As the second quarter of the baseball season came to a close, the New York Yankees made their move.
The defending champions got off to a slow start by their sky-high standards due to injury, but have surged back to their usual spot on top of the A.L. East thanks to an MVP-type season from Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher’s first All-Star bid and a starting rotation that has stood out even in the “Year of the Pitcher.”
CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes have combined to go 34-7 to help the Yankees take first place away from Tampa Bay and put some distance between them and the banged-up Boston Red Sox.
“Offensively, defensively, pitching, it was all there,” New York first baseman Mark Teixeira said.
The San Diego Padres have used a similar formula to keep their surprising success going. Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Jon Garland have kept the offensively challenged Padres in games, and Heath Bell has closed them out to keep them atop the N.L. West.
With that in mind, the first-place Texas Rangers made the biggest move yet by adding Seattle lefty Cliff Lee to the top of their rotation in a trade Friday.
Pitchers were dominating when the Associated Press identified some first-quarter trends at the end of May, and that didn’t change in the second quarter this year. Two more no-hitters – from Roy Halladay and Edwin Jackson – were added to gems from Dallas Braden and Ubaldo Jimenez, while Washington’s Stephen Strasburg has taken over the nation’s capital.
Fittingly, the signature moment of the first half of this season also came on the mound with Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game for the Detroit Tigers. Jim Joyce’s blown call that cost Galarraga a place in the record book renewed calls for extending replay in major league ballparks, but it was the classy way that Joyce and Galarraga handled the fallout that still resonates.
Here’s a look at some of the stars, slumps, surges and surprises over the second quarter of the year heading into the All-Star break. All statistics were as of Friday morning.
• Strasburg, RHP, Nationals: Major League Baseball has a new rock star in a town that desperately needed it. He was 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.
• Jimenez, RHP, Rockies: On pace (15-1, 2.20) to challenge Denny McClain’s 31 wins in 1968.
• Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: Numbers (.314, 22 HR, 60 RBIs) better than Pujols to lead Reds to first place in N.L. Central.
• Cliff Lee, LHP, Rangers: Put up incredible numbers for lowly Mariners, going 8-3 with 2.34 ERA, 89 strikeouts and four walks.
• Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers: Led A.L. with .347 batting average and 73 RBIs and was just two off the lead in HRs with 21 for surging Detroit.
• Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins: Stole some of the spotlight from Jimenez, who has struggled of late. Johnson was leading majors with 1.70 ERA and was 9-3 with 123 strikeouts and only four HRs allowed.
• David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: Was hitting .185 with 4 HRs on May 10 and facing questions about being washed up. Hit .298 with 13 HRs, 43 RBIs, .642 slugging in next 46 games for revived Red Sox.
• Yankees: Injury riddled Bombers were 26-18 and six games behind Rays on May 23. Won 27 of next 40 games to jump into first place in A.L. East.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: Sensational in first quarter of season with .392, 11 HRs, 38 RBIs in 33 games. But has struggled since returning from DL with finger injury, hitting .248 with 3 HRs, 12 RBIs in 34 games.
• Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs: The $91.5 million man was just 3-6 with a 5.66 ERA in 22 games. Has been demoted to bullpen and was suspended after a dugout tirade.
• Nick Blackburn, RHP, Twins: Went 5-0 with 2.65 ERA and only two HRs allowed in May. Went 1-5 with 9.28 ERA since to put his rotation spot in jeopardy.
• Arthur Rhodes makes the All-Star team: The Reds’ 40-year-old setup man earned his first trip to the game in his 19th season.
• Alex Rios’ health: The White Sox center fielder hit .199 with three HRs in injury-plagued 2009. Hit .302 with 14 HRs in first 78 games to help Chicago climb back into A.L. Central race.
• Junior retires: Struggling at the plate and proving to be a distraction for the reeling Mariners, Ken Griffey Jr. abruptly retired in June. Hitting .184 and benched for two weeks, Griffey made a short announcement before getting in his car and driving off into the sunset.
• Rockies rally: Down six in the ninth inning to St. Louis earlier this week, the Rockies scored nine times to beat the Cardinals 12-9. No team in the modern era had ever scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth to win a game, according to STATS LLC, whose data goe back to 1918.