07/14/11 — Local Opinion - AL and NL East races extremely tight

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Local Opinion - AL and NL East races extremely tight

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 14, 2011 1:47 PM

Major League Baseball's All-Star game came and went on Tuesday night and the final day of the regular season is fewer than three months away.

There should be plenty of players and teams to keep an eye on as the second half of the season unfolds. Here's several story lines worth watching as July fades to August and divisional races heat up.

* Beasts of the East: Both the American and National League East are separated by no more than 31/2 games. The top two teams in the two divisions hold the four best records in baseball.

Boston went 8-1 against AL East rival New York during the first half, while NL East foes Atlanta and Philadelphia split 12 games. The Red Sox and Yankees are first and third, respectively, in runs scored. The Phillies (3.02) and the Braves (3.11) have the majors' lowest earned run averages at 3.02 and 3.11, respectively.

Atlanta could potentially activate left fielder Martin Prado off the disabled list as early as Friday, while Chipper Jones recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Last year's San Francisco-Texas World Series was the first west coast fall classic since the Angels and Giants met in 2002. If baseball's two best divisions continue to dominate, expect the World Series to make its annual return to the east coast.

* On the move: Baseball's trade deadline of July 31 is quickly approaching.

Milwaukee got a jump on the competition by acquiring New York Mets' closer Francisco Rodriguez just a half hour after Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

The Mets are also reportedly shopping outfielder Carlos Beltran.

All bets are off with the Dodgers, who continue to battle financial woes and San Francisco by 11 games in the NL West. Outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier could potentially be traded before the deadline.

Houston's Carlos Lee and Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer may also be dealt as a number of contenders search for outfield help.

* Cleveland rocks: On this day a year ago, the Cleveland Indians were 34-54 and 151/2 games out in the AL Central. The Indians start the second half at 47-42 and just a 1/2 game behind Detroit for the division lead.

Just six teams finished 2010 with a higher team ERA than Cleveland. The Indians have moved into the top 18 in the league in ERA and the top 13 in team batting average. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ranks fifth among all shortstops in batting average and was selected to the All-Star game.

Cleveland is 61/2 games back in the AL wild-card chase and if its storybook season is going to include a trip to the postseason, it will likely have to be as a division champion.

* Hardware store: It's never too early to start thinking about postseason awards.

The National League Cy Young race is all but narrowed down to Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay. Jurrjens' 12 wins and 1.87 ERA are both National League bests. Halladay is second in the NL in wins with 11 and fourth in ERA at 2.45.

The AL Cy Young contenders include New York's CC Sabathia (13-4, 2.72 ERA), Detroit's Justin Verlander (12-4, 2.15), Anaheim's Jered Weaver (11-4, 1.86) and Boston's Jon Lester (3.31).

The Mets' Jose Reyes, the Braves' Brian McCann and Kemp are each in the thick of the hunt for the NL MVP. Boston's Adrian Gonzalez and Toronto's Jose Bautista are the early leaders in the AL.