The first half of the baseball season was tremendous. Four pitchers threw no-hitters, four managers were fired and a titanic race is breaking out in the American League East. Oh, and some kid named Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 batters in his debut. If the second half is anything like the first, we’re in for a wild end to the summer:
10. Big names on the trade block
The biggest name, Cliff Lee, already has been moved — again. But he isn’t the only player expected to change teams. Roy Oswalt is available — provided the Astros find a taker for his contract. Adam Dunn and Dan Haren could be dealt, but both the Nationals and D’Backs would need to be blown away by offers to pull the trigger.
9. Surprise teams in first place
If you had the Padres and Reds leading their respective divisions at the All-Star break … well, let’s face it, you didn’t. But as the season creeps toward the 100-game mark, it’s time to admit this: The Padres and Reds — along with the surging White Sox — are contenders. Can they keep up the pace?
8. The race for the AL batting crown
Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Ichiro and David DeJesus were within 20 points of each other at the break. Ichiro, with two batting titles already under his belt, and Cabrera (.314 lifetime average) are the odds-on favorites. Keep an eye on Cano, a .329 lifetime hitter in the second half of the season.
7. The march to 20 victories
Ubaldo Jimenez (15-1) led a group of eight pitchers with at least 11 wins at the All-Star break. In the last five seasons, only nine pitchers have won 20 games but Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, David Price, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Jon Lester and Justin Verlander all are on pace to crack the 20-win mark in 2010.
6. Division races all tight
By this point in the season, someone, somewhere, usually has pulled away. But at the break, the largest division lead belonged to the Rangers, who held a 4 1/2-game edge in the AL West. And it’s not just the size of the lead; it’s the depth of the field, which means the wild card chase might have more contenders than usual.
5. A 94-win team locked out?
Speaking of races, have you seen the AL East? The Red Sox (51-37 at the break) would have finished the first half atop the AL Central, AL West, NL Central and NL West divisions. Instead, Boston — on pace to win 94 games — is chugging along in third place behind the Yankees and Rays. Yeesh.
4. Did someone order another no-hitter?
Jimenez, Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden and Edwin Jackson all twirled no-hitters during the first half of the season. Armando Galarraga came within a blown call of a perfect game. Is there more to come? Three guys who might add to this list: Josh Johnson (100-mph heater), Adam Wainwright (filthy stuff) and Cliff Lee (doesn’t walk anybody).
3. Bryce Harper’s countdown clock
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Nationals appear to be heading down to the wire on negotiations to sign a once-in-a-lifetime player. It worked out the last time, with Stephen Strasburg agreeing to a $15.1 million contract. Now it’s Harper’s turn. The teenage phenom won the Golden Spikes Award in 2010 and he won’t come cheap.
2. Cabrera’s Triple Crown push
There’s a lot of baseball left between now and September, but Miguel Cabrera could become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. At the All-Star break, Cabrera was leading the AL in RBI (77), tied for the lead in batting (.346), and tied for second in homers (22).
1. A crowded race for NL ROY
There are almost too many worthy candidates for this award — Buster Posey, Mike Leake, Jason Heyward, Gaby Sanchez … did we mention Stephen Strasburg? But the front-runner at the halfway mark is Jaime Garcia, who was 8-4 at the break with a nifty 2.17 ERA — third-best in the Senior Circuit.