LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And it's time for sports.
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WERTHEIMER: There comes a stretch every summer - no football, basketball or hockey - when baseball gets to soak up the limelight. We are firmly in that stretch right now. The All Star Game is just behind us, the second half of the season is ahead. To break it down, we're joined by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Hi, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Morning, Linda. How are you?
WERTHEIMER: Moderate to good, I'd say.
WERTHEIMER: Could we, why don't we start with the National League?
BRYANT: Well, I think the National League is a very, very interesting story as always. There's always something happening on that side of the world and the Pittsburgh Pirates are the story that I like best. You know, St. Louis has the best record, but St. Louis is always good. They won the World Series in 2011. The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't had a winning record since Barry Bonds left in 1992.
Barry Bonds has been retired for five years, so last year they were close. Last year at this time, they were 52 and 40, and then they only won 27 games the rest of the year and were 79 and 83. This year they are 56 and 38. If the playoffs started today they would be in and so it's going to be fun to see how they hang in there the rest of the year to see if they can finally get over that hump and actually have a winning record and make the playoffs.
WERTHEIMER: The Dodgers are also making a run, yes?
BRYANT: Dodgers are terrific. The Dodgers are Team Dysfunction, one of the richest teams in baseball. Magic Johnson came in, bought the team last year with a bunch of investors. They were terrible early and now all of a sudden they're a game over .500 and starting to look like they can make a run themselves. I think people kind of laughed at them because they only had a $220 million payroll and were in last place, but maybe they're the ones who may have the last laugh come September.
WERTHEIMER: OK. What about the American league?
BRYANT: The American League is what it's always been, in a certain way. Boston is up there. The Yankees are the team that's really kind of interesting because this was the year when everybody kind of wondered if they weren't going to make it, if this was going to be the year when age finally caught up to them. Derek Jeter, he's only played one game this season.
Mariano Rivera is retiring this year, and the Yankees are seven games out. The Red Sox lost 93 games last year and now they're in first place and they've got a huge series next week with Tampa Bay, the two best teams in the division. And that's going to be fun to watch to see if they can kind of turn around.
I like the defending champions. I like the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers because I think they're the best team. They've got the best pitcher in Justin Verlander, and it always feels like when it's time to win they win the big games. You know, they've got Prince Fielder, they've got Miguel Cabrera, who's arguably the best hitter in the game.
But don't count out the little engine that could out in California, the Oakland As, the one that we all make fun of because they have no money and yet, once again, they're in first place in their division. And they need a new stadium and, you know, the visiting clubhouse leaks, but yet Oakland is always up there and I think they're the good underdog, they're the good story to root for.
WERTHEIMER: OK. Thank you, Howard.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
WERTHEIMER: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.