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Five teams to watch in the 2nd half

Atlanta catcher Brian McCann (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

With the second half of the 2011 season underway yesterday, division races, Wild Card races and the push for the best record in baseball begin to heat up. With just under 100 games out of the way, five teams jump out as the favorites to make the playoffs and do some serious damage in their respective leagues.

There really are no new teams in this year’s hunt. The Reds have stumbled in the first half of the season but are still four games out of first place in the NL Central. The Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants are riding their pitching to the best two records in the league.

In the American League, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are back at their three-way fight for the division and Wild Card while the Central and West are up in the air for two teams each: Cleveland/Detroit and Texas/Los Angeles.

The Wild Cards for each league will also present some interesting match-ups. Atlanta will have to battle with the NL Central if they can’t overcome Philadelphia and the Yanks/Sox/Rays may have some competition.

So with that, here are five teams to watch. This is not a Top 5 post but five teams who could make some serious noise in the second half of the regular season.

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Series Preview: vs. Milawaukee Brewers

PHI: 10-4, 1st in NL East; MIL: 7-8, 4th in NL Central

When: April 18-20
Where: Citizens Bank Park (Philly, PA)

Probable Pitchers
Monday: Joe Blanton (0-1, 10.45) vs Shaun Marcum (2-1, 2.55)
Tuesday:
Roy Halladay (2-0, 1.23) vs Randy Wolf (1-2, 4.32)
Wednesday:
Cliff Lee (2-1, 4.19) vs Chris Narveson (2-1, 1.45)

Broadcast Info
Monday, 7:05, PHL 17

Tuesday, 7:05, CSN
Wednesday, 1:05, CSN
All Games on 1210 AM

Player to Watch1B Prince Fielder: Fielder is off to one of the hottest starts in baseball, hitting .321 with four homers and 16 RBIs through 15 games. But that’s something to expect from Fielder, who has always consistently been one of the top hitting first basemen in the game.

There is a lot of boom in Prince Fielders bat. That can be a huge factor in a hitters park like CBP.

Fielder is also a monster against the Phillies, especially at CBP. In 32 games against the Phils, Fielder is hitting .339 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs. At the stadium, Fielder has an average of .345 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 17 games.

With Joe Blanton pitching today, Fielder could have himself a game. It will be interesting to see his match up against Cliff Lee on Wednesday.

Overview: The Brewers are off to a mediocre start, especially for a team considered to compete in the NL Central. But it’s still very early in the season to write anyone off (especially Boston).

They are led by Fielder as mentioned above and one of the best young players in the game in Ryan Braun. Braun is leading the team with a .329 average as well as hitting four homers and driving in nine RBIs.

They also have speed demons 2B Rickie Weeks, CF Carlos Gomez and OF bench player Nyjer Morgan.

The Phillies are still off to a very strong start offensively, especially when the bats were questioned before the season. Placido Polanco has been on a tear, hitting .373 with a homer and 12 RBIs from the two-spot. Ryan Howard has also been good to start off the season though he’s tapered off the past few games, hitting .288 with three homers and a team-high 14 RBIs.

Pitching this series again favors the Phils heavily as they have their two best pitchers going. Milwaukee is still without their newly acquired ace Zach Grienke, who is on the DL until early May.

The Phils have also dropped the first game of the past four series and with Blanton on the hill tonight, a fifth is likely if the offense doesn’t show up.

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