Young stars, a knock-down N.L. Playoff fight, and serious free agent talent have fans counting the days (two) before the end of the All-Star break.
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The best part of baseball's All-Star break, the game itself, is over. The worst part of baseball’s All-Star break, the two full days without any games, is happening right now. That brief intermission gives us a chance to stop color commentating and look forward to the second half of the season, which starts on Friday. With less than 70 games left in the regular season and only 15 days until the trade deadline, Major League Baseball is about to get seriously interesting.
If you're one of those fans who refuses to watch baseball until the games really matter, it's time to find the remote. Here’s what you want to be watching:
Seven teams battling for five National League playoff berths…
As of this moment, seven NL teams are within a game of having the best record in the league. The Pirates, only three games out of a Wild Card spot, are threatening to make it an eight-team race. And no division leader is safe. The Dodgers are and Giants are neck and neck in the NL West. The Nationals and Braves are tied atop the NL East. The Brewers, Cardinals and Reds are separated by a game in half in the NL Central. With this kind of competition, every remaining game counts. With around 70 games remaining, that’s got us feeling like these ladies.
Contenders reaching for their wallets…
The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is two weeks from tomorrow. Rumors of mega deals will be flying hard and fast until then, with only a small fraction consummated, but following the madness is most of the fun. Along with potential new homes for big time talent (David Price, anyone?) it’s always interesting to see which teams decide to sell and which whip out the wallets to buy. Most teams can determine at this point if a playoff spot is worth chasing, but other clubs, like the Mets, who are seven games out of the NL East, will have to make a choice: try to acquire a couple more pieces for a playoff push or accept that you are in fact the Mets, and just give up.
Two young stars assert their dominance…
Clayton Kershaw, with his 41-inning scoreless streak and no-hitter in the first half, looks a likely candidate to win his third Cy Young at the tender age of 26. According to one metric, Kershaw is on pace to have the second best season by a pitcher ever, behind Pedro Martinez’s ridiculous 1999. Over in the AL, White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu is easily the best story. A recent Cuban defector, Abreu has 29 home runs right now and is on pace to match Mark McGwire’s rookie record of 49 bombs. For the sake of lowly White Sox fans, we hope it happens.
Prospects fight to stay on the roster…
The already huge number of young contributors on major league teams will only increase as the season goes on. The Cubs have a bumper crop of top prospects who could taste the bigs, including Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. The Indians’ Francisco Lindor and Orioles’ Dylan Bundy would make an immediate impact. Two top prospects who are currently working their way back from injury, the Twins’ Byron Buxton and Diamondbacks’ Archie Bradley, could show up in September. As guys like Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez have taught us over the past couple years, rookies aren’t just fun to watch, they can contribute.
Derek Jeter gets his ego massaged…
If you watched the All-Star game, you saw the beginning of the end for Derek Jeter. As he starts to make his last trip to opposing parks, the Yankee shortstop will be feted and eulogized over and over. One thing that’s important to remember: He’s not dying. Jeter is only 40, which might be ancient in baseball terms but it’s downright youthful in real-world terms. Jeter will be around the game for a long time. Yes, his playing career is over, but let’s not start chiseling the man’s epitaph just yet. Hell, there’s still a half season of baseball to play.
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