Divisional races start to heat up
As the 2009 baseball season enters the "fourth quarter," the races toward the postseason are showing signs of heating up. The situation has changed markedly since I went on vacation at the end of last month. In the AL East, the Yankees have opened up a 7.5 game lead over the Red Sox, who are now behind the Rangers in the AL Wild Card race. The Yankees are finally playing like a unified team, and are second only to the Angels in terms of batting average in the American League. Derek Jeter has shaken off his lengthy slump, batting .323, and just passed Luis Aparicio as the all-time leader in hits as a shortstop, with 2,674; see MLB.com. Robinson Cano is right behind Jeter in batting average, and represents the next generation of Yankee greats. Both of those infielders have made a number of clutch hits that decided the outcome of several games. In the AL Central, the Tigers and White Sox continue to slug it out, and in the AL West, the Angels are maintaining a comfortable lead over the Rangers.
In the National League, the Dodgers got a big upward bounce last month when Manny Ramirez returned to the lineup after his suspension over banned substance abuse. They still have a comfortable 5-game lead in the NL West, but the Colorado Rockies are steadily creeping up on them, and currently lead in the NL Wild Card race. In the NL Central, the Cardinals likewise enjoy a 5-game advantage over the Cubs, who were going into a slump just as I saw them play in Denver last week. The situation in the NL East is the most interesting, as the Phillies are facing serious challenges from both the Marlins and the Braves, both of which could also be Wild Card contenders. At the proverbial "bottom of the barrel," the Washington Nationals have rebounded from an awful first four months of the year, winning 11 of their last 14 games. They are now at .369 for the year, getting closer to the "threshold of respectability" (.400). Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham have proven to be a powerful slugging trio, with 31, 24, and  home runs, respectively, while the pitching staff shows continued improvement over their horrible early-season performance.
The Strasburg quandary
The Washington Nationals already offered their top draft pick Stephen Strasburg a record-breaking deal for a rookie player, but it apparently wasn't good enough for him. (See MLB.com.) I really don't think it's worth investing so much in a single player, so even though I hope Strasburg signs with the Nats, I won't fret about it if he declines. The deadline is midnight tonight.
MIDNIGHT UPDATE: According to ESPN (no permalink yet), Strasburg agreed to a four-year $15.67 million deal just before the deadline. Well, what do you know... This report was just confirmed by MLB.com [link updated], but without [exact] dollar amounts. For details on the final-day negotiations, see wusa9.com (Channel 9 in D.C.), which has been running an online poll. (I voted "yes," of course.)
Talkback Opinion Poll
Would you still support the Nationals if Strasburg isn't signed?
Camden Yards update
My visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards on August 1 was very pleasant, even though the "wrong" team won. I couldn't find any significant discrepancies between my diagram(s) and the Real Thing, but I may do some microscopic tweaking later on. In any event, I have added five (5) brand new photos to the Camden Yards page, but not including this one of my friend Dave Givens and me: