Yankees’ Derek Jeter surpassed career number 3,000 home runs

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(See 2011 All-Star line up at end of column)

Baseball takes a breather this week for the traditional mid-summer All Star game between some of the best players in each league.

In recent years it has become less of an honor and more of an inconvenience for many of the game’s top stars to be selected to the All Star game.

More and more of these players find excuses for not participating in the mid-summer classic, though you’d be hard pressed to name a player who turned down any monetary contract incentives that come with being named to an All Star team even if that player decided not to participate or, as is often the case, not even show up.

The highlight of this past weekend was the storybook way in which the Yankees’ Derek Jeter approached, equaled and surpassed his career number 3,000 – all in the same game. Joining former teammate Wade Boggs as the second member of the 3,000 hit club to mark the milestone with a home run, Jeter was five for five on the day and delivered the game winning hit.

It’s hard to accurately place Jeter among the all time greats. His career stats are not outstanding but they have been remarkably consistent for most of his career with a .313 career average, more than 200 home runs and over 300 stolen bases. But it’s that and the combination of his leadership intangibles and repeated ability to come through on the big stage that enhances his worth and has him in the discussion of the top players, if not of all time, then certainly of his generation.

And with 3,000 hits for the only team he’s ever played for, Jeter has now accomplished something that Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Yogi Berra – all of whom played their entire careers with the Yankees – never accomplished. Nor did Babe Ruth who played the bulk of his career in a Yankees uniform after starting his career with the Red Sox.

The All Star break finds competitive races in all six divisions. In four of them the gap between first and second place is a game or less. In the other two divisions San Francisco leads Arizona by three games in the NL West while in the NL East Philadelphia has a 3½ game lead over Atlanta. What’s interesting about this is that Atlanta’s 54-38 record is the second best in all of baseball.

The Braves hold a five game lead over three teams in the Wild Card race. Seven teams are within single digits of Atlanta for the NL Wild Card. Considering how well the Braves are playing – with a solid offense backed by excellent starting pitching and a solid bullpen – it would appear that both the Phillies and Braves will make the playoffs. That would mean that only the winners of the NL Central and NL West will make the postseason.

The best Division race is developing in the NL Central where fourth place Cincinnati is just four games behind co-leaders St Louis and Milwaukee. But perhaps the best story in the NL Central – and arguably in all of baseball – is that Pittsburgh enters the All Star break just a game out of first with a record of 47-43. That’s no small accomplishment since the Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992 when a young Barry Bonds was in a Pittsburgh uniform.

The Pirates were a miserable 57-105 in 2010 (including 17-64 on the road) so their turnaround more than halfway through this season is noteworthy and perhaps a signal of better things to come. There clearly is no dominant team. Although the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers have more experience and arguably better overall talent, the Pirates can’t be counted out.

The second half of the season promises some exciting baseball with several teams not accustomed to being in the playoff chase perhaps being buyers rather than sellers as the end of month trading deadline approaches.

Teams such as Arizona, Cleveland and Pittsburgh may not make deadline trades with an eye towards the future by exchanging veteran players for minor league prospects. Rather, these teams might trade away prospects for proven major league talent in an attempt to be in position to make the playoffs come September.

Here’s a look at four attractive series that begin following the All Star break.

Phillies at Mets: The Phillies have taken two of three games in each of their first three meetings this season. Five games have gone OVER the total with two UNDER and another two ending in pushes. If the Mets are to remain in the Wild Card chase they almost need to reverse that trend in this series if not pull off a sweep.

It will be a tough task as the Mets have dealt with as many key injuries as any team in the majors, with the latest being star Jose Reyes.

The Phillies are a juggernaut with the best record in baseball and the game’s top starting rotation. Even the bullpen has overcome injuries. The offense has not been as potent as in recent seasons but they’ve gotten timely hitting and usually take the field knowing they will be getting at least 7 strong innings from their starters.

Preferred plays:

• Mets as +160 underdogs.

• Phillies as -150 favorites of minus 150 or less in any matchup; UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup;

Cardinals at Reds: Cincinnati has won five of the nine games played between these division rivals this season with the home team winning seven. Six of the games have gone OVER and three UNDER. Both teams have solid offenses although the Cardinals rate an edge based on the trio of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.

Interestingly, the Cardinals average more runs per game on the road (5.2) than at home (4.2). Cincinnati has the more traditional profile, averaging 5.1 runs per game at home and just 4.4 on the road. The Cardinals also rate the edge on the mound with Chris Carpenter rounding into shape to join Jaime Garcia at the top of the rotation.

Only Johnny Cueto has been consistently effective for the Reds. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa rates the edge over the Reds’ Dusty Baker and the Cards entered the All Star break playing better baseball.

Preferred plays:

• Cardinals as underdogs in any matchup except against Cueto.

• Cardinals -125 or less in starts by Carpenter or Garcia except against Cueto.

• Reds -130 in a start by Cueto against any St. Louis starter.

• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup except Cueto against Garcia or Carpenter.

• UNDER 7½ or higher if Cueto opposes Carpenter or Garcia.

White Sox at Tigers: Detroit has won five of six meetings this season, including both starts by their ace, Justin Verlander. Beyond Verlander the Tigers have rather poor starting pitching and are also weak on defense. Surprisingly the Tiger offense has been pretty much average as well. But that stacks up well against Chicago as the White Sox are averaging just 4.0 runs per game.

Aside from Verlander, Chicago does have a considerable edge in starting pitching behind young Philip Humber and veteran Mark Buehrle. Only Jake Peavy rates alongside the rest of the Detroit rotation, largely due to his inability to average more than five innings per start. Chicago’s bullpen has been a concern most of the season while Detroit’s closer, Jose Valverde a perfect 24 for 24 in save opportunities.

Preferred plays:

• White Sox +140 or more against Verlander.

• White Sox -125 or less not facing Verlander.

• Tigers +130 or more in any matchup.

• Tigers -140 or less in a start by Verlander.

• UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Verlander opposes Buehrle or Humber.

Red Sox at Rays: Tampa defeated Boston in the first three games this season before the Red Sox won the most recent two. Following Tampa’s 16-5 win in the first meeting the following four produced a total of just 18 runs with all games UNDER.

Boston’s starting rotation in a state of flux. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are on the DL while ace Josh Beckett had to leave his last start with a mild leg strain. Thus Tampa’s edge is on the mound, both in terms of starting pitching and the bullpen.

After Beckett, Tampa’s David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are the next best three starters in this series. Boston has a considerable edge at the dish, especially given Tampa’s disparate home/road splits. The Rays average just 3.3 runs per game at home compared to 5.1 on the road. Boston averages 5.0 rpg on the road, about three quarters of a run less than at home.

Preferred plays:

• Rays +140 or more against Beckett if Price, Shields or Hellickson starts for the Rays.

• Red Sox -125 or less behind any starter against other than Price, Shields or Hellickson.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Beckett faces Price, Shields or Hellickson.

• OVER 8 or lower in matchups not involving Beckett, Price, Shields or Hellickson.

 

2011 All-Star line up

AL LINEUP

1. CF C. Granderson NYY

2. SS A. Cabrera CLE

3. 1B A. Gonzalez BOS 4. RF J. Bautista TOR

5. LF J. Hamilton TEX 6. 3B A. Beltre TEX

7. DH D. Ortiz BOS

8. 2B R. Cano NYY

9. C A. Avila DET

SP J. Weaver LAA

NL LINEUP

1. 2B R. Weeks MIL

2. DH C. Beltran NYM

3. CF M. Kemp LAD 4. 1B C. Fielder MIL

5. C B. McCann ATL 6. RF L. Berkman STL

7. LF M. Holliday STL

8. SS T. Tulowitzki COL

9. 3B S. Rolen CIN

SP R. Halladay PHI

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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