The baseball season is no longer young. After the first round of inter-league play ended this past weekend, the All-Star break looms a little more than three weeks away, and pennant races are beginning to take shape. There were many surprises during inter-league play, some good and some bad. Play in the National League East tightened up considerably, while the Giants began to show signs of life in the West. The National League Central’s race was influenced by the play of their American League counterparts, as well.
Many had been waiting for the Phillies to slack off from their quick start, but few could have expected they’d be swept by the worst team in baseball, the Devil Rays. In their first inter-league series they lost two of three to the Red Sox, beating Pedro Martinez in his last start, but dropping the other games. They finally won their first series of June this weekend, taking two out of three in their last series from the Orioles, but the damage had already been done. Philadelphia’s lead is just three games going into Monday night’s schedule, with the Braves in second place. Just five games out are the Florida Marlins, who went 6-3 in inter-league play, including a series win in Toronto and a sweep over Tampa Bay. The Marlins are currently playing their best baseball of the season, and may be the most talented team in the East, especially if Scott Rolen doesn’t heat up for the Phillies.
The Giants have had the hottest player in the league, by far, in Barry Bonds, and the team is finally beginning to play as well as its star has this season. The Giants continued to play well in inter-league play, going 7-2. They lost two of three in their first series against the A’s, but followed that up with consecutive sweeps over the Angels and A’s. Over the last five years, the Giants have the best record in all of baseball in inter-league games, going 40-28, for a .588 winning percentage. Kirk Rueter, who shutout the A’s 3-0 on Sunday has a 10-2 record in his career against American League West teams, and Shawn Estes is pitching like an All-Star. He leads the National League with a 2.41 ERA and is 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA at Pac Bell Park, where the Giants are 25-14, and they’ve won nine of their last 10.
Some of the more interesting matchups came between the Central Divisions, including the surprising Twins taking on the surprising Cubs, while the seemingly strong Indians and Cardinals took on the virtually terrible Pirates and Royals, respectively. The Cubs began their inter-league schedule by dropping two of three against the White Sox in a tense and terrific series. After drifting back into National League play for three against the Diamondbacks, the Cubs hosted the first-place Twins, and swept Minnesota, pushing their lead back up to six games. The Cubs picked a good time to get hot, because the Cardinals rebounded from getting swept by the Royals, to sweep the White Sox. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, J.D. Drew was lost to a broken hand for the next couple of months, during this weekend’s games.