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  B+ FOR BASEBALL: THE MLB MIDSEASON REPORT CARD.  
   
   
 

One of many ways baseball entrances us is its deceptive predictability. In the other two major professional sports -- we are not counting hockey -- preseason predictions are usually made bunk a month into the season. In the NFL, the season is so short, and roster turnover is so rampant, a Carolina Panthers or Cincinnati Bengals can reverse trends with rapid and astounding results. In the NBA, one snap of a superstar's ankle can derail an entire team's season.

But in baseball, thanks to the accuracy of advanced statistics, economic disparity and an extended season that never fails to separate the proverbial wheat from its proverbial chafing, a team's performance is more easily anticipated. Season after season of quantifiable data can reduce -- or uplift -- a player to the sum of his skill sets; a player's ability is easier to ascertain, and it becomes clear exactly who he is. Baseball's predictability and its rhythm is a definitive part of its charm.

Which is why it's even more charming when all the models and formulas and intense study proves entirely faulty. Sure, as it reaches its midway point, certain aspects of this 2004 baseball season were easy to anticipate: The Yankees have the best record in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero is destroying everything within a mile of the strike zone and the Montreal Expos still don't have a home. But everything else is upside down: The Rangers are light years better without Alex Rodriguez, the Brewers have a better record than Roger Clemens and the Astros, and, lord-a-heavens, The Devil Rays are above .500.

We are merely halfway through the baseball marathon, and much unexpected chaos can be expected to even itself out; this is already happening to early upstarts like Cincinnati, Detroit and Los Angeles. But when the Devil Rays are considering moves to strengthen themselves for the wild-card run, some guy named Jack Wilson leads his league in hits and Kenny Freaking Rogers leads the majors in wins, there's plenty of evidence the second half will be as confounding as the first half. Which is, of course, what makes it so fun.

Here's a midseason report card for each of baseball's 30 teams, with grades for the first half. As always, we include links to the best blogs for each team -- click the photo to go to the blog -- and if you have a better suggestion than the one linked, definitely email Will Leitch at leitch@blacktable.com and let him know. It's possible, you know, that he just hasn't seen your blog. He means no offense, and his heart is pure, promise.)

 

 

 
   

New York Yankees

As always, the Yankees drive their haters crazy. Their starting rotation is full of flaws, whether it's due to injury (Kevin Brown, Jon Lieber), age (Mike Mussina) or strange indecision as to whether you like having your family around you every day or not (Jose Contreras; I thought athletes played baseball to get away from their families? I dunno.) Their lineup is so ancient it is beginning to develop parasites. Derek Jeter started the season in such a slump you wondered if he was coming to the plate with the bat upside down. And yet here they are, as always, with the best record in baseball and cruising to a seventh

 
 

consecutive division title. You can rest assured, as well, that any and all flaws will be eradicated -- or at least minimized -- by George Steinbrenner and underrated general manager Brian Cashman in the second half. The time to beat the Yankees was during this first half of the season, when they were still adjusting to A-Rod and Gary Sheffield and an injured Jason Giambi and had serious rotation woes. Now? Well, now they're just gonna to make some on-the-fly adjustments (please God, keep Randy Johnson away from them; I'm begging here) as they fly into the postseason with ease. It's too late to stop them now. You missed your chance. Grade: A.

 

 
   

Boston Red Sox

If the Red Sox weren't full of in-fighting, dysfunctional pseudo-drama and a manager who everyone was convinced is a moron, would they even be the Red Sox? Would they have to move to Toronto? It's another midseason of angst in Beantown. Nomar Garciaparra has gone from Nomahhhhh!!! to Lazy Malcontent Scumbag (perhaps not coincidentally, right as he approaches his free-agent walk year), and general manager Theo Epstein, once considered the Boy Genius who was finally going to knock down the Yankees beast, is now thought a snot-nosed math punk who prefers a three-run homer to sacrifice

 
 

bunts, a sharply turned double-play and Everything That Is Glorious About Good Old-Fashioned Baseball. (What a fool!) Despite a disappointing first half -- thanks in large part to Derek Lowe, who, like everybody else on the Sox, is not helping his free-agent cause a lick -- everyone in Boston should relax: The Red Sox are going to be just fine. They're not going to catch the Yankees, but the lineup is potent and the rotation is on a par with, well, the Yankees', which is all that seems to matter around here anyway. With Keith Foulke fixing the Sox's biggest problem last year, this is a team primed for a second half run … if everyone would just quit their wailing and screaming to the heavens, anyway. Grade: B-.

 

 
   

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Who isn't rooting for the Devil Rays? (Well, other than, uh, the citizens of Tampa.) This is a team that has never finished anyplace other than last since it was born around the time Bill Clinton was cigar-bopping Monica. Tampa Bay was 18 games under .500 in the middle of May, which, frighteningly, was one of their better records at that point of the season. And then, out of nowhere, inexplicably, the Rays fired off a 29-10 run, the best record in baseball during that span. They're currently 2 ½ games behind the Red Sox; maybe we do understand why Boston fans are considering suicide. Certain players have stepped up (Carl Crawford,

 
 

Dewon Brazelton, Julio "Slam Wife's Head On Car Hood" Lugo, Victor Zambrano), but the real face of this franchise is manager Lou Pinella. The word "crusty" was invented for the constantly raging Pinella, who has somehow turned the Devil Rays into something other than a joke. He recently said that if the Devil Rays made the playoffs, he would shave his head and get a bikini wax. If there's a better (or, for that matter, worse) reason to root for the Devil Rays, I'm not sure I want to know what it is. Grade: A-.

 

 
   

Toronto Blue Jays

One of two sabermetrically run franchises with high hopes coming into this season before falling flat at the starting gate, the Blue Jays have suddenly transitioned from Team To Watch to Fred Willard's "Wha' Happened?" Part of the problem is strange collapses from sluggers Carlos Delgado and Josh Phelps, and a disappointing rotation hasn't helped either. Some in the traditional baseball communities have pointed at the poor records of the Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals (and, to a lesser extent, the Red Sox and Dodgers) as examples of why stat-based player evaluations don't work in the real world. That point has yet to

 
 

be proven or disproven, but the problem with the Blue Jays is that they're in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, giving them no room for error. When they stumble at the beginning of the season, all the well-calculated plans fold in on themselves; once the slight equality of 0-0 was dissolved, the Blue Jays were toast before May. If they Blue Jays win five more games in April than they did -- and five games is simultaneously a small and huge figure -- they might not have brought in the tents when they did. Which is why Carlos Delgado is about to be a Dodger, and the SkyDome is big, empty and soulless. Grade: D+.

 

 
   

Baltimore Orioles

Additions of Rafael Palmeiro, Sidney Ponson and Miguel Tejada haven't helped the Orioles at all, and they're actually worse off than they were before they added everyone. The real point of interest involving the Orioles these days concerns the potential move of the Montreal Expos to the Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia area. Orioles owner Peter Angelos says such a move would eat into his fan base, and in a way, he's right; you'll certainly find more Orioles fans in D.C. than you will any other team's fans. But that's not really the point, now is it? The Orioles have not been competitive for half a decade, despite

 
 

having the whole area and, even more, an incredible stadium, all to themselves; they've been so bad recently that some speculated Angelos was just trying to run the team into the ground so he could claim a new team would destroy his ability to compete. (Angelos is a well-known lawyer, so who knows what he's capable of.) But this obscures the real issue: Expos in D.C. or not, this is a team with serious problems, across the board. They almost should welcome a D.C. move, to divert attention from themselves. Grade: D.

 

 
 

 

 

 
   

Chicago White Sox

Manager Ozzie Guillen, much to the surprise of many (including myself), has been a perfect fit for the Southsiders, keeping everybody above board and happy, allowing his hitters to bash the crap out of the ball and his rotation to prop up an oddly sagging bullpen. In fact, a very strong case could be made that the White Sox are superior to every other team in their division in just about every aspect, particularly after the trade for Freddy Garcia. So why are they having so much trouble putting any distance between them and everybody else? Part of this has to come back to the real cursed Chicago

 
 

franchise. No matter what the White Sox (and GM Kenny Williams) do, this team can never catch a break. Either they collapse down the stretch, they suffer ill-timed injuries and/or inexplicable slumps or, when they finally have a great team, they end up canceling the World Series. (Ten years later, it's still amazing that this happened; I still hold out hope it was a mass hallucination.) It didn't help when Williams gave up WAY too much for Garcia, who's a nice addition, but not worth the dowry he handed the Mariners. This team is getting older, too, with several key players (like Magglio Ordonez) about to hit free agency; Williams traded the future to win this year, and if he doesn't, well, as established, the White Sox are cursed. Grade: B.

 

 
   

Minnesota Twins

It is difficult to establish much excitement about the Twins. Why is that? Is it their nondescript Midwestern locale? Their endless stash of indistinguishable outfielders (Lew Ford, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer)? That ridiculous dome? Their tendency to win their division and not play a single memorable game in the playoffs? Is it because Prince lived there? I know this is a copout, but the Twins are the type of middle-of-the-road, stay-the-course, no-real-storylines bland type of team that make the playoffs less exciting for everyone watching. This is probably admirable, actually; a lack of drama and

 
 

head-down, straight-ahead work ethic are qualities people love about Midwesterners. But for some reason, the Twins never raise anyone's cackles. It's a strange thing, really. Call them the Utah Jazz of baseball; they'll make the playoffs if the more talented teams implode. Grade: B.

 

 
   

Cleveland Indians

The Indians, a team that dominated for years before going all youth-movement on us a few seasons ago, did something very strange a couple of weeks ago: They signed Aaron Boone. You remember Aaron Boone, don't you? Aaron Fucking Boone? He's the guy who broke Red Sox fans' hearts twice last year, first by hitting the home run to win the American League Championship Series, and later by shattering his ankle playing basketball, leading the Yankees to swipe Alex Rodriguez from under the Sox's wacky Groucho Marx glasses and funny nose. Well, Boone has been quietly rehabbing and

 
 

hopes to be back by September. So is there a less logical team to sign him than the Indians? Sure, Cleveland's been a fun, spunky surprise this year and are some bullpen issues away from contending in the Central. But Aaron Boone? In Cleveland? This robs us from so many potential October storylines; this is like Phil Jackson suddenly deciding to coach the Atlanta Hawks. Just no fun for anyone. Boone should be playing for the Sox or the Yankees, just to see if someone from either side shoots him. Um … OK, maybe Cleveland's not such a bad idea after all. Grade: C+.

 

 
   

Detroit Tigers

Ivan Rodriguez -- as were the Tigers -- was much-derided when he signed for $40 million over four years this offseason. Why would the heart and soul of a World Champion decide to play for a team that came this close to losing more games than any team in modern history? Rodriguez is now hitting almost .380, and the Tigers not only aren't wretchedly awful, they're actually not in last place. It's nice that I-Rod (I would have preferred I-Roc, but apparently Rodriguez gets good gas mileage) is bringing good cheer to Motown, because the Tigers are still light years away from contention and will be ruing that $10

 
 

million they have to pay out for Rodriguez in 2007, when he can barely walk. They still have the stabilizing influence of Rasheed Wallace, though, which is always nice. Grade: B.

 

 
   

Kansas City Royals

It's really a shame, because had certain idiotic prognosticators' preseason views come true (including mine), the long-suffering loyal fans of the Royals might have finally broken through this year. In retrospect, thinking the Royals could contend this year is insane, but it didn't seem so at the time. It was certainly drawn up well; Carlos Beltran would explode in his walk year while new additions Juan Gonzalez and Matt Stairs would combine with the Ken Harveys and Angel Berroas to prop up an inexperienced pitching staff in a weak division. It fell fast and hard, and now the Royals have traded Beltran and are

 
 

currently embalming Gonzalez and Stairs, and don't look to have much hope around the corner. The Royals were this year's Howard Dean internet bubble, and we all now feel really stupid for getting caught up in the hullabaloo. Sorry. Grade: D-.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 
   

Oakland A's

When you really look at it, it's kind of amazing that the A's have the third-best record in baseball. The bullpen has been atrocious (though Doc Ock Dotel should help, especially with the four mechanical arms), the hitting has been pedestrian and the Hudson/Mulder/Zito trio has been plagued by ineffectiveness and injury. Yet, here they are, in first place, with surely more trading by Billy Beane yet to be done. Remember, this is a team which almost always finishes strong. It is a common misconception that Beane simply looks for walks and three-run homers; he looks for market inefficiencies, and this year, with everyone still swimming in Moneyball's

 
 

wake, he focused on defense and offensive efficiency. And it has still paid off. Now, if they can stave off the Texas and Anaheim upstarts, we'll see if they can get out of the first round sometime. Grade: B+.

 

 
   

Texas Rangers

We can all agree that Alex Rodriguez, if not the best player in baseball, is at least in the top five, right? Cool? So here we are again, the year after he leaves a team, that team playing better than it has in years (after he left the Mariners, Seattle put up one of the best records in baseball history). This doesn't mean A-Rod is the reason for the Rangers' insurgence, of course; that can be attributed to the emergence of youngsters Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Hank Blalock, along with surprising pitching from Kenny Rogers (!) and Ryan Drese. (Not to mention the steady hand of Buck Showalter.) But doesn't this have to

 
 

diminish A-Rod's legacy, at least a little, especially if the Yankees don't win a World Series in the next few years? This is a guy who could have gone down as the best shortstop in baseball history. He is now known for a record-breaking contract and the tendency for his teams to be better off with him gone. That's an even larger cross to bear than Barry Bonds' alleged postseason failings. For his sake, Rodriguez better hope he comes through in the playoffs -- he's currently batting under .100 with runners in scoring position -- and the Rangers falter. With Texas' shaky pitching, he'll likely be halfway there. Grade: A-.

 

 
   

Anaheim Angels

The "other" Southern California team -- in the same way the Mets are the "other" New York team and the White Sox are the "other" Chicago team -- leapt out to a huge start, but it has since been destroyed by injuries. The study of baseball injuries is the next undiscovered frontier in baseball research, with much of the ground being broken by Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, but it hardly required an expert to see the Angels' eventual breakdown. This is an old, fragile team -- people were actually surprised when Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus went down -- and Anaheim had to see this coming. (Along with Bartolo

 
 

"Michael Moore Is My Dietician" Colon's blow up.) This is a team to watch in coming years, thanks mainly to owner Arte Moreno's desires to be George Steinbrenner West, but the foundation for the second half of the year is shaky. Grade: C+.

 

 
   

Seattle Mariners

Speaking of which, this is a team that was just waiting to be ground into dog food. Old, without passion and with about as much offense as a Tim Allen sitcom, the Mariners were a nursing home accident waiting to happen. Seattle is about to vanish of the baseball map for a few years, particularly if it succeeds in finding foolhardly sorts to trade for decrepit bit parts like Bret Boone, John Olerud and Jamie Moyer. My family dog is named Daisy, and she is a proud dog, a Golden Retriever who is more beloved by the Leitches than I am. She is also 15 and can't make it up the stairs without vibrating violently and peeing on herself. Your Seattle Mariners. Grade: D.

 
 

 

 

 

 
 

Philadelphia Phillies

What will happen to Larry Bowa if this team, so much more talented than anyone else in the division, fails to make the playoffs? Will he be buried under Veterans Stadium rubble? Will they draw and quarter him? Chinese Water torture? Quantanamo Bay? Will they forcibly yank out his fingernails and then feed him to the wolverines? The Phillies should be running away with the National League East, just like they should have run away with the division last year. When you look up and down the Phillies' roster, it is inexcusable that they are still battling with the Mets -- the Mets! -- around the .500 mark. It's difficult to find any major weaknesses.

   
 

Except for that big gaping one in the dugout who has roiled away like Napoleon's exiled corpse for nearly five years now. So, again, if he wrecks this team again, with the shiny new stadium shut down for October, what will the Philadelphia fans do to him? Is it an overstatement to think his entrails will hang on a flagpole in center field? Seems like just the way to finally break in the new ballpark. Grade: B-.

 

 
 

Florida Marlins

The Marlins have surprised a few people by hanging with the Phillies -- though not as many as the Mets have -- though that should have seemed logical at the season's beginning. What's really strange is that they've done it without a real contribution from World Series MVP Josh Beckett. Beckett is in serious danger of becoming a historical curiosity. His lifetime record is under .500, his teammates can't stand his arrogance and me-first attitude, and he's currently struggling with an ERA nearing 4.00. If he doesn't turn it around soon, his incredible performance in last year's World Series -- dominating the Yankees in Yankee

   
 

Stadium! -- could end up more aberration than sign of impending stardom. Plus, he has ridiculous hair and you can barely understand him when he talks. Pull it together, Josh. Grade: B.

 

 
 

New York Mets

Perhaps this is the new New York sports tradition: A barely average team, overspending and trying to capture a tiny sliver of limelight in a crowded metropolitan news cycle, lucking into a mediocre division and deluding itself and its fans into thinking it is a contender. Hey, it worked for the Knicks. The Mets, almost in spite of themselves, are in the thick of the NL East race, thanks mainly to old fart pitchers Tom Glavine and Al Leiter. Though watching Mike Piazza play first base is almost as amusing as imagining him hanging out with Belle & Sebastian, the Mets are as good as bet as anyone to sneak out of the East, particularly with star prospect David Wright

   
 

ready to step in sometime in July. (Plus, they swept the Yankees, which in the minds of many, is all that matters.) Could the Mets really take this division? If they make one of those fun New York Tabloid Trades in the next month, they really could make a hop up, though its current run through Philadelphia and Florida will determine whether that's possible. The fact that the Mets are even in this conversation proves that apocalypse is coming … or, similarly, the Republican National Convention. Grade: B.

 

 
 

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are clearly the Jason Voorhees of baseball; no matter what happens, they just won't die. The starting pitching is below average, Chipper Jones has been a dead spot in the lineup and John Smoltz and Andruw Jones are openly wondering if they're going to get traded. The team hasn't been above .500 in months. Obviously, the Braves' incredible streak of 13 consecutive division titles is toast, right? Not in this division; the Braves are within four games of the division lead despite being horrible all season. They wouldn't dare make a run and do it again, would they? The Braves just keep on coming and

   
 

never die. Hell, they can even beat Freddy; I just watched the Special Edition DVD last week, and dude, it's totally possible. Grade: C.

 

 
 

Montreal Expos

What more can you say about the Expos? Apparently, Major League Baseball hates the French as much as Bill O'Reilly does. No Brie for you! The good news is, property values in Northern Virginia are rising. Grade: F.

   
 

 

 

 
 

St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals fans can be forgiven for smirking somewhat. At the beginning of the season, St. Louis was an afterthought in the NL Central, despite reaching the postseason three of the last four seasons. The reasons were understandable; the baseball world was (and continues to be) in the throes of Cubs Mania, and the Astros added Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. But at the halfway point of the season, the Cardinals have the best record in the National League and have left everyone else in the division outside the Cubs in the dust. In retrospect, it seems amazing that the Cardinals were so easily dismissed. Sure, the team didn't

   
 

have the high-profile additions the Cubs and Astros did, but they had probably the best lineup in the league, a vastly improved bullpen (the real reason the Cards' postseason streak ended last year) and a retooled starting rotation built on stability and plenty of inning-munching. And it has turned out even better that the most die-hard Redbird fans could have expected; Scott Rolen is having the season of his life, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan have been All-Star quality in the rotation and even the much-derided Tony Womack is hitting over .300. Most still think the Cubs, when Kerry Wood returns, will end up winning the Central, but, ironically enough, it's the Cardinals who have the fewest holes of any contender. They might not have the postseason rotation firepower of the Cubs, but the Cardinals' white-hot start is the biggest non-surprise of the first half. Oh, and the sad story that is Rick Ankiel is likely to be back at Busch by September. Now, about that new stadium … Grade: A.

 

 
 

Chicago Cubs

Cubs fans being how they are -- namely, "we're just here for the beer" when the Cubs are losing, "we are the best, most loyal fans on the planet, much better than you cretins" when they're not -- the first half has almost seemed like a disappointment for the Northsiders. Expected to breeze through the National League en route to their supposed destiny, the Cubs have dealt with injuries to Mark Prior, Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood and have quietly wrung their hands as they realize the Cub Greg Maddux bears little resemblance to the Brave Greg Maddux. That said, that the Cubs have hung in as

   
 

well as they have -- currently holding the wild-card spot in the National League -- is incredible, and when Wood comes back, the rotation should help the team soar. The second-half Cubs will be much better than the first-half Cubs, and the first-half Cubs have been darned good themselves. Of course, there is the Dusty Baker factor; how long until Carlos Zambrano's arm falls off? How long until Rey Sanchez is put in the leadoff spot? The main obstacle the Cubs face is themselves, and that's quite the obstacle indeed. Grade: B+.

 

 
 

Cincinnati Reds

It's kind of nice to see a halfway decent team back in Cincinnati, isn't it? The Reds are one of those old-school teams that the Yankees/Red Sox gestapo has forgotten in recent years. Here's hoping Reds fans have enjoyed their first half insurgence, because it's nothing but downhill in the second half. The rotation has been shaky from the start and has reverted to form of late, and the injury bug is beginning to bit again, with Everybody's Favorite Really Nice Guy Sean Casey going down last week. And, not to be the bad guy here, but this Ken Griffey Jr. resurrection talk has been a bit much, hasn't it? Sure, he hit his 500th home run

   
 

(finally), but any comparisons to the Creature Formerly Known As Junior are ridiculous. Griffey's batting. 246 and has two homers in the last four weeks; he's looks like the Griffey we knew, but that's just because he's not grabbing a hold of his knee in the trainer's room anymore. The Reds have been a nice story, but don't be surprised if they're behind the Brewers by season's end. Grade: B+.

 

 
 

Milwaukee Brewers

Besides, the Reds aren't even the most bizarre surprise in their own division. Milwaukee, that lost forgotten franchise, the league switchers, the one unofficially still ran by He Who Should Not Be Named, are suddenly over .500 and one of the more exciting teams in the league. How did this happen? Well, the big trade for Richie Sexson (which notched the team four starters, which is always nice) loaded the coffers, and Ben Sheets has finally broken through as a top-tier starter, though we'll always still love him more as an Olympian. But we submit the real reason for the Brewers' emergence, the source of their

   
 

good karma, as center fielder Scott Podsednik. This is the type of guy who makes you love baseball. He's scrappy like folk heroes Joe McEwing and Rex Hudler. He waited in the minors for years until getting his chance to play. Ladies, he's single! But most important … the man is good. He hits for power, he steals bases with efficiency, and he even walks! He's the closest thing we have anymore to Rickey Henderson, though, of course, like everyone, we'd still like to see Rickey himself back for one more once-around. The Brewers are still a ways away from challenging the division's top tier, but they're the type of team, with the type of guys, you find yourself cheering when you catch them on TV. You just can't help it. Grade: B+.

 

 
 

Houston Astros

It is a noble thing, yes, what the Astros tried to do this year. Their team was aging, with Astros legends Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio propping up fellow old fart Jeff Kent. Rather than try to trade people away and rebuild -- which always infuriates fans -- the Astros, not exactly the Yankees when it comes to finances, shelled out the cash for free agent Andy Pettitte, let Roger Clemens fall into their lap and decided to go for it, all out, this year, World Series or bust. They even tried, midseason, to trade for the hottest property on the market, Carlos Beltran. It really was a good thought; it made sense to at least try to make a run.

   
 

But, unfortunately, being seven games out -- with four teams ahead of you, even -- at the midpoint of the season is all the evidence one needs: It didn't work. The Astros have been a colossal letdown this season, and barring an 15-game winning streak, they appear to have fallen too far back now. So what to do now? Well, the Astros could be in the odd position of trading away Beltran, just weeks after acquiring him to make a run. Could Bagwell be next? Lance Berkman? The Astros made a calculated gamble, betting entirely on this season, and it looks unlikely to pan out. And the future suddenly looks very, very dim. Grade: C-.

 

 
 

Pittsburgh Pirates

They have a beautiful ballpark, a feisty manager who's likely about to be unfairly fired, two guys named Wilson who are better than people realize, a catcher who leads off, a starting pitcher everyone's going to be bidding for in a few weeks and no real hope this year, or anytime in the future. But that stadium, hoo boy. General manager Dave Littlefield has done what he can, but the Pirates are a long, long way away. Grade: C.

   
 

 

 

 

 
 

San Francisco Giants

It seems crazy that at one point the Giants were being written off in the West, and not just because it's a terrible division. It seems even crazier that the Giants are now in first place. The Giants, essentially, are Barry Bonds, Jason Schmidt and a bunch of guys who would be reserves on any other first-place club. And here they are. It is worth noting, once again, one more time: Barry Bonds is the best player you will see in your lifetime. What we are witnessing is bigger than what Michael Jordan did, more unprecedented, more unfathomable. So he's a dick. So he's, uh, pretty obviously done some steroids in his time. (Wait … did

   
 

I say that? Sorry, I mistyped. I meant, has been plagued by rumors of steroid abuse.) So his earring makes him look like a tool. He is still miles and fathoms and nautical miles and light years ahead of everyone else in baseball. Go see him. Now. Grade: B.

 

 
 

San Diego Padres

This is a fun little team. With their new Bob Barker Spay or Neuter Stadium and an influx of young pitching talent, the Padres have hung in with the Giants and Dodgers and have even threatened to take off with the division. (They have fewer holes than any other West contender.) That youth (and a drunk David Wells) has led to inconsistency early on, and you get a feeling that this is a team, save for a late-season Beltran-esque addition, that is still a year away. But the Padres win extra special bonus points for being protested by PETA. That should be worth a game in the standings, right there. Grade: B+.

   
 

 

 

 
 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year, the Dodgers' hitting was historically awful, so, it stood to reason, if they could just solve that problem, this year would be golden. Well, the hitting is improved, thanks to Adrian Beltre finally acting like he has a clue and Crazy Milton Bradley, but it's the pitching that's the problem now. (Namely, Hideo Nomo has been hideous.) Los Angeles, however, is a lurking giant in this division; if GM Paul DePodesta is armed with millions of Dodger Dollars, this could be Boston West, without the Yankees trying to take all your best players away. And a moment here to salute Eric Gagne, who has been so invincible that

   
 

you almost even think Bill O'Reilly could like the French Canadian. Grade: B-.

 

 
 

Colorado Rockies

Sigh. The Rockies are still in the league, having no idea how to deal with their altitude or their fans or their ballpark, every year a new, different struggle. The best part about the Rockies is guessing which free agent hitters will be vastly overrated by potential suitors when they go to their next team. (Hello, Preston Wilson!) Grade: D+.

   
 

 

 

 
 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Everyone knew the D-Backs would be down a little after losing Curt Schilling. And they couldn't have anticipated that Richie Sexson would go down for the season. But they're this bad? Only the Expos are worse. And yet, still, for no reason other than some non-existent civic pride, Arizona refuses to trade Randy Johnson, even though his contract is ridiculous enough for the Yankees to gleefully inject it into their crack-addled veins. What the Diamondbacks are trying to prove, anybody knows. If Johnson vetoes any trades, that's one thing … but most people don't think he will. Trade him, and start

   
 

over. Firing Bob Brenly was a start, but for the Diamondbacks to have any semblance of hope, they need to get what they can for Johnson now, and free up some payroll. The worst sign: This year, the Arizona Cardinals might be better than the Arizona Diamondbacks. Shiver. Grade: F.

 

 
 

 

(Revised) Playoff Predictions

American League Divisional Series
New York Yankees over Chicago White Sox
Oakland over Boston

American League Championship Series
Oakland over New York Yankees

National League Divisional Series
St. Louis over Philadelphia
San Francisco over Chicago Cubs

National League Championship Series
San Francisco over St. Louis

The World Series
Oakland over San Francisco

 

Will Leitch is managing editor of The Black Table. He writes these 5,472-word odysseys every year to make himself feel better about no longer working at The Sporting News.