Lots of contenders as All-Star Game approaches | TheUnion.com

Lots of contenders as All-Star Game approaches

Brian Shepard
Special to The Union

With a little more than half of Major League Baseball's season in the books and the 2014 All-Star Game approaching, it's safe to say all divisions across the board are still up for grabs.

In the National League West, the San Francisco Giants (50-41) appeared to temporarily stop the bleeding, ending their 5-18 stretch dating back to June 9 after taking two-of-three from the San Diego Padres this past weekend. But, have dropped two of the last three against the A's.

First baseman Brandon Belt came back from his broken thumb injury in a big way by belting an extra-inning go-ahead home run Saturday. However, former closer, now set-up man, Sergio Romo still appears shaky, allowing a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Sunday's win. Once trailing by as many as nine and a half games, the Los Angeles Dodgers have pulled themselves back into dead heat with the Giants in the division with an 18-8 run during San Francisco's skid.

Deep down, I think we all know it's certainly going to be another exciting fight to the finish in September.

In the American League West, the Oakland Athletics have been the best there is. Not only do the A's boast the best record (57-34), but they also have the highest run differential of any team in the division (+142). That's twice as much as the next best mark held by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (+71). The A's currently hold a three and a half game lead for first place over the Angels and will be sending a slough of players to Minnesota for the All-Star Game, including Josh Donaldson who will start at third base.

Joining Donaldson on the roster will be starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who has been dominating for the Athletics, sporting a 2.53 ERA with a 10-3 record. Sean Doolittle was also selected to the AL all-star pitching roster. Catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Brandon Moss and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes were each voted to the team as reserves.

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Giants' starter Madison Bumgarner (9-7, 3.36 ERA) earned a spot on the NL roster despite not having received much run support. The only other Giant to be named to the NL team was outfielder Hunter Pence. Surprisingly, starting pitcher Tim Hudson (7-5, 2.53 ERA) didn't get enough votes.

The Giants and A's are currently enjoying a battle in the Bay Area with back-to-back two-game series, starting off at the Oakland Coliseum. Both Kazmir and Hudson will match up against each other today at AT&T Park in what should be a classic pitcher's duel. Leading up to the all-star break, San Francisco finishes with a three-game series at home against Arizona, while Oakland travels for a three-game series at Seattle.

Other surprises around the league include the AL East, which is being controlled by the Baltimore Orioles (49-41) and Toronto Blue Jays (48-45) at the top. Coming off their World Series Championship, the Boston Red Sox (40-51) have easily become this year's biggest flop. The Texas Rangers (38-53) have also turned out to be a major disappointment, already finding themselves 19 games back after closely contesting the A's for the division title last season. The Detroit Tigers (50-37) have somewhat of a grip on the AL Central leading a much improved Kansas City Royal ball club by four games.

In the NL East, the Atlanta Braves (49-42) and Washington Nationals (49-40) appear to be in it for the long haul, each jostling for first place.

Finally, in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers (52-40) have risen to the top, but talented clubs in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati not too far behind, all of whom are above .500 and made the playoffs last year.

Of course, securing a division title compared to a wild card spot makes a world of difference now with the one-game wild card playoff round, but as we all know, once the dust settles after the regular season, anything can happen.

Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.

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