Surprise teams set up intriguing second half
The Amazin' Mets were the epitome of a "surprise" team when they won the World Series championship in 1969. Eighteen years earlier, Bobby Thomson made radio announcer Russ Hodges scream himself into immortality ("The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!") with a shot for the ages.
We've also had everything from the Miracle Braves of 1914, to the "We are Family" Pirates six decades later, to the normally shaky Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays spending time within the past seven years reaching the World Series.
They all were surprise teams that had few -- if any -- of their peers joining them with pixie dust during the same season.
So this was unusual: There were many surprise teams in both leagues heading into the All-Star break this season. You can expect more during the upcoming weeks, which means we are heading toward a wonderfully wacky finish.
Who's to say the Cleveland Indians can't make resin bags fly by winning it all for the first time since Harry Truman's administration?
These Mets don't have Tom Seaver and Tommie Agee, but they do have Johan Santana and David Wright. They could produce miracles from now through late fall.
With just a little imagination, you can see the Baltimore Orioles battling the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and I'm not talking about when it comes to playing a video game.
The Pittsburgh Pirates in a postseason without Barry Bonds? The Los Angeles Dodgers becoming magic in October with Magic? No Ozzie Guillen, but no problem for the Chicago White Sox in pursuit of second World Series championship out of nowhere within seven years?
Anything is possible in baseball these days. For one, Washington D.C. finally has a team that isn't as dreadful as whatever floats at the bottom of the Potomac River.
Folks around Pittsburgh can relate. Well, if they think about their Pirates of the past two decades and then exchange the reference above to the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.
The Pirates have gone from pathetic to division leaders. So have the Nationals, who usually spend seasons resembling many of their sorry predecessors around Washington.
Elsewhere, the White Sox lead the AL Central with Robin Ventura, who had never managed or coached at the pro level. They also constructed a roster before the season that had White Sox officials suggesting that this was a team in transition. Instead, the White Sox have battled for the top spot with the even more shocking Indians -- shocking, because the Indians are pitchless wonders who are competitive despite ranking next-to-last in the AL in team ERA.
Then you have the Dodgers and the Mets ignoring the offseason ownerships issues to lead the NL West and to challenge in the NL East, respectively.
Plus, if the season ended now, Baltimore's hitless wonders would make the playoffs after not finishing with a winning season since 1997.
You also should count the Rangers as a surprise. Despite losing the World Series for two consecutive seasons -- including last year's seven-game thriller against the St. Louis Cardinals -- the Rangers have remained motivated enough to lead the AL West again.
Suddenly, surprise teams are everywhere and thriving, and you can attribute much of this to parity.
It's parity filled with talent.
It's parity filled with young talent, too. That was indirectly mentioned in the USA Today, when it wrote in conjunction with the Elias Sports Bureau that 19 of this year's All-Star players were under 26. That was the most players in that category since 1967.
Young talent also needs coaching and managing, which means this must be an impressive year for both.
Then again, this could be a fluke.
Whatever it is, it's fun to watch, starting with the surging Nationals, who are pretty good. Actually, they are much better than that, with four players making this year's All-Star Game, a spectacular ballpark and enough of those talented young players (led by pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper) to remain significant beyond this season.
Here's another item of interest: The Nationals lead the NL East with the best record in the league.
We're talking about the NATIONALS, owners of just one postseason appearance since the franchise's inception in 1969, when they were the Montreal Expos.
Even worse, Washington had a franchise called the Senators (twice) and lost it (twice). Not that anybody ever missed them in baseball. Both the first and second comings of the Senators featured low-to-no attendance at home games and performances so wretched on the field that a sportswriter once wrote of Washington, "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League."
The Pirates weren't that bad through history, with the glorious likes of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Still, the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record was during Bonds' final year in Pittsburgh in 1992.
Now the Pirates have a winning record and are in first place with one of those talented young stars -- Andrew McCutchen.
Take the Nationals as THE surprise team this year. No, the Pirates. Come to think of it, you also can't forget about the others.
See what I mean?
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.