Sports

First half of baseball season offered surprises

NEW YORK – Just for fun, let’s turn back the baseball clock a few months.

A well-rested Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals are destined to face Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels in the World Series. The Houston Astros have the best record in baseball. Manny Ramirez is playing in Taiwan. And no one is quite sure how to pronounce the name of this Puig guy.

Well, a few things are still the same: Homer Bailey remains the last guy to throw a no-hitter, Miguel Cabrera swings the most devastating bat in the majors and, well, the drug cloud isn’t going away anytime soon.

As the All-Star game approaches next week at Citi Field, a look at the first half of the season:

Extra! Extra!

By the time Matt Harvey and the New York Mets let the hovering seagulls take over AT&T Park well past midnight, they were wiped out. Last week’s win at San Francisco took 16 innings – the Mets already had lost a 20-inning game and a pair of 15-inning contests.

All over, fans are getting way more than their money’s worth. Going into this weekend, 19 games had lasted at least 14 innings. There were a total of 20 last year, according to STATS.

New wave

Be it Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, the face of baseball is changing. Young stars are dominating, and also revving up the debate: Should Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig – that’s “Pweeg” – be on the All-Star team?

Jeff Locke is trying to pitch Pittsburgh toward its first playoff spot in two decades, Shelby Miller is dealing in St. Louis and Wil Myers is finding his stroke in Tampa Bay while Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin are leading Arizona. They were all excelling at the same time former perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez were toiling in the minors.

Oh, and let’s salute Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who’s proven HR-or-K hitters can learn the strike zone.

Summer surprises

Overhauled Toronto and R.A. Dickey, the powerized Angels and Hamilton, plus the revamped Dodgers have all struggled to reach the .500 mark. The Nationals also hit a wall – rather, Harper did while chasing a ball and landed on the disabled list.

Houston moved to the American League and got off a terrific start, beating Texas in the major league opener. Reality quickly set in, however. Their next time out, the overmatched Astros came within one out of having Yu Darvish throw a perfect game against them.

Much harder to figure, Matt Cain and the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

A year ago, Cain pitched a perfect game. This year, he had one start when he gave up nine runs in an inning, another start when he permitted nine hits in an inning and, earlier this week, he was chased in the first inning.

Added up, the pitching-rich Giants fell far below the break-even point as the All-Star break neared.



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