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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, July 4, 2000

No joy in Houston
at halfway point

HERE we are, folks, the Fourth of July, or major-league baseball's halfway point. For some teams, especially the sorriest in baseball, the Houston Astros, it's the point of no return.

The Astros, especially pitcher Jose Lima, who's 1-12 with 11 straight losses going into today's start against Arizona, could sure use a mulligan and start all over.

Who says there's no crying in baseball?

It's not the halfway point, you say? It isn't until the All-Star Game next Tuesday in Atlanta?

Sorry. The Fourth of July, not the All-Star break, will always be baseball's halfway point in my book.

Besides, if you've noticed the standings, by the end of today, 24 of the 30 teams will have played at least 81 games or one-half of the 162-game schedule. So there.

The Minnesota Twins played their 85th game today, while Toronto and Florida will have played 84 by the time the last fireworks have popped.

Only the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers in the American League and Montreal, Colorado and San Francisco in the National League won't have reached the halfway point.

That in mind, let's take a look at the midway point of the first baseball season of the 21st century.

Of the 1999 division winners, only the Atlanta Braves are leading again at the halfway point this season.

Arizona, another division winner, is just percentage points behind Colorado and could regain the NL West lead before the day is over.

Meanwhile, the sad sack Astros, who won the NL Central last year, are already 20 games back of the surprising St. Louis Cardinals.

The turnaround in the American League has been even more dramatic.

All three division winners -- the World Series champion New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers -- are out of first place on the Fourth of July.

The Yankees are close, though, trailing the Toronto Blue Jays by just 1 games.

What is it about these Texas teams? Winners of the AL West the past two years, the Rangers are dead last. Seattle has risen to the top, despite the departure of Ken Griffey Jr.

THE most startling reversal of fortune is in the AL Central as the Chicago White Sox, baseball's feel-good story so far, enjoy the biggest lead of any division front-runner -- 10 games over the Indians, who are playing barely .500 ball.

With 53 victories, the White Sox are more than halfway there to their first (and only) 100-win season since 1917. That's two years before Shoeless Joe Jackson and the infamous Black Sox scandal.

And the Indians don't seem capable of catching the White Sox. They've already tied a club record with 26 pitchers in one season.

It hasn't helped the Tribe that starters Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright have been on the disabled list.

With the AL Central all but decided, barring a total collapse by the White Sox, all of the other division races should go down to the wire.

I still see Cincinnati making a run at St. Louis in the NL Central as Mark McGwire becomes preoccupied with hitting home runs in September.

The Dodgers and Giants aren't out of it yet in the NL West. But you know Arizona won't go into any prolonged losing streak with Randy Johnson in the starting rotation.

Oh, it'll probably be the Yankees and Braves again in the World Series. But wouldn't it be great if the Chisox were playing Benny and the Mets in the Fall Classic?

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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