The major league baseball season will be resumed today with the Boston Red Sox poised to slay the New York "dragons" and the California Angels and San Francisco Giants hoping to prove they aren't morning glories.
The Philadelphia Phillies, with a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East are the only defending division champions and preseason favorites who reached the All-Star game break in first place. The defending champion Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers are each second in their divisions but the New York Yankees - ah, yes, the New York Yankees.
The plight of Manager Billy Martin's Yankees is so severe that the world outside George Steinbrenner's jurisdiction may decide to move its New Year's Eve celebration up to mid August. Or, more exactly, that hoped-for giddy hour when the Red Sox mathematically eleminate the Yankee from the race.
The Red Sox will be at home to Texas today, with Chicago at New York, Detroit at Seattle, Toronto at California, Kansas City at Milwaukee and Minnesota at Baltimore in the American League. National League games have San Francisco at Pittsburgh, San Diego at Chicago, Los Angeles at St. Louis and New York at Cincinnati.
The Red Sox, traveling at a pace that would threaten the 1954 Cleveland Indians' AL record of 111 victories in one season, hold a nine-game lead over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers and 11 1/2 big ones over the Yankees. With Jim Rice heading the toughest top-to-bottom batting order in the majors and an apparently steady if uninspired pitching staff, the Red Sox don't look like a team about to fold.
The Yankees, on the other hand, look like one that may already have folded.
Torn by internal strife, rocked by injuries and struggling with highly paid pitchers who can't or won't pitch, the Yankees hardly look like a team about to stage a formidable second-half drive. That "peculiar relationship," which goes to the heart of the team, was even evident during the All-Star Game festivities. The Yankees proved an embarrassment to the league as a whole as they carried their clubhouse squabbles into the public forum.
The Angels hold a one-game lead in the American League West but most baseball men agree that the Royals team of the division. They have failed to live up to their potential in virtually every phase of play this year, however, and there also are signs of behind the scenes bickering.
In such an atmosphere, the division championship is considered "up for grabs" among the Angels, Texas Rangers and Royals with the Oakland A's and Minnesota Twins currently close but still considered outsiders.
The Giants are on top in the National League East primarily because of an excellent pitching staff headed by 12-game winner and all-star starter Vida Blue. Their lead over the Dodgers and Reds is only two games and three games, respectively, so they can expect to have severe pressure exerted on them.
In the case of both the Dodgers and Reds, the performance of one key pitcher could make the difference, Don Sutton, one of the premier pitchers in the league, has a 9-6 record and 3.91 earned run average for the Dodgers while Tom Seaver, a three-time Cy Young award winner, has a 9-7 mark and a 3.32 ERA.
The Phillies, gunning for their third straight National League East title, have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and a seven-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Phillies got off to a slow start but came along fast in late June and July and are expected by basefall men to win the division race handily.