1. Cliff Lee. NL-Only fantasy leagues are being swung by the Phillies new ace, who came over from the Cleveland Indians in a deal shortly before the non-waiver trading deadline. It would only seem fitting if Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay has ceded first place in such a league to a team that was able to claim Lee of waivers while Halladay had been holding out to claim himself. As the Jays continue to slide towards irrelevance after a nice showing early in the season, Halladay must be envious of Lee, who seems rejuvenated by the change of scenery just as former teammate CC Sabathia did last year after he left the Tribe for Brew Crew. Lee no-hit the D-Backs into the sixth inning last night and went the distance for his fourth win (in four tries) since joining the Fightin's. For good measure, he k'd a career-high 11 batters.
2. Rich Harden. After seeing his ERA balloon to 5.47 in the second week of July the oft-injured Cubs pitcher has gone 3-1 and allowed just eight runs in seven starts. He tossed seven shutout innings for the Cubbies against the Padres last night while striking out eight and allowing just one hit. The Cubs won, 7-1, to avoid getting broomed by the lowly Padres and keep some tenuous hope alive for October baseball on the North Side of Chicago. Harden's got a 1.80 ERA in August and is looking more like one of the 39 pitchers ever to strike out the side on nine pitches.
3. Burnley. Just when you thought that I was only going to mention Arsenal victories in this space, I'm happy to tout the performance of club that hasn't notched a top-flight win in 33 years. Burnley, a charter member of the Football League (the oldest existing circuit in professional football in the whole world) in 1888, returned to the Premeirship with great fanfare, knocking of reigning champions, Manchester United, 1-0. Robbie Blake scored for Burnley and goalkeeper Brian Jensen turned away a penalty shot to secure the win in the club's first fixture after being promoted following last season. Longtime Clarets fans may be less surprised (although I doubt it) as they saw their club dump Arsenal and Chelsea from the Carling Cup last year. This club has been around for a long while, their home town has been around since the early medieval period and their grounds, Turf Moor, opened in 1883. This win was a long time coming.
4. The Wild Card Races. I may not be a part of one, but there are seven fanbases around the country rooting for teams within 5 games of the Wild Card lead. Again, the team I support is not competing for the Wild Card (only infamy), but there is no doubt that this back door into the baseball playoffs makes the season much more exciting. Even though Bob Costas hated it initially. This weekend's series between the Rays and Rangers and Rockies and Giants pit WC contenders against one another.
5. Mark Teixeira. It's true that I don't think the Yankees first baseman deserves to be the AL MVP. I admit that. But that doesn't mean that he's not having a heckuva second half. The free agent signee knocked in all three runs in the Bombers' 3-2 win over the Oakland A's last night in the Bay Area. The button-down, glove-down first bagger hit a two-run homer in the fourth that provided the winning run after he had already scored Jeter on a groundout in the first.
Benched. Michael Carrick. For the top teams in the Premiership, it isn't so much about the wins in your side's account. It's about the ties and the losses. It's about those points that you leave behind as the season progresses. It's about letting lesser teams equalize in extra time to earn a draw or dropping a game that you should have tied yourself. With Manchester City looking primed to join the upper echelon of England's top football league and Arsenal showing (so far) that they're not ready to be replaced it looks that each point will be precious come the spring for all the Prem contenders. And if things are especially tight then Manchester United will miss the one point that they left behind in that opening tilt when Michael Carrick botched a gilt-edged chance to secure a draw at the Turf Moor in the Mancs' season-opener at Burnley. The midfielder out of the West Ham system saw a feeble penalty attempt saved by the home goalkeeper just before the close of the first half.