As we get past the middle of August in the baseball schedule, a quick look at the standings can be somewhat deceptive.

What looks like a close race for the AL East Division title is devoid of drama because it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which both frontrunners, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, don’t make it to the playoffs thanks to the Wild Card. You would also think that the three teams atop the AL Central, all within four games of first place, might make for a memorable September storyline, but two of those teams are barely above .500 and are only in a playoff race because of the weakness of the division. Meanwhile, in the AL West, the Texas Rangers are unlikely to be stopped even if Vernon Wells begins playing like an average baseball player again.

In the National League, there’s little surprise that the Phillies have control of the East Division, and that the Atlanta Braves who own second place are likely to also own the Wild Card title. The NL Central was decided in the weeks immediately following the All-Star Game, when the Milwaukee Brewers excelled and the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, quite frankly, didn’t. This leaves us with the National League West where the surging Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of seven straight games (including last night over the Philadelphia Phillies), currently sit 3.5 games up on the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

In many ways, this is the most exciting race in baseball right now. And at the moment, it appears that the two teams competing are headed in different directions. Over the last thirty days, the Arizona Diamondbacks have benefited largely from the play of Justin Upton, who during that time span, has accumulated 10 home runs, an on base percentage of .422 and recorded 2.5 wins above replacement. Since July 29th, the Giants have only won five times, going 0-4 in one run games, after accumulating a remarkable 28-13 record in single-run games prior to that.

It’s been a tough year for the Giants, who despite a negative run differential and a below .500 Pythagorean record, find themselves only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. As much as we might point to the awful season Aubrey Huff is having, San Francisco’s anemic offense hasn’t been helped very much by this:

Consider the Giants lineup in last night’s extra inning loss to the Atlanta Braves which also saw starter Jonathan Sanchez go down to injury:

Cody Ross – 3
Mike Fontenot – 8
Pablo Sandoval – 4
Aubrey Huff – 1
Brandon Belt – 0
Orlando Cabrera – 16
Miguel Tejada – 37
Chris Stewart – 29

The numbers beside each player’s name represent the number of games that particular player has played this season at the position he was fielding last night. Such is a damaged lineup.

As we enter the second half of August and near the final lap that is September, it seems strange that last year’s champions should be in the role of underdog as they compete with an upstart team that baseball writers would have a difficult time explaining how they got to be where they are in the division. But this is how baseball works. And in a season that may be slightly lacking the drama of previous pennant races, baseball fans will take every excruciating minute of it.

And The Rest

St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Shelby Miller has been suspended indefinitely by the organization for violation of team policy. While the vagueness of that may be overwhelming, several reports are suggesting that it has something to do with a drunken altercation in an apartment complex in Springfield.

Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus takes a look at everything you ever wanted to know about getting hit by a pitch.

It’s raining triple plays.

I love MLBTR as an aggregator, but I love it even more for some of its original content. This piece on Carlos Zambrano is rather awesome.

FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron compares Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury.

MLB.com’s Marty Noble compares Jim Thome and Jason Isringhausen.

The Closers talks with Jordan Walden:

In what has to be the strangest game of the year, the Chicago White Sox hit five triples, Juan Pierre collected a home run and Adam Dunn even got a hit in their 14 inning win over the Cleveland Indians.

Speaking of the Indians, they’re not a bad bunch of guys.

A dark day in baseball history.

This reminds me of that “Funny; Not Funny” bit from Wonder Showzen: