After what seemed like a six-week All Star break in South Beach, the always exhilarating second half of the season is finally under way. This is no time to warm up. And, while, teams like the scorching-hot Dodgers have their divisions essentially booked, there is are still plenty of unwritten stanzas.
With apologies to the fine folks at Turner Sports, not even the great Ernie Johnson Jr. could have seen this coming. Coming up on nearly a year removed from the Chicago Cubs exhilarating 2016 world championship, the 2017 MLB season is bringing more theatrics than The Tony Awards. The excitement of the game is perpetually tarnished by performance enhancing drugs? Well, a Judge in New York is handing down a different ruling, with a Louisville Slugger as his gavel, which he’s used to launch thirty taters so far. And that’s just one of the most intriguing threads to the 2017 season.
Before we get to those threads, let’s take a closer look at Aaron Judge. It’s true the Yankees rookie sensation is redefining the way diamond diehards view the game, but he is not just delighting established fans of the game, he’s piquing the interest of the everyday metropolitan commuter, who would otherwise have no time to set aside for America’s pastime.
The mania he’s created could only happen in a city like New York, on a stage so grand. Judge’s staggering individual achievements have provided a noticeable distraction from the fact that the defending champion Chicago Cubs find themselves in danger of watching this year’s fall classic at Pizzeria Uno.
When the Mighty Ducks made it to high school to play for the freshman hockey team, their coach, Ted Orion, implored them to, “act like they’ve scored before.” He made this plea with his team because he knew that too much celebrating would leave them vulnerable to defeat. That team woke up and started to play the right way just in time to emerge victorious. Chicago is perhaps following a similar trajectory. Winners of their last five games, the Cubbies trail Milwaukee by just 2.5 games in the NL Central. Don’t look now, but… on second thought, it might be an appropriate time to look.
Opposing batters might get caught looking. Strike-out machine Jose Quintana lives on the north side now. Add him to a rotation with Jake Arietta, and a healthy Kyle Hendricks, and it could spell repeat,
Epstein’s Boston counterpart, Dave Dombrowski, won’t have it either, and luckily, his first-place Red Sox have enough competition in the East to avoid complacency. The Sox hold a 53-42 record and a slim, 3.5 game lead over the Yankees, and, an even more infinitesimal 2-game lead over the Rays. This division is loaded with Cy Young-caliber pitching, making it especially tough to navigate.
Even with the likes of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price anchoring a star-studded pitching rotation, these gentlemen have virtually zero margin for error they want to be pitching deep into October. On offense, Mookie Betts continues to light it up, with 53 RBI, Andrew Benintendi has added 51 as well, yet there just still seems to be something missing. Perhaps the thrill of chasing a pennant in a hotly contested division, will provide the x-factor needed for the Red Sox to punch their postseason ticket. What’s nice is that the Sox have an impressive mix of youth, and veteran leadership, leadership that will prove intangible as the second half of the season rolls on. Not to mention a great manager, and the pedigree for success.
As mercury bursts through the top of the thermometer, there is no better time to be a fan of baseball. There are so many enticing storylines to keep an eye on, ones typically reserved for films like, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” If you’re not able to make it to the cinema, just flip on a ball game.