Davis's bat awakens in his favorite ballpark the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome in Toronto's championship years of 1992-93.)

The Red Sox are on the road for two weeks and have lost some tough games recently. Yet they are only two back of the Birds in the AILC and the resurgent Yankees only six.

Leaders in baseball's other divisions are having hard times, too. In the AL West the Texas Rangers are having starting pitching woes and have lost slugger Prince Fielder for probably the rest of the season with recurring neck issues.

Last year's surprise team the Houston Astros is hot on the Rangers trail and they are eager to face Texas again after losing all but one of their first match ups this year. Don't count out the occasionally explosive Seattle Mariners who have their ace Felix Hernandez back from injury.

In the AL Central, Cleveland's 14-game winning streak opened a big lead but they are losing luster, obviously needing another bat in the lineup and some help in the bullpen. The Detroit Tigers are hanging in and like the Astros they hope to avenge a pounding by the Indians in their earlier games this year.

The chances for defending World Series champion Kansas City to repeat in AL Central look meager now. So too for the Mets in the NL East. The Nationals have ruled the roost for much of this year but are not invincible. Yet the Mets have fallen behind even the Miami Marlins in the race for the divisional crown.

Perhaps the biggest slump of division leaders is occurring in the NL West where the SF Giants are plummeting. Their defense and hitting looked very suspect when they lost the series at Yankee Stadium last weekend. It was nice though for an old New York Giant fan like myself to see such a spirited band of Giant fans hold their own cheering on the road.

Another thrilling pennant chase between the Giants and Dodgers looms. Only in the NL Central does the race seem over with the Cubs holding a commanding lead despite playing barely .500 ball since they raced out to a 25-6 start. The Pirates and now the onrushing Cardinals are still very alive in the wild card race.

Though I wish the season were shortened to 154 games or fewer, there is one great rule in effect. The team that wins the division title is assured at least one playoff series.
The two also-rans with the best records must play the Wild Card winner-take-all game.

So expect some dramatic baseball ahead. It's what we addicted fans live for.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Fasten Your Seat Belts: Looks Like We're In For A Roller Coaster MLB Season

The immortal Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy – the man who pronounced “line drive” as “li-on” drive and chortled after a victory about a “happy recap”
– loved to use the phrase “fasten your seat belts” to build up the tense late moments in a game.

With the MLB season less than a month old, it looks like the whole year will be a“Fasten Your Seat Belts” kind of year.
I noted in my last post that the one thing any baseball team must avoid in the long long regular season is not to get buried in April.
The booby prize in 2014 must go so far to the Arizona Diamondbacks who are already double-digit games under .500.

It didn’t help that Arizona opened its season in Australia with two losses to the Dodgers.
LA didn’t exactly enjoy that trip because their ace defending-Cy Young award winner
Clayton Kershaw evidently hurt his back on the return flight and hasn’t pitched since (but is due back soon).
It looks like the Dodgers and the SF Giants will engage in a year-long battle for NL West supremacy.
Colorado hovers around the .500 mark after a bad start.

And thanks to the truly woeful Cubs (yet again) Arizona won a couple in Chicago
as the Windy City nine celebrated the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.
How sadly fitting that the Cubs blew a 3-run 9th inning lead on the celebratory day.

Better news in the NL Central comes from baseball’s surprise team, the Milwaukee Brewers who in the early going soared 10 games over .500.
After an unconscionably long road trip, the defending NL champion Cardinals will have some ground to make up.

In the AL West, the Seattle Mariners turned a solid start into a 8-game losing streak and are looking up at division leaders Texas and Oakland.
Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could still be heard from. Every team could contend in this division except the Houston Astros
who are doomed to the basement in another year of rebuilding and falling attendance.

In the division I know the best and obsess about the most, the AL East is off to a predictably bruising start.
Every team, including Toronto whose cagey southpaw Mark Buehrle is already 4-0, could finish first or last.
The Tampa Bay Rays will have to come up with new starters - usually the strength of their team - because
of the season-ending injury to Matt Moore and long layoffs of Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson.

My Orioles managed to split a four-game series in Boston though came close to doing something that even their woeful lineal descendant
St. Louis Browns never accomplished: losing five and six-run leads in back-to-back games.
I know, it is a ridiculous stat but somewhat of an amusing if macabre one.

Fortunately the Birds held on to win the Patriots Day morning clash on Boston Marathon Monday, 7-6. Two things are crystal clear in the early going:
1) Shaky Oriole starters must get into at least the seventh inning more often or the bullpen will be worn out by Memorial Day.
2) The return of Manny Machado to fortify the lineup and the defense must happen soon (early May the target). But I hope and pray
that he and the team are first confident about the condition of his surgically repaired knee.

The Yankees with their $400 million in free agent expenditures - outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann,
and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka all playing well - look like a team to beat. And it will be a pleasure to do that as the year unfolds.

Will be seeing the Orioles in early May in Minnesota, my first trip to the new Target Field. One of the feel-good stories of the young season is
the emergence of Chris Colabello as a huge run producer in the Twins lineup. Have to wish the best (except against the Orioles) for a player
like Colabello who was signed out of an independentleague.

The weekend before I'm heading for the climactic pair of doubleheaders between my alma mater Columbia and Penn.
They are the two best teams in the 2014 Ivy League but only one will qualify for the league championship series
and the right to play in the NCAA tournament that begins in late May.

The prize at the end is the 12-day double-elimination College World Series in Omaha in mid-June.
As a lover of acronyms, let me close today with what Omaha means to eager college players.
Opportunity
Makeup
Attitude
Hustle
Always Put The Team First

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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