Baseball's Top 10 First-Half Stories

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 07: Juan Uribe #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after being hit by a pitch in the second inning during the MLB game against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium on July 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

It all happens so fast. Opening Day seems almost like yesterday, and before we know it the season will be winding down, with two clubs fighting so desperately for one berth in the postseason tournament. So let us take just a moment to recall the stories that grabbed our attention in the first half of the 2011 season ...

1. The Los Angeles Dodgers are Bankrupt
Just in cased you missed it, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt doesn't have any money, Major League Baseball would love to seize the franchise, and attendance is in the toilet. Good times in Chavez Ravine!

2. Derek Jeter Homers for 3,000
Sorry, only one Yankees story per customer, and Jeter's 3,000th hit -- coming in the midst of his 5-for-5 game -- trumps The Posada Adventure and the club's ability to thrive with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova in the pitching rotation.

3. The Pirates, Indians, and Diamondbacks are Contenders
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't tasted the postseason since 1992. No big deal; the Royals haven't been there since 1985, the Nationals/Expos since 1981. But the Pirates haven't enjoyed a winning season since 1992. The last time the Pirates weren't losers, a wiry 27-year-old named Barry Bonds was their left fielder. Today they're 47-43, thanks largely to sensational center fielder Andrew McCutchen and a surprisingly good pitching staff.

Hey, we never thought the Indians were really going to win 60 percent of their games and run away with the American League Central championship. But they're still only a half-game out and it's not like they're facing awesome competition.

And let's not forget the Diamondbacks, who were supposed to finish fourth but enter the second half only three games behind the first-place Giants.

4. Jose Bautista Gets Even Better
Flash in the pan. One-year wonder. That's what "some" said after Bautista's big 2010, which had been preceded by a sort of replacement-level career. There were "some" who suggested that Bautista's new five-year, $65 million contract was at least a bit of a stretch by the Blue Jays. Look who's laughing now, as "Joey Bats" has been Major League Baseball's best player this season. Hands down. No argument.

5. Buster Posey's Season Wrecked
On the 25th of May, Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins changed directions at the last microsecond and plowed into Giants catcher Buster Posey, who didn't yet have the baseball. Posey, not prepared for the collision, was bent backwards at a terrible angle and suffered a season-ending ankle injury. There was talk, for a day or three, about doing something to prevent such needless accidents in the future. As usual, the emotions faded and the status quo prevailed.

6. Jim Riggleman Ups and Quits
It's not often that a veteran manager with a career losing record and little history of success quits in the middle of a season ... let alone a season in which his team is playing good baseball.

7. Albert Pujols is, After All, a Mortal
Or at least half-mortal. Pujols's quick return from his mid-season wrist injury seemed almost god-like. But his first-half numbers were unimpressive and he failed to make the National League All-Star team for just the second time in his brilliant career.

8. Ryan Vogelsong is Comeback Player of the Century
Vogelsong entered this season carrying 33 birthdays and a 5.86 career ERA, and was lucky to have a job pitching for the Giants' triple-A affiliate in Fresno. But then Barry Zito hurt himself, Vogelsong got a shot in the big club's rotation, and three months later he's an All-Star? What??? Yeah.

9. Red Sox Surge
Since opening the season 2-10, the Red Sox have gone 53-25 despite the loss, at various times, of four-fifths of their pitching rotation. They've done this because the rotation fill-ins have been adequate, but largely because Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury have all been outstanding.

10. Manny Ramirez Up and Quits
He was going to rejuvenate his career as Tampa Bay's every-day Designated Hitter. Instead -- Manny being Manny for perhaps the last time, at least publicly -- went 1-for-17 in five games and failed a drug test. Rather than serve yet another long suspension, Ramirez summarily ended his brilliant career in the most non-brilliant way. We might never see him again.

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