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Baseball races all tight

As a long time baseball fan, I always take a look at the standings in all six major league divisions on July 4.

Teams that are in first place in their divisions on July 4, which is usually recognized as the mid point of the 162-game season, go on to win the division or make the playoffs more times than not.

My favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, probably have as good a starting pitching staff as anyone in the game. The reason they are still below the .500 level is their lack of hitting, particularly hitting in the clutch.

They have wasted a lot of outstanding starting pitching performances by Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens. Both have pitched well enough to have 10 or 11 victories, but the hitting with men in scoring position has just not been there when they are on the mound.

With the exception of third baseman Chipper Jones, catcher Brian McCann, who has been selected to the All-Star game for a fourth consecutive year, and second baseman Martin Proto, who was National League player of the week last week, no one has hit consistently.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who were swept last week by the Braves in Atlanta, are leading the National League Eastern Division, but it’s very close.

With players like power hitting first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and center fielder Shane Victorino leading the way, they are the odds on favorite to win the division.

The New York Mets, who have been devastated by injuries, are in third place just ahead of the Braves. The Florida Marlins are second.

The Mets have had to put stars like center fielder Carlos Beltran, shortstop Jose Reyes and first baseman Carlos Delgoto on the disabled list.

The American League Eastern Division was also extremely close following the weekend action.

The Boston Red Sox are led by outfielders Jason Bay and J.D. Drew. Behind Boston is the New York Yankees, which are paced by shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriquez and former Braves first baseman Mark Teixera by just one game in the American League Eastern Division following the weekend.

The two Central Divisions were also very close as this week’s play began on Monday.

The St. Louis Cardinals, led by first baseman Albert Pujos, were leading the Milwaukee Brewers, led by first baseman Prince Fielder, by just one game in the National League Central.

Leading the American League Central Division as play began this week were the Detroit Tigers, led by center fielder Curtis Granderson, but the Minnesota Twins, led by All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, were just a half game behind.

The National League Western Division leading Los Angeles Dodgers, who just got power hitting outfielder Manny Ramerez back following a 50-game suspension for illegal drug use, have the largest advantage of any of the division leaders with a lead of seven and a half game over the San Francisco Giants.

The Texas Rangers led the former Braves ace right-hander Kevin Millwood, lead the Los Angeles Angels, led by designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, by just a game.