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Baseball's Second Half; A Power Winner At Wimbledon: The Week In Sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Change of mood now. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Baseball back after the All-Star break. Some names you expect to see in the top ranks, but there are a few surprises. And a week after winning Wimbledon for the sixth time, Serena Williams has to put up with remarks about the fact that she's strong and powerful. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. He joins us from member station WFCR in Amherst. Good to be back with you, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I am fine. Thanks, my friend.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Baseball first. Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays and O's all knotted up in the AL East - no surprise - Royals doing well in the central. But what about the Houston Astros in the AL West?

BRYANT: It's amazing. The Houston Astros, who lost almost 200 games in the past couple of years, obviously been a doormat for a long time. And just like the Royals last year, this year it's a team to pay attention to. They had a tough break. They've lost 6 out of - they had a six game losing streak. They broke it last night. But they're led by 5-foot-6-inch Jose Altuve at 225 hits last year. He's on a pace for the same this year. And who would've thought a 5-foot-6-inch player would lead anyone in the land of the Giants? But it's a great story if you like the underdog. We've had it the last couple of years, even though, yes, the Yankees are coming back this year. They're in first place. But it's nice to have a few years in a row where some teams that had always been in last place are now starting to rise to the top.

SIMON: And speaking of which, OK, in the NL...

BRYANT: Don't do it. Please, don't do it.

SIMON: All right. Nats in the East, LA and San Fran again in the West, but in the Central Division, Cardinals are ahead by like nine games. But I don't even want to say it. I don't even want to say it.

BRYANT: (Laughter) The Cubs. The Cubs, the Cubs, you know, Scott, I don't know. I can't keep giving you these free lessons. I don't know what to do with you on this.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BRYANT: Your Cubs are not underdogs. They are a gazillion - they're in the second-biggest market or third-biggest market in the country.

SIMON: Yes, and they spend money like no - you know, yes.

BRYANT: But they are playing really well. They've got a great young player in Chris Bryant. They gave Jon Lester a lot of money, and there's a lot of hope. They're not that far out. They're nine games out of first place, but not far out of a wild card spot. And all you have to do is make the playoffs. And they're the Cubs, so they've got money. So if they want to make a move at the trade deadline, they could do it. And they could break your heart again like they always do. But at least they'll get to the playoffs.

SIMON: Yeah, they could. They could. Serena Williams - no sooner did she win Wimbledon than the sixth time. Then the vaunted New York Times thought oh, here's a great time to talk not about her skills but her body. What's going on?

BRYANT: Yeah, I think it's a lot of piling on. And I think that you really cannot separate the racism from the response to her, especially on social media with the standards of beauty when it comes to African American women. When it comes to - Serena is a powerful player in a powerful game. It's not as though she - her body type is any different from a lot of the other powerful players. She just happens to be the best of the best. And as we've talked about on this program so many times, she and her sister Venus are going to be two of the most underappreciated players once they're gone. We're going to miss them very, very much. I say this all the time. Venus and Serena Williams are the greatest pair of siblings this country has ever produced athletically. And it's really a shame that instead of looking at what they do - especially Serena, going for history - that she has to deal with this.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant. Thanks so much for being with us, Howard.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.