There’s an old superstition in big league baseball that goes like this: whichever teams are in first place on July 4 will win the pennant.
Now, that “First on the Fourth” tradition does not exactly bear up under close examination of baseball history, but it is a convenient way station to take a look at how things stand, especially for local teams.
The National League division leaders are the San Francisco Giants (West), Milwaukee Brewers (Central) and New York Mets (East). In the American League, they are the Houston Astros (West), Chicago White Sox (Central) and Boston Red Sox (East).
None of those teams have a truly commanding lead. The Giants only lead the Dodgers by a half-game and the boys from Chavez Ravine are closing fast, having and nine straight.
The biggest edge is in the NL Central, where the Brewers have a seven-game lead. If we consider that a gap of five games or less is our criteria for a real race with half a season yet to play, there are still interesting chases to watch in the NL West and East and in the AL West and East.
The “First on the Fourth” pick that looks like a more solid wager is the selection of the American League Most Valuable Player. Barring a season-ending injury – which has happened – the runaway leader for that honor is the Angels’ own Shohei Ohtani.
He leads MLB in home runs with 31, is third in runs batted in with 67, is third in slugging at .704 and has an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of 1.084. As a pitcher, he has a 3-1 record so far with an ERA of 3.60. He’s struck out 83 batters and walked just 35.
Mike Trout, with three MVP awards, may be the best player in baseball, but teammate Shohei may well be the most amazing.
Clippers have finally arrived in port
The Team Now Know As the Los Angeles Clippers has journeyed all the way across the continent, but despite making it to the NBA Western Conference finals, has it finally found a home?
Founded in 1970 as the expansion Buffalo Braves, the team enjoyed some early success but with a bonehead owner and arena problems (sound familiar?), the franchise faltered and moved to San Diego, assuming a new name in 1978.
Hopes were high when Bill Walton joined the team, but repeated injuries sidelined him and the Clippers continued the losing tradition they had in Buffalo.
Things went from bad to worse when Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981 and after an epic struggle with the NBA, was able to move the franchise again, this time to Los Angeles in 1984.
Playing in the antique Sports Arena and in the shadow of the much-loved Lakers, the Clippers could barely make a dent in the Southern California market. For a while it seemed likely that the team would relocate to Anaheim’s then-Arrowhead Pond (now Honda Center). The Clips played five to eight games a season in Anaheim, drawing crowds twice the size of those at the Arena.
Eventually, the team decided instead to become second banana to the Lakers at the Staples Center. There were some good seasons (remember Blake Griffin?) and some bad ones. The Lob City era saw the team improve dramatically, winning 57 games in 2013-14.
But the real big win was when Sterling lost control of the team and billionaire Steve Ballmer became owner. They improved steadily, replaced their ugly old uniforms with snazzy new duds and made local sports history by making it to the finals just last month.
Now with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George they have the talent to compete in the NBA and the SoCal market with the Lakers.
After traveling 3,000 miles and for half a century, the Clippers have finally put down roots. So here’s a much-delayed but sincere “Welcome!”
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.