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Pirates, Indians head list of first-half surprises

Though much of the first half of the
2011 Major League Baseball campaign has been predictable (see
Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies), as usual there have been a few enjoyable
stories that have kept fans’ interest until the inevitable sets in
come October.

Raise your hand if knew that Kevin
Correia was tied for the National League lead in wins? Maybe Kevin’s
parents didn’t even know, but his Pirates teammates sure do, as
Pittsburgh shockingly finds itself over .500 in June for the first
time since 1999. They have not had a winning season since 1992, when
a middle-aged Jim Leyland was their manager and a slim Barry Bonds
was wreaking havoc on the National League.

At 40-39, Pittsburgh sits just 2.5
games back of the overrated Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

In the AL Central, the Cleveland
Indians were the toast of the sport in late May when they had
baseball’s best mark at 30-15. They have since returned to earth, but
are currently tied for first with the Detroit Tigers at 42-37. A year
ago, Pittsburgh went an MLB-worst 57-105, while the Indians were just
69-93.

And don’t forget Kirk Gibson’s Arizona
Diamondbacks, who at 44-38 are keeping the pressure on the defending
champion Giants in the NL West.

There have been some individual
surprises as well. Take for instance a pair of unheralded Washington
Nationals hitters, Laynce Nix and Michael Morse. The latter is tied
with Danny Espinosa for the team lead in home runs with 15, while the
former has 12 dingers and a number of clutch hits for another
up-and-coming team.

The rookies have not failed to
disappoint, either. Jordan Walden has lit up radar guns and the
flashing Halo on 19 occasions, putting him well on pace to set the
team rookie record for saves in a season. In the Windy City, Darwin
Barney has provided some excitement with a .295 average and 25 RBI.
He was named NL Rookie of the Month for April. And the Orioles’ Zach
Britton is 6-6 with an impressive 3.38 ERA.

Things generally tend to “return to
normal” after the All-Star Break, but every season has a Cinderella
story that lasts until the final weeks. Whether the Pirates, Indians,
D-Backs, or another sleeper team sticks around until then remains to
be seen. We know that the usual suspects will be there in October to
boost TV ratings and merchandise sales, but until then, it’s always
fun to root for the little guys.

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