Our midseason review of baseball’s $$$ makers, takers

Jul 12, 2005 4:56 AM

As usual the first half of the baseball season has had plenty of surprises. It’s time to examine the moneymakers and money burners as teams turn their attention to what moves should be made to solidify their pennant chances.

In the AL East, defending World Champion Boston Red Sox leads, despite being without pitching ace Curt Schilling (1-2, 8.15 ERA) most of the season. Schilling is expected to return in the next week as the closer replacing Keith Foulke (5-5, 6.23 ERA,15 saves), who heads to the injured reserve list with knee problems.

If Schilling is ready to go, the Sox will be tough to catch. Boston led the AL in batting (.285) as of last week behind Johnny Damon (341 BA), David Ortiz (.310 BA, 19 HRs) and Jason Varitek (307 BA). While not spectacular, Matt Clement (9-2, 3.82 ERA) and Tim Wakefield (7-6, 3.94 ERA) have been consistent after the loss of ace Pedro Martinez to the Mets and Schilling to injury. Bronson Arroyo and David Wells have combined for just 12 wins so far and are negatives in the money making process.

The Yankees have been big money burners, but are still very much in the pennant and wild card hunt. They should reverse their money-making woes. Randy Johnson (8-6) is winning ugly and hasn’t been anywhere near his old dominating self. Sore shouldered Carl Pavano has joined Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown on the 15-day disabled list. Mariano Rivera is still one of the premium closers in the game. The Orioles are on a 3-7 streak and appears to be fading fast.

In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox have been the big money winners. The Sox were a distant 8½ games ahead of Minnesota heading into the break. Cleveland has also been a strong money-maker in the Central.

The difference in the Sox pitching has been Dustin Hermanson, now an effective closer after struggling in that role with the Giants last year. Hermanson had 21 saves in his first 22 opportunities and a 1.35 ERA. Minnesota has two of the hottest pitchers in Jessie Crain (8-0) and Carlos Silva (7-3), who has won his last four decisions. Last year’s Cy Young winner Johan Santana continues to get the job done.

In the West, the Los Angeles Angels have a comfortable lead over runnerup Texas. The Angels have been winning with good pitching and solid hitting. Bartolo Colon (11-4, 3.06 ERA) and Paul Byrd (8-5, 3.55 ERA) have been the staff aces. Anaheim is behind only Boston in staff ERA at 3.55. Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson joined Colon on the All-Star squad.

The Rangers have wild card aspirations with sluggers 1B Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano (each over 20 HRs). Troubled lefthander Kenny Rogers was 9-4 with a 2.45 ERA at the All-Star break. However, Rogers is facing a 20-game suspension for his outburst against a cameraman.

St. Louis, Washington and San Diego appear to be the front-runners in their respective NL divisions. When the season began, no one thought the team leading the East and playing the most consistent baseball at the break would be the Nationals.

In their new home (RFK Stadium), Washington won 30 of its first 41 games. Jose Guillen and Nick Johnson have performed like All-Stars. Steady second sacker Jose Vidro and veteran 3B Vinny Castillo have been solid, while closer Chad Cordero (2-1, 1.22, 30 saves) has been dominant. However, the East is the most competitive division in baseball. Even the last place Mets are in the hunt for a wild card spot.

While injuries have been a major factor for many teams this season, the Braves have been among the hardest hit. They’ve had 60 percent of their starting rotation (Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, and John Thomson) on the DL at one time. Hampton was due to make a rehab start over the weekend and Hudson (strained oblique), believes he’ll be ready to return after the break. On the bright side, Kyle Davies has been a money maker in place of Hampton.

There’s not much question that the Cardinals are the team to beat in the Central. Albert Pujols and crew are on a mission, holding a double-digit lead over the Cubs heading to the break. Chris Carpenter has been the money winner in the rotation.

Cubs fans are looking for a long healthy streak from a rotation that can be second to none if healthy. The middle of the lineup with Aramis Ramirez and Triple Crown candidate Derrick Lee gives cause for optimism. The surging Astros had won 15 of 19 to move into a second-place tie with the Cubs. in the NL West, the surprising San Diego Padres might be an opportunity team. Arizona and the Dodgers are looking to reach the .500. The Giants without Bonds, along with Colorado, may be looking to the future as the trade deadline nears.