Comments on the first half

Published 9:15 pm Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Major League Baseball All-Star festivities officially begin today with the Futures Game at 11:30 a.m. and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball game at 3 p.m. Riveting television.

Though the all-star break is always scheduled to fall a little after the actual halfway point of the season – most teams will have played 95 of their 162 games by Monday – the middle of something is always a good time to look back on what has happened and what that means for the rest of the season. A few observations:

1. Teams can win with young talent. Case in point: the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa only had one position player, catcher Dioner Navarro, elected to the American League squad before the fans voted in third baseman Evan Longoria. That illustrates just what a team with hungry, no-name talent (maybe not for long) can do (55-37 before today’s games) compared to teams with too many egos (the Tigers at 46-47).

2. Winning consistently takes depth of talent. Case in point: the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a blistering start (the D-backs had baseball’s best record for a long while), Arizona has dropped to .500 because it can’t swing the bats well enough. There are great pitchers in the desert, but a team has to score, also. Luckily, Arizona plays in a weak division and sits in first place going into the break.

3. The Cubs are actually a good team. If you’d told me my beloved Cubbies would have the best record in baseball at the break, I would have gone ahead and called it a successful season. But now that I’m a witness to the success on the North Side of Chicago, I want more. Milwaukee’s trade for reigning AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was scary, but the Cubs wasted little time in responding when General Manager Jim Hendry traded for former Oakland pitcher Rich Harden. Harden hasn’t been able to stay healthy his entire career, but his potential is exciting if he does (on Saturday in his first start, Harden held San Francisco scoreless in 5 1/3 innings while striking out 10).

4. Fans shouldn’t be allowed to choose the All-Star teams. Seven Red Sox and seven Cubs? These might be the best teams in the game, but it’s frustrating that this turns into a popularity contest every year because the teams are playing to give their league home field advantage in the World Series. When the Cubs just might have a chance to make it that far, nothing should be left to whim.