Redbirds Nestled Atop Senior Circuit

Filed under Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals
July 10, 1968
Bob Gibson
Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson is as dominant a starter there has been in baseball in the first half of 1968. Gibson leads the NL in wins (15), ERA (1.34), and shutouts (5).

Stan Musial recently tabbed this Cardinal club to be the one to “mold the greatest dynasty in the club’s history.” Who could argue with the Man? St. Louis seems intent on a rematch with Detroit in order to exact revenge for the bitter sweep in last year’s World Series with all of the games decided by one run. Bob Gibson (15-3; 1.34 ERA) leads the charge with one of the finest half of pitching since Detroit’s Denny McLain this season. Lefty Steve Carlton (8-4; 1.99 ERA) joins Gibson on the All Star team and as a staff ace. Dick Hughes (2-4; 4.14 ERA) has struggled with arm troubles, but so far, Manager Red Schoendienst has not had to lean on the Rookie of Year hurler as the staff’s ERA is 2.50. The offense continues the same game plan as last season. Lou Brock leads the league in stolen bases (32), and Orlando Cepeda (.280, 5 HR, 36 RBI) and Mike Shannon (.268, 10 HR, 38 RBI) drove him in. Julian Javier (.291) and Curt Flood (.285) are enjoying fine seasons recognized by their selection to the All Star team. Prior to the weekend, the Cardinals had stretched their lead to ten games over Los Angeles but a season-long four game losing streak allowed the Dodgers to shrink the lead down to seven games. As it appears and as Mr. Musial will confide, this edition of the Cardinals will not lose more than four consecutive games very often. The rest of the field in the senior circuit has its’ work cut out for them to catch these high-flying Redbirds.

After a down year, the Los Angeles Dodgers have found their measure of success on the pitching mound. Rookie Mike Kekich (5-3; 1.95 ERA) has joined sophomore Bill Singer (10-5; 2.21) to compliment ace Don Drysdale (11-8; 1.82 ERA). Claude Osteen (5-10; 3.61 ERA) has struggled this season, and Don Sutton (6-3; 2.29 ERA) made a brief pit stop in Walter Alston’s bull pen in the first half. Willie Davis .270, 5 HR, 40 RBI) is enjoying one of his finest season, but Len Gabrielson (.307, 4 HR, 20 RBI) is the only other regular enjoying any offensive success. Perhaps Tom Haller (.215, 1 HR, 24 RBI) can parlay his All Star success into a second half that could push the Dodgers closer to St. Louis.

Pittsburgh is also celebrating the success of two young arms, Bob Moose (6-1; 0.96 ERA) and Steve Blass (6-4; 2.29 ERA). The Pirates staff is pitching better than the Dodgers, so it may be the Bucs’ offense that pushes Pittsburgh into competition with the Cardinals. Last year’s MVP Roberto Clemente (.223, 9 HR, 35 RBI) has struggled through one of his worst halves of baseball yet his club is tied for second at the Break. Roberto regained his power stroke in early July. In the bull pen, Roy Face reeled off twenty nine scoreless innings to open the season. It was not until June 29 before he allowed a run.

From the trio of pursuers, the San Francisco Giants have the most prolific offense in this Year of the Pitcher. Willie McCovey (.313, 17 HR, 53 RBI), Jim Ray Hart (.308, 17 RBI, 64 RBI) and Willie Mays .254, 14 HR, 40 RBI) will make any opposing pitcher nervous. The Giants added another threat, rookie Bobby Bonds, a few weeks ago from Phoenix. Bonds (.286, 1 HR, 11 RBI) hit his first major league home run off none other than Bob Gibson. The pitching staff is again Juan Marichal (12-8; 2.60 ERA) and Gaylord Perry (8-3; 2.23 ERA), and fireman Frank Linzy (2-2, 1.10 ERA) is again the stopper at the end of games for Herman Franks.

Atlanta has found a new recipe for success with a pitching staff that is leading the league in ERA at the Break. The offense is sputtering, particularly Hank Aaron (.257, 9 HR, 46 RBI), so the arms will need to hold up for the Braves. Ron Reed (6-4; 2.05 ERA) and Phil Niekro (7-6; 2.16 ERA) are among the league leaders in ERA. Nevertheless, the club added Milt Pappas in a deal with Cincinnati, but Pappas (2-2; 3.73 ERA) has yet to impress in five starts for the Braves.

The Philadelphia Phillies have had an interesting first half. Manager Gene Mauch was dismissed after benching slugger Richie Allen, and the club skidded for thirty scoreless innings. Bob Skinner has guided the Phils to a 12-10 mark in his first month as manager. Allen is batting only .255, and Johnny Callison leads the club in home runs (14) at the Break. Two players not in the Opening Day lineup have been the most impressive: SS Roberto Pena (.317, 2 HR, 11 RBI) who earned an All Star berth with his play while starting SS Bobby Wine is out with a back injury, and Johnny Briggs (.254, 5 HR, 17 RBI) who Skinner recently tabbed as his starting first baseman replacing the struggling Bill White (.218, 1 HR, 21 RBI).

Leo Durocher’s Cubs lead the league in home runs and are last in the league in ERA. The trio of Bruins, Santo, Banks and Williams, are a reliable bunch, particularly when Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger can get on base in front of them. Cy Young winner Fergie Jenkins (9-9; 2.63 ERA) is pitching as well as last season as he leads the NL with 144 strikeouts, but cannot seem to catch a break. The bull pen has been problematic for Durocher as Phil Regan (5-3, 4.46 ERA), acquired from the Dodgers in April, has not been consistent. It is a concern that trade included Regan’s sore arm from Los Angeles as well.

The New York Mets enjoyed an impressive April under new skipper Gil Hodges, but the club has slipped back to familiar territory, the second division, afterward. Rookie southpaw Jerry Koosman (9-5; 2.55 ERA) has lost five straight decisions since opening with a 9-0 start and Pitcher of the Month honors in May. Though his record does not reflect his work, Tom Seaver (6-7; 2.43 ERA) has been the most consistent hurler and deserving of more support from his teammates. Cleon Jones (.310, 14 HR, 38 RBI) and Ron Swoboda (.284, 9 HR, 34 RBI) have shined in full time roles in the outfield, and Art Shamsky (.302, 4 HR, 32 RBI) and Ed Charles (.291, 5 HR, 18 RBI)  have thrived in Hodges’ platoon roles. Catcher Jerry Grote (.261) is another standout from the first half. The Mets’ defensive lapses have been the undoing of late, but that may be expected from such a young club.

The first half of the Houston Astros can be summed up by the fact the club dismissed Grady Hatton as their manager in June. Top brass and fans alike are not satisfied with the direction of the team. New manager Harry Walker directed the Astros to a 9-16 mark in his first month. The troubles started early in Houston as Joe Morgan was lost early to injury, a setback from which the Astros have not recovered. Rusty Staub (.308, 5 HR, 33 RBI) shifted to first base in the spring, and fortunately, his bat was unaffected with the move. Staub was the lone All Star and highlight for the host team. Fred Gladding returned from spring arm troubles to finally settle a turmoil in the Astros bull pen, but Gladding was shelved soon thereafter with the same elbow issues. On top of all of the injuries, the Astros have lost the most time to player military service, but there aren’t many Texans who will accept excuses.

The last time a Reds team was this must of a disappointment at the Break, it costs Don Heffner his job as manager in 1966. Dave Bristol turned the team around that season, and he will have to do the same in order to save his job. The Reds have the leading offense in all of baseball with a .255 team average. However, the club has lost eight games in which they were leading in the seventh. Only the Angels have lost more of such games (11). Ted Abernathy is in a down year of his roller coaster career, having blown six games in late situations this season. Clay Carroll came over from Atlanta in the Pappas deal, and has been impressive early in Bristol’s bull pen. Gary Nolan (5-2, 2.25 ERA) returned to the team in late May to provide a boost to an anemic starting staff. Jim Maloney (2-4.09 ERA) and George Culver (3-8; 2.82 ERA) will have to improve to give Cincinnati any chance to rise in the standings. At the plate, Pete Rose has bounced back from a subpar 1967, and currently leads the National League with a .326 average. Alex Johnson, Lee May, and Tony Perez will have to continue their production as Rose opens the second half on the disabled list with a fractured thumb. Rookie backstop Johnny Bench has struggled (.201, 2 HR, 21 RBI), but Bristol remains loyal to the 20-year-old Oklahoman.

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