The Fourth of July means fireworks, parades, backyard cookouts and . . . the Major League Baseball season is half over. So it's a good time to take a look at the big surprises so far of the 2005 season.
* Washington Nationals. No doubt about it, our Nats are the year's biggest surprise. No one, including me, expected them to be in first place in July. The Nats keep winning even though their opponents have scored more runs. How do they do it? First, they win close games. The Nats have an amazing record (20 wins and 7 losses) in games decided by one run. Second, they win at home. The Nats' record at friendly RFK Stadium is 29-10.
Can the Nats keep it going for the rest of the season? Sure, if they stay healthy. But if they keep losing players (first baseman Nick Johnson is the latest name on the injured list), the Nats will probably fall out of first place.
* Chicago White Sox. The White Sox have the best record in baseball (53-24). Now quick, name their regular starting infield. If you said, "Paul Konerko at first base, Tadahito Iguchi at second, Juan Uribe at shortstop and Joe Crede at third," you're right. And you must be a huge baseball fan.
The White Sox are winning with a bunch of no-names on the field. What's their secret? Pitching. Chicago's top three starters -- Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia -- have been sensational, with a combined record of 30-7.
I expect the Minnesota Twins to make a run at the White Sox in the American League Central Division. But if the Chisox keep getting great pitching, they will keep winning. Even with a bunch of no-names in their lineup.
* New York Yankees. Everybody knows the names in the Yankees lineup. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson are some of the biggest stars in baseball.
The Yankees also are the most expensive team, paying their players about $200 million. But, surprise, this year the mighty Yankees are hardly any better than the Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers or even the Detroit Tigers.
The problem is that the Yankees are old. Thirteen Yanks, including nearly half of their pitchers, are 35 or older. And right now the Yankees are playing like a bunch of old men.
Of course, the Yankees still have lots of talent. So they might turn it around in the second half of the season and get back to the World Series. But if they do, it will be the biggest surprise of the year.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.