For the first two months of the season, it appeared two of the pre-season favorites, the Cubs and the Reds, would meet in the first ever National League Division Series this October. But as the calendar flipped to June, both clubs became mortal. The Pittsburgh Pirates have closed to within a game of the Cubs in the East. Despite losing a recent series to the Reds at home, the Giants have crept to within two games of Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh has the best record in the National League this month (15-6). The Bucs could pass Chicago this week as the clubs meet for a four-game set at Wrigley Field. The two teams split the series last week at Forbes Field. The Cubs are second in the N.L. with a 3.26 ERA as Bill Hands (7-4, 3.38) and Ken Holtzman (8-3, 3.33) have joined 1967 Cy Young winner Ferguson Jenkins (8-7, 3.88) to form a powerful mound corps for Leo Durocher. At the plate, the usual suspects of Ron Santo (.302, 17 HR, 57 RBI), Billy Williams (.300, 8 HR, 36 RBI), and Ernie Banks (.267, 11 HR, 43 RBI) are doing the heavy lifting. Rookie Don Young (.290, 8 HR, 25 RBI) forced Adolfo Phillips out of town with his play. However, Pittsburgh seems to match up well with the Cubs. Roberto Clemente (.337, 11 HR, 37 RBI) is among the batting leaders again. Willie Stargell (.322, 13 HR, 45 RBI) has really heated up this month and appears on track to duplicate his breakout 1966 campaign. On the mound, 37-year-old Jim Bunning (7-5, 4.86) leads a pair of youngsters, 24-year-old Dock Ellis 6-3, 3.46) and 21-year-old Bob Moose (2-4, 2.94) to forma reputable staff.
The New York Mets are settling in behind the two thoroughbreds waiting to make their move. Of course, history tells us that move will be further back into the pack, but Gil Hodges has made believers of his young team. The pitching staff is second in baseball to Baltimore. Tom Seaver (7-5. 1.94) and Jerry Koosman (7-3, 2.01) are the best pair of aces in the National League. Gary Gentry (6-5, 4.18) has shown flashes of brilliance, but has mostly been up-and-down which is to be expected of a rookie. The Mets’ offense is led by Cleon Jones (.333, 7 HR, 27 RBI), Tommie Agee (.305, 15 HR, 29 RBI), and one of the original Mets, Ed Kranepool (.305, 5 HR, 35 RBI). Donn Clendenon was recently acquired from Montreal to provide more offense. In St. Louis, expectations were high for the two-time pennant champions, but the Redbirds stumbled out of the gate and have yet to recover. Newcomers Joe Torre (.270, 7 HR, 36 RBI) and Vada Pinson (.298, 1 HR< 31 RBI) are holding up their end of the bargain, but the Cards have been undone repeatedly by their bullpen. Fireman Joe Hoerner has 5 losses, and the relief corps has an ERA of 4.44 compared to the starters’ ERA of 3.11. The Phillies have been a sideshow run by the distractions of Richie Allen (.291, 22 HR, 44 RBI). Montreal rid itself of its’ malcontent, Maury Wills, this month and seems to be enjoying life once again. The Expos have spent most of June on the road, and will be returning to their home fans this week.
Out west, the Cincinnati Reds took the early lead, but the San Francisco Giants have gained three and a half games this month. The resurgent 38-year-old Willie Mays (.352, 10 HR, 36 RBI) has seemingly discovered a fountain of youth as he leads all of baseball in batting. Willie McCovey (.324, 14 HR, 39 RBI) seems destined to walk away with Batter of the Month laurels next week. McCovey is hitting a blistering .456 in June with 8 home runs. Injuries have taken a toll on Jim Ray Hart (.221, 1 HR, 19 RBI), but rookie Bobby Bonds (.256, 16 HR, 48 RBI) has stepped in for manager Clyde King. Juan Marichal (11-3, 3.06) is capable of winning with each turn on the mound. In Cincinnati, Tony Perez (.346, 21 HR, 54 RBI) has paced the attack with former Cardinal farmhand Bobby Tolan (.318, 9 RH, 29 RBI) setting the table. Pitching may be the Reds’ undoing, but Jim Merritt (7-2, 2.45) and Jim Maloney (6-2, 3.44) have pitched quite well for manager Dave Bristol. The Dodgers have found their footing, joining the Giants with the best record in the division for June. Injuries have set back Don Drysdale (2-2, 3.23), but Bill Singer (10-6, 2.47) has stepped in as staff ace along with 1966 World Series MVP Claude Osteen (6-9, 3.12), and Don Sutton (4-7, 2.79). The so-called ‘Mod Squad’ of the Dodgers lineup will need to continue to improve for Walter Alston’s troops to contend this summer. Atlanta and Houston each seem capable of joining the action themselves. The Braves welcomed back Rico Carty (.303, 3 HR, 7 RBI) this month from tuberculous. If Orlando Cepeda (.185, 7 HR, 25 RBI) can rediscover his swing, the Braves may ambush the western leaders down the stretch. In Houston, 27-year-old Jimmy Wynn (.270, 18 HR, 43 RBI) has enjoyed a fine month of June himself. Wynn is batting .348 with 7 home runs as the Astros have climbed over the .500 mark. Former Brave Denny Lemaster (12-2, 2.52) has bounced back from his 17-loss first season in Houston. Larry Dierker (4-8, 2.48) has pitched in some tough loss this season, but combined with fireballer Don Wilson (9-4, 3.38), Houston will be in most of its’ games the remainder of the season. The NL West may be the scene for the wildest baseball action this summer.