Senior Writer

Weekend Buzz: Pirates, Indians surprising -- all the way to Oct.?


The Weekend Buzz while you were celebrating National Ice Cream Day on Sunday with a jumbo milkshake for lunch (or, if you're in the Midwest, maybe a double-dip of Blue Moon). ...

1. Look what the cat dragged in: Only 136 miles of freeway asphalt and maybe a few hundred yards of World Series hunger pains separate the cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

On a hot July weekend made for swimming and frozen desserts, a Midsummer Night's dream has the Pirates and Indians meeting in ... late October?

Andrew McCutchen (center) and the Pirates deserve a pat on the back for their solid play in the first half. (Getty Images)  
Andrew McCutchen (center) and the Pirates deserve a pat on the back for their solid play in the first half. (Getty Images)  
"That would be great," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was saying during a conversation at the All-Star Game the other day. "Quick travel, too."

"That would be something, wouldn't it?" Pirates starter Kevin Correia said.

Sure would. And while Boston's checkbook and Philadelphia's pitching remain favored to knock this dream silly when the reality of the autumn chill sets in, how fun was it to look at the standings over the weekend and see the Indians in first and the Pirates tied for first?

Off to its best start since 2007, Cleveland has been in or tied for first place for 92 days this season. The Pirates, riding 18 consecutive losing seasons, are off to their best start since 1997.

Maybe most dangerous for NL Central rivals Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati is that the longer the Pirates stay north of .500, the more fervently they'll believe.

"It's been a great, great experience," McCutchen says. "I feel like we started spring training feeling like we were seeing what we could do. Then, we did what we said we were going to do and then, after that, I feel like we started believing. Three things changed in our attitude.

"Now, we know we can win. It's not we feel we can win, or we hope we can win."

Correia pitched for San Diego's surprise 90-win team last summer, and he definitely sees the parallels.

"Pittsburgh is a better offensive team," Correia said. "We haven't lived up to how well we can hit yet. But our pitching staff and bullpen has done an unbelievable job, compared to years past. In my experience, that's how you win games. The rotation keeps you in games, then the bullpen takes over.

"That's how we did it in San Diego last year, and all of a sudden the young guys were realizing they can play and they can win."

Likewise, the Indians, who led their division by seven games on May 23, are arriving ahead of schedule.

"The way it's set up, it's going to be a dogfight," closer Chris Perez said. "Because every team in the division knows each other so well, and it's going to come down to execution. A rookie might put you over the top, or an error to lose a game might [sink] you."

Who knows whether this will last, but it sure is enjoyable checking the scoreboard each night.

"I go first to the Pittsburgh game, and then Cleveland," Commissioner Bud Selig admitted to a group from the Baseball Writers Assn. of America in Phoenix the other day. "I'm enjoying those two situations very much."

So are lots of other folks.

A Cleveland-Pittsburgh World Series?

"If you had that call, you're Nostradamus," Perez said. "I'm not going to go out on that limb -- on their side."

Great answer.

"Cleveland and Pittsburgh have baseball players, too," Perez said. "You forget about that with all of the Yankees and Red Sox stuff."

2. Rangers opening up AL West: Texas swept four games in Seattle, has won 11 in a row and now owns a four-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Please Don't Tell Us Texas is Hot Again. Following a first-half marked by injuries to Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Neftali Feliz and others, Texas is healthy, happy and riding a franchise first: Rangers pitchers have allowed just two runs total in their past five games. Next up: Three in Angels Stadium this week.

3. K-Rod gone, Beltran out of Queens next? As closer Francisco Rodriguez tried on his new Brewers' togs, outfielder Carlos Beltran, at the end of his seven-year, $119 million deal, now appears in the on-deck circle as the next Met whose ticket will be punched out of town. Boston, perhaps?

Beltran has a full no-trade clause, but is expected to waive it to play for a contender.

"I made it clear to the organization that if they were willing to trade me, of course I'd waive it," Beltran says. "I'd love to go to a competitive team in contention and play meaningful games."

One caveat: Beltran says he wants to play the outfield, not land somewhere as a designated hitter. Though the scrappy Mets -- 47-47 after losing two of three to Philadelphia over the weekend -- are hanging in there, Beltran knows the writing is on the wall.

"Right now, we're playing good as a team without David Wright and Jose Reyes," Beltran says. "But at the same time, you have to be realistic and say, 'How long are we going to be able to keep this going with so many holes?"

4. MLB breaks up Joe West, Angel Hernandez: It's about time they broke out the construction hard hats on that crew. Following six ejections in the eight days leading up to the All-Star break, West was umpiring the Twins-Royals series in Minnesota over the weekend while Hernandez was in Toronto working the Yankees-Blue Jays.

"They're both good umpires," one baseball official said. "But they're both forceful personalities."

Far too, uh, forceful (read: confrontational, or temperamental) to be working together.

5. Heath Bell on deck? Following his brilliantly executed All-Star slide, Padres closer Heath Bell is widely expected to be sliding into a new uniform comfortably ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Two Phillies scouts were lurking at Petco Park this weekend (St. Louis also has expressed much interest, as has Texas). Just sayin'.

6. Look out for the White Sox: They've got to have a second-half run in them, and the time to start is now: The Sox over the weekend started a stretch of 12 straight games against AL Central rivals (Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Detroit) and then finish July with three games at home against the Red Sox. The most disappointing team in the AL so far, it's still just four games behind Cleveland and Detroit.

7. Ryan Braun re-injures calf: At least Shaun Marcum is back on two good legs -- though, now, one questionable neck -- as Colorado saw Sunday.

8. No. 596 for Jim Thome: It was the longest homer ever recorded at Target Field. The only thing more appropriate would have been had he smashed it Saturday after the Twins retired Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven's No. 28.

9. Broken Orioles : Vladimir Guerrero is on the disabled list with a broken hand, and the pitching staff right now looks as if it just emerged from a paper shredder. Oh, for only a pinch or two of that enthusiasm that swept in with Buck Showalter last summer.

10. Freddie Freeman and the Braves rock: Quick, which team has the fourth-best overall record in baseball? Yes. Even with Philadelphia's scary good pitching, Atlanta is not gone with the wind.


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