Mets head Fab 5 for 1st half

Jul 3, 2007 7:53 AM

The first half of the 2007 baseball season is in the books. There were surprising winners like the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Mariners to go along with disappointments that include the Yankees, White Sox and Cardinals.

Here’s a look at the best teams and their second half prospects.

Mets: Get healthy! The Mets stumbled badly in June (starting 3-14), yet remained in first place in the NL East. The offense went south with outfielders Moises Alou and Shawn Green on the DL. Age is still a concern on a pitching staff featuring Tom Glavine (40) and Orlando Hernandez (41).

Despite this, the pitching is still second in the NL. Offensively, the Mets are one of the best in runs, batting average and tops in steals. Help is on the way with Pedro Martinez expected back sometime in September, just in time for a playoff push! They need to keep the veterans healthy and find Carlos Delgado’s bat.

Tigers: Last year’s AL Champs won with dominant pitching and an up-and-down offense. They’ve flip-flopped a bit this season. The addition of Gary Sheffield has turned the erratic offense into a dominant force, leading the AL in runs, average, and slugging. Magglio Ordonez has benefited, as well, having a monster season. Detroit started 23-7 over the total at home with all that offense!

The pitching slipped in the first half because of injuries to the bullpen, a tired arm of Nate Robertson and the absence of veteran Kenny Rogers (blood clot), who returned two weeks ago after missing most of the first three months. His debut was a 5-0 win over Atlanta as a +160 dog! Robertson is also back and they hope to regain relief ace Joel Zumaya in August. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers make some moves to shore up the bullpen before the trading deadline.

Indians: What a talented young offense! Who wouldn’t want 24-year old CF Grady Sizemore leading off with these numbers — 22 steals, a .396 on-base percentage and 13 homers. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta (age 25) and Victor Martinez (28) lead an offense that averages more than six runs per game in Jacobs Field, where Cleveland started a sizzling 26-11.

The pitching has been the big story. C.C. Sabathia (11-2 start) is battling for the Cy Young. The improved bullpen features Rafael Betancourt, Aaron Fultz and closer Joe Borowski. Fausto Carmona has emerged in the upgraded rotation as a sinker-ball specialist. The Indians could use one more veteran starting arm before the trade deadline to solidify the rotation in battling the Tigers down the stretch.

Diamondbacks: Arizona ranks in the bottom five of the NL in runs scored, batting average and steals. Offense is not a strength, but what pitching! There, the D’backs ranked fourth in the NL behind ace Brandon Webb, Micah Owings, and rejuvenated veterans Randy Johnson and Livan Hernandez. The bullpen is deep, anchored by closer Jose Valverde. All that pitching explains why the D-Backs started 23-12 under the total on the road.

Red Sox: Boston fell apart late last season and finished third in the AL East. Management was determined not to let that happen in 2007, so they shelled out the money for Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka, fellow countryman Hideki Okajima, and locked up Josh Beckett. All three pitchers have paid huge dividends. Okajima has been sensational in middle relief, bridging the gap to ace closer Jonathon Papelbon. Beckett started 11-1 taking over the ace reigns from Curt Schilling.

Boston started 27-13 under the total on the road because of strong all-around pitching. This offense is still potent, leading the AL in OBP with a strategy of taking pitches, drawing walks and wearing down opposing pitchers. While everyone will be shopping for pitching soon, the Red Sox have enough depth and minor league arms to avoid rushing in to make a move. Having such a huge lead in the AL East helps.