The solution to bad publicity? Good play!
In 2005, amidst the congressional hearings and numerous allegations and investigations concerning steroid use, Major League Baseball seems to have found the solution to defeating bad press: play good baseball. Here's a quick breakdown of the first half of the season. American League East
So far, the Red Sox have picked up from where they left off last year (sans Pedro Martinez). With Manny Ramirez leading the offense and Jason Varitek anchoring the defense, the Red Sox are still the best team in the East. The Yankees have suffered from intense bouts of mediocrity and the Orioles (though inconsistent) have been the surprise team of the division. That said, we can look for more of the same as we enter the second half of the season. Although they've struggled in the first half, the Yankees will make a push for a division title in late August and a questionable Boston bullpen just might let it happen. The wildcard will most likely come from the AL East.
American League Central
The Chicago White Sox are arguably the best team in baseball. With a double-digit lead in the Central over the Minnesota Twins, the White Sox's primary competition is with themselves. Expect the Twins and Indians to make a run for the wildcard in late August, but both clubs suffer from erratic offensive production and mediocre bullpens. Overall, the White Sox, with solid starting pitching, an underrated bullpen and gritty All-Star Scott Podsednik, are poised to make a solid run toward their first birth in the World Series since 1959.
American League West
Well, what's in a name? Over the first half, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have played their most consistent baseball since their run for the championship in 2002. Texas and Oakland still have a longshot at the AL wildcard, but look for the Angels to wrap up the division by August.
National League East
The New York Mets acquired Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez in the off-season hoping to go back to the playoffs. But who knew that the second best team in the NL would be the scrappy veterans of the Washington Nationals? With midseason Manager of the Year candidate Frank Robinson, the Nationals have perfected the art of winning close and winning ugly. An MVP caliber performance from Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves helps them stay competitive (kudos to another MOY candidate, Bobby Cox), but injuries continue to plague team leader Chipper Jones, who they need to win this division. Look for the Nationals to win it, the Braves to push, but in the end, along with the Mets and the Marlins, fight for the NL wildcard.
National League Central
The St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball. Though they jockey with the White Sox for the best record overall, they're tops in the National League. Walker, Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds are still strong enough to muscle it out of the park. Plus, the play of off-season acquisitions Darren Eckstein, Mark Grudzielanek and Mark Mulder has solidified the Cardinals' place atop the National League. Many writers feel the Cardinals may be the only NL team that could compete in the American League. While the Cubs seem to be rebounding from injuries, their inconsistent play keeps them out of the NL wildcard. The same is true for Houston. But, don't be surprised if the resurgent Astros, with a rejuvenated Morgan Ensberg and perennial Cy Young winner Roger Clemens make a strong push for the wildcard.
National League West
Quite possibly the weakest division in baseball, it comes down to who wants it bad enough? San Diego has had flashes of brilliance in what has been an up and down season so far. The Los Angeles Dodgers cannot win without bullpen ace Eric Gagne and the Arizona Diamondbacks could be the "worst to first" story of the year. Look for the D-backs to take solid pitching and a will to win into August and cheat the Padres out of a division title. Whoever it is won't make it past the first round.
To the fans of the Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A's, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers ... football season is right around the corner.