NEW YORK CITY, New York (AFP) – Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis takes aim at Major League Baseball’s one-season home run record as the second half of the season begins Friday.
A two-day break after the American League’s 3-0 victory over the National League in Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game will have teams rested as they chase playoff berths when the six-month campaign ends on September 29.
Davis has smacked 37 homers for the Orioles (53-43), 24 shy of the American League record of 61 set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.
Retired San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds holds the Major League Baseball one-season record of 73 homers from the 2001 season, although the all-time U.S. homer king’s feats were dogged by steroid accusations.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not had a winning season since 1992, reached the break at 56-37, one game behind National League Central division rival St. Louis for the best record in the major leagues, and could become a surprise playoff team.
The Cardinals (57-36), Arizona Diamondbacks (50-45) and Atlanta Braves (54-41) lead their divisions with the Pirates and Cincinnati setting the pace in search of wild-card playoff berths in the National League.
The Boston Red Sox, powered by David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, lead the AL East division at 58-39 and a remake after losing 93 games last year has paid dividends since the departure of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein.
Detroit, led by Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Cabrera, and Oakland are the other AL division leaders with Tampa Bay and Texas, ignited in part by Japanese pitching ace Yu Darvish, being the other teams to catch in the wild-card playoff chase.
Cabrera tops AL batters with a .365 average while St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina paces NL hitters with a .341 average.
Cabrera, coming off a Triple Crown batting season in 2012 of leading in hits and homers as well as batting average, could match Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby as the only players to sweep those season titles twice in a career and he would be the first player to win two Triple Crowns in a row if he can overtake Davis for homers, his 30 being seven shy of the Orioles’ slugger.
Detroit also boasts a top pitcher candidate in Max Scherzer, who has 152 strikeouts in 129 innings, while his NL counterpart could be Los Angeles Dodgers’ hurler Clayton Kershaw, who has kept opposing batters to a .188 average.
An injury-riddled New York Yankees lineup has still managed to go 51-44, six games behind the arch-rival Red Sox in the AL East, and could contend late, especially if injured Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez can return to the lineup in the final months of the campaign.
Hanging over the season is a Major League Baseball investigation into a Miami health clinic that allegedly supplied banned performance-enhancing substances to several players, including Rodriguez and Milwaukee star Ryan Braun.
And there are teams just trying to avoid embarrassment over the final months of the season.
The Houston Astros, who moved from the National League to the American League to give each 15 clubs, own the worst record in the major leagues at 33-61 with Miami next at a woeful 35-58.
Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick Smith