An eventful and unexpected first half that included R.A. Dickey knuckling his way to stardom with the Mets, Phil Humber’s out-of-nowhere perfecto for the White Sox and the Yankees muzzling former slugger Reggie Jackson after some disparaging comments about Alex Rodriguez is only expected to get more intriguing as the season rounds second and heads for third.
The non-waiver trade deadline is looming at the end of the month, and the Baltimore Orioles and White Sox got ahead of the curve by acquiring Jim Thome and Kevin Youkilis, respectively, to bolster their offenses. Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels and Arizona’s Justin Upton could be headed elsewhere as the contenders and pretenders separate themselves.
“There’s several teams involved in races right now,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, whose Tigers joined the Phillies and Red Sox on the list of big-spending underachievers in the first half. “There’s probably going to be a lot of teams that would like to go out and get somebody. But the more teams that want to get something, the tougher it is to get it.”
And there’s even more motivation for deals to be made in the first year of baseball’s expanded postseason. The Fall Classic will be a little wilder this time around. A new format kicks in this year that adds an extra wild card team to each league. That means 10 teams will go for it all.
With so much on the line from here on out, the game in Kansas City could be one of the last nights without any juice for quite a while.
NL Central: The Pirates are just one game ahead of the Reds and only 2 1/2 games ahead of the defending champs in St. Louis.
NL West: The Dodgers looked like the class of the league at the start, but injuries to stars Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have brought them back to the pack. And the Giants, just half a game back, are brimming with confidence after Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera and Matt Cain led the NL to an 8-0 All-Star win.
AL West: The Rangers may be the best team in baseball, but the Los Angeles Angels have rebounded from a slow start to show that this will be no runaway. The Rangers lead by 4 games in search of their third straight AL crown.
Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners: Seattle has been adamant that it is not considering moving King Felix. But if they ever would, now may be the time. The 26-year-old is 6-5 with a 3.13 ERA and is signed through 2014.
Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins: The lefty who will be a free agent this winter is 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA and .175 opponents’ batting average since rejoining the rotation. Last-place Twins need young assets, and Liriano may be best trade chip.
Cole Hamels, LHP, and Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: These two mainstays, who are eligible for free agency at season’s end, could be available for the right price.
Carlos Quentin, OF, Padres: Any team looking for some proven power should consider Quentin, who topped 20 homers in each of the past four years for the White Sox.
CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees: On the disabled list with a strained left groin, the Yankees desperately need their horse back atop the rotation.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: Longoria is on the shelf with a torn left hamstring that could keep him out for a while.
Kemp, OF, Dodgers: He’s played in just two games since May 14 because of a strained left hamstring, an injury that can linger if it’s not taken care of properly.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals: GM Mike Rizzo has said that the team intends to hold Strasburg to an innings limit and will shut him down once he reaches that point to try to avoid another major arm injury.