1. The Chicago Cubs. It's July 9th and the Cubs still have the best record in the National League. They've got seven players named the NL All-Star team. The team's manager is going to the Midsummer Classic too. The Cubbies have everything going for them. Except for history. Which hates them like I hate PJ Brown. Which is a lot. This dispute with History must be partially responsible for the Cubs 100-year World Series drought. Also, responsible: bad players and bad management. In a move that can only be construed as a refutation of fatalism, the North Siders have acquired if-healthy-ace Rich Harden (and reliever Chad Gaudin) from the Oakland A's in an attempt to bolster their staff for the second half of the season. Harden has made 13 starts this season (and one trip to the DL), he has a 5-1 record with a 2.34 ERA. He is also under contract through the end of next season which makes this trade even better for the Cubs as it gives them two cracks at the Fall Classic before having to decide if they want to sign Harden to a free-agent deal.
2. The Milwaukee Brewers. They are going for it. No doubt about it. The Brew Crew is ten games over .500 and they don't know how long it will be until they are this good again (co-ace Ben Sheets is a free agent and will likely take Big Market money elsewhere). So, they are going for it. They traded three prospects and a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner and proud member of the clean plate club CC Sabathia. Unlike the Cubs and Harden, the Brewers are likely in a rental situation with Sabathia, who is also a free agent at the end of the season and who will also likely take Big Market money elsewhere. This is a win-now deal and shows that the Brewers (currently in the NL Wild Card lead) have their sights set on catching the Cubs.
3. Mike Pelfrey. Maybe it's about the removal of the mouth piece. Maybe it's about the new pitching coach. Maybe it's about the hot weather. Either way, it's about time. The former No. 9 overall pick (and he probably would have gone sooner had he not tapped Scott Boras to be his agent) out of Wichita State is finally starting to live up to his potential. The 24-year old sinker-balling right-hander has won five straight decisions for the Mets and has not been stuck with a loss since May 26. That defeat at the hands of the Marlins was his sixth in a row. However, that losing streak seems as long ago as an El Duque start at this point. "Big Pelf" was lights out last night against the Giants allowing a meager three hits over the course of seven innings. He struck out five while throwing 73 of his 113 pitches for strikes to out-duel fellow 24-year-old and first-time NL All-Star Tim Lincecum.
4. The New York Mets. On the strength of the aforementioned Pelfrey's great outing against the woeful Giants last night the Mets have put together a four game winning streak (including an impressive if still heart-attack inducing 3 out of 4 in Philly). Whether you want to credit the newfound consistency to Interim Manager Jerry Manuel or not, there is no denying that the team seems to be having fun again and playing with greater confidence. They are currently 1.5 games behind the division leading Phillies and with five games against the bottom-feeding Giants and the next-to-bottom feeding Rockies left before the All-Star break there is a legit chance this team could be in first place when the Midsummer Classic gets underway at Yankee Stadium.
5. Corey Maggette. Also known as the Safety School, Maggette is reportedly prepared to sign a five-year deal with about $50 million with the Golden State Warriors who watched Baron Davis walk away and then couldn't lure Elton Brand to town. The 28-year-old swingman informed folks that his current-ish team the LA Clippers have no intention of matching the offer (which they have the right to do since he was/is a restricted free agent. You just have to wonder if Warriors GM Chris Mullin has been trying to poach every available Clipper just as some sort of revenge against Baron Davis for heading South to LA.