This Week in the National League

Finding Mid-Season Hope

The All-Star game has come and gone. For the National League, it was less than stellar. And it ended with the harsh realization that it doesn't matter which team represents the league at the World Series, they will host no more than three of the seven games. For some teams and players, it probably doesn't really mean that much, especially since only one team will have to deal with the outcome. And for those teams with their eyes set on World Series possibilities, the opportunity to play on baseball's biggest stage is all that matters, home field advantage or not.

Yet despite the outcome, the arrival and departure of the mid-summer classic generated an opportunity to rest and reflect. It brought about a mini vacation for most players - a chance to get away, to relax, to see loved ones, to go home. For others it provided an opportunity to reunite with friends and colleagues in Detroit and laugh it up. Despite the ugly outcome for the NL, nothing was purer than the candid scene, which came from the first base dugout following Andruw Jones' monster home run. It wasn't a camera shot of some guy adjusting himself or picking his nose. Instead, Jones could be seen sitting, smiling, and laughing with none other than Albert Pujols and Aramis Ramirez. And many others weren't far away. They were all having a good time, joking with even the biggest of rivals. The three fierce competitors looked like kids playing a game, which, after all, is what baseball is. It was a perfect baseball moment caught on tape, and it represented everything that the All-Star break should be.

An intriguing characteristic of the All-Star break is the new sense of hope that comes with it. Aside from the eternal pessimists who claim the glass is always completely empty, the All-Star break poses an opportunity for optimism. The second half of the season can always be better than the first half. Whatever teams might have done during the first half to leap to the top can always be reproduced by the cellar-dwellers in the second half. Teams can rise and fall in the second half of the season just as fast, if not faster, as they did in the first half of the season. It doesn't happen often, but anything can happen, right?

The All-Star Break does often provide that feeling of opportunity. That feeling of hope. That feeling that teams are not quite out of it yet. For those surviving at the top, it can leave that uneasy feeling that the clock is ticking. These feelings may not be realistic, but it makes the game that much more entertaining and fuels our passion, players, fans, and all, to keep trying to make something happen. To keep beleiving. To make something out of nothing or to continue thriving as the best.

So we cling to Mike Lowell, Corey Patterson, Carlos Beltran, and Austin Kearns hoping for that monster resurrection in the second half that we've been banking on as fans all year. We cling to the possibilities of that big trade that can turn things around or bury the competition in our dust. And though we would absolutely never wish any bad fortune on anyone, we secretly hope for month-long slumps to fall upon our seemingly evil opponents, be it Dontrelle Willis, Derrek Lee, Chad Cordero, or Matt Morris, whose surprising first-half production appears to be the product of a brokered deal with the devil. For those favorite players and teams of ours who have been talented and lucky enough to avoid the first-half flops and produce the surprises, we cling to the hope that a collapse isn't coming this year. The All-Star Break gives us the opportunity to revel in this hope – that that anything can happen, good or bad.

Well, unfortunately, reality isn't too far away. And the crane up on high swinging the reality ball is getting ready to move its arm forward. Who is going to fall victim as the baseball gods pull the levers? Only time will tell. But the first couple weeks following this break will set the tone for the rest of the year.

The last week leading into the break also counts in setting the tone. Momentum is huge in baseball and it gets more important as Fall approaches. Looking back at a few of the highlights of the last few games leading up to the break…

Derrek Lee showed his health isn't a major issue. At least it doesn't appear like it is. After resting his sore shoulder, Lee returned to action for two games. He went 3-7 at the plate with 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, and 2 BBs. Most people wouldn't mind Lee taking off a couple days here and there if it means continued numbers like that.

Dontrelle Willis, on the other hand, has seen the momentum of the D-Train slow down. He tossed a complete game shutout against the Mets two weeks ago, but he had another setback as the struggling Cubs decided to end their eight-game skid against him. Eight runs in 4 1/3 innings brought about an early exit and set the stage for a shaky All-Star performance. Could this carry into the second half?

Cliff Floyd's power numbers have slowed down. Could this be the beginning of a reality dose for Floyd and Mets fans? He's maintaining his .290ish average, but those HRs and RBIs disappeared last week. In his last ten games, he only has a single HR and just two RBIs. But that's the way Floyd's season has gone. It's feast or famine with this hitter, and he's likely to keep up the same trend for a while.

Jason Jennings showed he's got the goods to be a special pitcher in the Bigs, even while pitching in Colorado. Coming off a tough no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals when he pitched six solid innings of two-hit ball, Jennings led the Rockies to a 1-0 victory at Coors against San Diego. Yes, a 1-0 victory at Coors. He only struck out one hitter, but he pitched seven strong innings. Jay Witasick and Brian Fuentes closed the game out for the collective shutout.

Brian Giles is starting to see the ball better. Courtesy of eight walks in his last four games, Giles now has 71 on the season. He's starting to drive the ball better too. If there is any meaning to this surge in walks this season, and especially as of late, Giles could be gearing up for a huge second half. It might not be in line with his monster seasons in Pittsburgh, but it could be much more productive than the first three months of the season.

There's hope for all, no matter what the situation. Anything can and will happen in the second half of the season. And it starts today!

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