After spending nearly two weeks honeymooning on the world's most isolated archipelago, we return to Diamond Digits to catch up on the best numbers from the end of the first half of the year and the midseason classic festivities.
Home runs hit in the Home Run Derby by runner-up Josh Hamilton. Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP might have won baseball's annual home run hitting contest but Hamilton, a strong candidate for 2008 MVP accolades, was the star of the evening, belting a single-round record number of balls over the fences at Yankee Stadium, earning the adoration of the 55,000 in attendance. The contest was light in star power as most of the game's big-name sluggers chose to skip the event, citing the belief that participation ruins their power strokes for the second half of the season. But does it really? Looking at the finalists from 2003 through 2007, you can see that home runs are harder to come by in the second half of the season for six of the contestants, while four others experienced a slight drop in their at-bat to home run ratio. The only player who saw dramatic surge in his home run rate was Pudge Rodriguez in 2005, who hit just six home runs prior to his home run contest appearance and spiked to eight after being runner-up to Bobby Abreu. So perhaps A-Rod, Ryan Howard, et al had a point in skipping the event.
Chance that the Cubs will make it to the World Series. Well, not really, but having the most All Stars in franchise history doesn't hurt. With eight players selected for the 2008 All Star Game (elected starters Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and reserves Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano), the Cubs tied the record for most representatives from an NL team. Two of the previous three teams to post a snowman worth of All Stars; the 1943 Cardinals (Mort Cooper, Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski, Max Lanier, Marty Marion, Stan Musial, Howie Pollet, Harry Walker) and 1960 Pirates (Smoky Burgess, Roberto Clemente, Roy Face, Bob Friend, Dick Groat, Vern Law, Bill Mazeroski, Bob Skinner); reached the World Series (Pittsburgh won) while the 1956 Reds (Ed Bailey, Gus Bell, Ted Kluszewski, Brooks Lawrence, Roy McMillan, Joe Nuxhall, Frank Robinson, Johnny Temple) finished third in the NL.
Winning percentage by the Mets since intraleague play resumed. No team has been as hot as the Mets who have gone 11-3 under new manager Jerry Manuel since the end of June. While Willie Randolph was getting all of the heat for the Mets early struggles, it's been the pitching staff that has led the charge for New York's string of success that culminated in a nine-game winning streak to end the first half. Over the last 14 games, new pitching coach Dan Warthen's staff has a 2.76 ERA, .202 opponents batting average and .326 opponents slugging percentage, all the best in the majors. They've also hurled four team shutouts over that span, more than fellow contenders the Cubs and Brewers have all season. With three teams within 1/2 game of first place at the break, the NL East is shaping up to be a race for the ages.
The aforementioned Mets featured the best pitcher in baseball last week in Mike Pelfrey who gets the nod by blanking his opponents for 15 innings, allowing just nine hits while walking none. After seeing his ERA peak in late May at 5.33, Pelfrey has it all the way down to 3.64, 17th best among regular NL starters and second only to Johan Santana in his rotation.
They say speed doesn't slump, but one of baseball's fastest players, Carl Crawford, certainly slumped last week, going 1-for-26 and contributing greatly to Tampa Bay's first-half ending seven-game losing streak and fall from first place. Crawford, tied for sixth in the AL in runs scored, reached base twice and crossed the plate just once before getting Sunday off to clear his head.