July 11 (Bloomberg) -- Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit highlighted the first half of the Major League Baseball season, which featured tight races in all six divisions and the lowest combined earned run average by pitchers in almost two decades.
Jeter two days ago became the 28th player in history to collect 3,000 hits and the first to reach the milestone with the New York Yankees, the record 27-time World Series champions. Jeter got there on the next-to-last day before the All-Star break with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s a number that has meant a lot in the history of the game, because not too many people have done it before,” Jeter, the Yankees’ 37-year-old captain and shortstop, said two days ago. “To be the only Yankee to do anything is pretty special.”
While Jeter provided the season’s most memorable hit before the halfway point, pitchers had their most dominating start in 19 years. The league’s combined earned run average is 3.85, the first time it’s been under 4.00 since dropping to 3.77 in the opening half of 1992, the year before Barry Bonds won his first home run title.
Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers is among 19 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.00 and his 12 wins are one behind the Yankees’ CC Sabathia for the major-league lead.
“Looking back at the first half, it’s pretty doggone good,” said Verlander, who has a 2.15 ERA. “You can’t be satisfied with just a good first half though.”
Baseball’s All-Star Game is scheduled for tomorrow at Chase Field in Phoenix and the second half of the major-league season begins July 14.
Entering the All-Star break, the Philadelphia Phillies have baseball’s best record at 57-34 and the biggest lead of the six division frontrunners. The Phillies head the Atlanta Braves by 3 1/2 games in the National League Eastern Division.
The New York Mets, who in May reached an agreement in principle to sell a 33 percent stake to Greenlight Capital Inc. President David Einhorn for $200 million, are 11 games behind the Phillies at 46-45.
The defending World Series-champion San Francisco Giants (52-40) lead All-Star host Diamondbacks (49-43) by three games in the NL West.
No team has more than a one game lead in the other four divisions, with the closest race in the NL Central, where Milwaukee and St. Louis are tied at 49-43, one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates. At 47-43, the Pirates are above .500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 1992 and are seeking to snap a streak of 18 straight losing seasons.
“Everybody in here understands that we’re going day-to-day, we’re going series-to-series,” said Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm, who has a 2.96 ERA. “If we keep winning series, then other stuff will take care of itself.”
Baseball’s regular season ends Sept. 28.
The Boston Red Sox (55-35) lead the Yankees (53-35) by one game in the American League East after winning nine of their final 10 games before the All-Star break.
The Tigers (49-43) have a half-game lead over the Cleveland Indians (47-42) in the AL Central, while the Texas Rangers (51-41) are one game ahead of the Los Angeles Angels (50-42) in the AL West.
The Houston Astros have a MLB-worst 30-62 record at the All-Star break, yet the Los Angeles Dodgers may be having the most challenging season of any team.
The six-time World Series champions are 41-51 even though they ended the first half of the season with a four-game winning streak. Off the field, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection on June 27 after baseball commissioner Bud Selig rejected a proposed $3 billion television-rights deal with News Corp.’s Fox Sports, leaving team owner Frank McCourt unable to make payroll.
‘On the Outskirts’
“When the season started I thought we’d be in the mix and at this point we’re on the outskirts,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
One bright spot for the Dodgers has been the play of outfielder Matt Kemp, who is vying to become baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Kemp is tied for second in the NL with 22 home runs, is sixth with a .313 batting average and has a third-best 67 runs batted in.
Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays leads the majors with 31 homers after topping all players with 54 last season. Yankee teammates Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are tied for second with 25 homers.
Adrian Gonzalez leads the AL with a .354 batting average and 77 RBI after joining the Red Sox with a seven-year, $154 million contract. While Gonzalez has thrived in Boston, Adam Dunn is hitting .160 for the Chicago White Sox after signing a four-year, $56 million deal and Dan Uggla is batting .185 in his first season with the Atlanta Braves.
Jeter signed a three-year, $48 million extension with the Yankees in the offseason and was hitting a career-low .257 before reaching the 3,000-hit milestone with his 5-for-5 day on July 7. He joined Wade Boggs as the second player to slug a home run for hit No. 3,000 and will take a career total of 3,004 into the second half of the season.
“Any time you’re feeling good, you look forward to getting back out there trying to keep it going,” Jeter said.
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