Race for the pennant: AL East

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. Over the next week, we will be previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Up first is the American League East. We’ll organize this discussion by current standing:

Baltimore Orioles
53-44 | division lead

What’s scary about this Baltimore Orioles team is not how good they are doing right now, but how much better they can be. Chris Davis, after his 53 home run performance last year, has only hit 15 home runs and is batting under the Mendoza line at a horrid .199. His last long stretch this bad was in 45 games for Texas in 2010, though he had almost no power numbers then. Manny Machado is batting .270 and has hit only 10 doubles so far this season, far off the pace of the 51 doubles he ended with last year. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA of 4.52 this season, 55 points above his career average. J.J. Hardy has hit only three home runs all year. The list goes on.

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Lionel Messi, Maradona’s successor

“God” and “the Flea”

In Argentina, two characters tower above soccer lore: “God” and “the Flea.”

“The Flea” refers to Lionel Messi, so called because he has a growth hormone deficiency that once caused him to be able to sit on benches and have his legs not touch the ground. Messi is the good boy who worked hard and put the hours in to become one of the finest players the game of soccer has ever seen.

On the other side is “God.” This is Diego Maradona, the bad boy super-star who led Argentina to back to back World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990, and winning the first one, all while addicted to cocaine. Along the path to winning Argentina’s second championship (the first came eight years earlier, in 1978) Maradona scored five goals. Of those five goals, four came in the knockout rounds, including the infamous “Hand of God”  goal, and “the Goal of the Century” in the quarterfinal against England. Despite his shortcomings, he is universally adored in Argentina.

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Argentina, Netherlands square off in World Cup semifinal

On Wednesday, Argentina and the Netherlands will face off in a World Cup semi-final. The two squads are closely matched in skill and intensity. The expectation on Robben’s and van Persie’s shoulders to create chances can be matched only by the pressure that Lionel Messi feels to bring a World Cup home to Argentina.

Both teams staved off threats in the quarterfinals, and both have unfinished business in the World Cup final. The Netherlands look to win after coming agonizingly close to their first World Cup championship four years ago, only to lose on a goal in the 117th minute.  Argentina looks to return to glory not felt since Diego Maradona led the Argentine side to a championship in 1986.

While a championship is the ultimate goal, and while the match at hand is the most important, their respective paths to this point must inform the moment.

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