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Buzhardt's BellaOnline Baseball Blast 07/04/10

Happy 234th birthday to the USA! Welcome to another edition of Buzhardt’s BellaOnline Baseball Blast. It’s not just Independence Day, it is also Selection Sunday, when the 68 players who will participate in the 2010 All-Star in Anaheim on Tuesday, July 14. As I write this, TBS in unveiling the rosters. Were there any surprises among the starters? Not really. With 34 spots on the rosters this year, there is much less likelihood of worthy players being left off, frequently the case when the representative-from-every-team rule was in place and the rosters were smaller.

The players had their say and when their choices didn’t match up the fans that worked out OK with the larger rosters. Plus, the players also picked five starters and three relievers. AL Manager Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees and NL Manager Charlie Manuel of the Philadelphia Phillies (with suits from MLB HQ looking over their shoulders) each picked five more position players and five more pitchers, and another round of on-line balloting will determine The Final Vote for the last fan selections (one in each league), ending on Thursday July 8 at 4PM ET.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to view the rosters on line, on TV, and in print, so I’m not going into details. In truth, this last week of play before next Sunday when baseball breaks for the All-Star Game could have long-lasting effects upon the pennant races yet to unfold. By next week this time, we will have a pretty good idea of who’s going to contend, and who’s going to start thinking about 2011.

The AL East is going to have a sizzling battle between the three teams many regard as the best in MLB, period. Meanwhile, in the AL Central the White Sox, picked by many to win the division (including me) have used a scintillating June to climb into their race with the Tigers and Twins. As for the AL West, the Rangers have the edge but the Angels are not yet put away despite several stretches of so-so play.

The Senior Circuit has its own surprises to offer: many expected the Braves to contend in the NL East, and they have outperformed so far with strong pitching and All-Star-worthy performances by Jason Heyward (on the DL so we won’t see him), batting race leader Martin Prado and utility man Omar Infante. The Mets have rebounded strongly and are positioned to challenge in the second half, although what they’re going to do with Carlos Beltran when he returns is anybody’s guess. The reigning NL champion Phillies have disappointed and been decimated by injuries; they could be dismissed with a bad week prior to the All-Star game, or they can regain their footing if they can handle the Braves in an important series this week.

In the NL Central, the upstart Reds and the perennial Cardinals will battle down to the wire (the Reds make a visit to Philly this week, too). And the NL West is going to have a terrific battle as the surprising Padres, the accustomed Dodgers and the surging Rockies contend with the San Francisco Giants not quite out of it yet.

Once the All-Star break is over, or maybe even before, we will be in full-on Trading Season, prior to the July 31 deadline. Who will be buying, and who will be selling? Will the Mariners trade their stalwart, Cliff Lee? He could be a difference maker down the stretch as he was last season when the Indians traded him to the Phillies. What other big names will change uniforms? Except for the last weeks of the season, this is most exciting and certainly the most speculative part of the year.

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