Originally posted on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 7/13/12

Well well well, who woulda thunk it. It's the All-Star break, the Pirates and Nationals are in first place, the Phillies in last, the Orioles are actually in contention, and "The Freak" is pitching like, well…a freak. These are among the leading surprises as we take stock of the first half, causing us to ask, "What's going on here?" After all, this is baseball, where most teams perform pretty much the same, year in and year out. Not this season.

Let's start in the nation's capital, where the Nats have never even had a winning record since moving there from Montreal in 2005. Not only are they in first place, but their impressive 49-34 mark is the best in the NL, and one of the best in baseball. And that's without one of their best hitters, Jayson Werth, out since May, and their closer Drew Storen, who has yet to play this season. This from a team that last finished with a winning record in 2003, when they were the Montreal Expos. With some of the brightest young stars in the game like Ian Desmond, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper, the future looks more than promising for the Nats.

Then there's the Pittsburgh Pirates. See photo for the last time this team actually made the playoffs. Ok, it hasn't been quite that long, but still, this team has not even had a winning record for 20 years. Yes, that's right, 20 years. In fact, in all those years they only even came close once, when they finished four games under in 1997. You have to go back to 1992 to find their last winning season and playoff berth. This is apparently the longest consecutive losing- seasons streak of any pro team in any sport. Not only that, but they haven't won a postseason series since winning the 1979 World Series. Anyone remember Sister Sledge and "We Are Family?" Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, and Kent Tekulve? You say you weren't even born yet? Oh. Never mind. You get the point. These guys are in first place about as often as our nation's economy is in the black. Could this be the year the Bucs finally pull out at least a winning season? At 48-37, they have a great shot at it, if they can find a way to avoid a repeat of last season's second half collapse.

Speaking of the 1979 World Series, the Orioles are the team the Bucs beat, and they haven't fared much better than the Pirates since then. The O's currently stand at 45-40, good for second place in the tough AL East. Why is that surprising? Understand that these guys went 69-93 last season, have not had a winning season since 1997, and have not even so much as won 70 games in a season since 2006. At seven games out of first, can they give the Yanks a run for their money in the second half?

So what's going on in Philadelphia? The Phillies in last place at a miserable 37-50? They come limping in with their worst record at the break since a 24-61 mark in 1997. True, the injury bug has not stayed away, as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay have all been stung by it, but lack of production seems to be an even bigger culprit. Jimmy Rollins is hitting just .256, Shane Victorino .245, and John Mayberry .232. And Cliff Lee, 1-5 with a 3.98 ERA? Huh? All is not well in Philly-Town. Can they right the ship in the second half?

Finally, that brings us to "The Freak," Giants' ace Tim Lincecum. You know, the four -time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner, the guy with long hair and a career 72-51 record, 3.27 ERA. The guy who is currently 3-10, 6.42. Could it be his freaky clone? Is the real Tim Lincecum kicking back on a beach somewhere in Tahiti sipping Pina Coladas? Maybe he figures the Giants are doing well enough without him. At only a half game behind the first-place Dodgers, where would the Giants be with a strong "Freak?"

Well baseball fans, we still have a long second half to look forward to, let the races begin!

Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.

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