10 second-half questions from All-Star moments

July 12th, 2017

MIAMI -- When mashed ' usually devastating curveball to provide the decisive run in the American League's 2-1 victory in the 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, he unofficially opened baseball's second half. This is one of the beautiful things about the All-Star Game. It isn't just a game and a showcase, it's a marker too. It is a brief respite before the roller coaster begins again.
Here are 10 second-half questions that arose from 10 moments in this year's All-Star Game. (One for every inning.)
Moment 1: The biggest cheers in Miami during the introductions were certainly for the hometown Marlins players -- it's always like that -- but then came the overpowering sound for . He creates buzz like no one in quite some time, maybe going back to Ichiro-mania in 2001. "Aaron Judge has been absolutely phenomenal," said Commissioner Rob Manfred. "There is no other word to describe it. He is … the kind of player that can become the face of the game."
Second-half question: Can Judge keep playing at this crazy pace? He leads the league in homers (30), on-base percentage (.448) and slugging percentage (.691). Pitchers will unquestionably adjust and probe for weaknesses. He figures to get tired -- he only played about 125 games each of the last two seasons. But Judge's plate discipline is remarkable and his power is already legendary. It will be fun to watch.

Moment 2: Kansas City's took a foul ball off his finger -- it hurt just watching -- but of course he stayed in the game because Salvy is one of the indestructible forces in baseball.
Second-half question: Do the Kansas City Royals do the unthinkable and actually become buyers at the All-Star break? When the season began poorly, everyone lined up to predict just how quickly the Royals would sell off their four soon-to-be free agents. But the Royals righted things, and team general manager Dayton Moore admits he is too emotionally invested in this team to break them up if they have a chance to win. Do not be surprised if they go out and outbid other contenders for a useful starting pitcher for the stretch run.

Moment 3: The Freeze raced a particularly speedy fan between All-Star Game innings. The Freeze lost somewhat convincingly.
Second half question: Is the Freeze tiring?

Moment 4: Seattle's brought his phone out on the field and he asked National League catcher to take a photo of Cruz with home-plate umpire Joe West. Molina agreed immediately. West briefly protested before posing. "I love Joe West," Cruz said.
Second-half question: Will the Mariners try to stay in the AL Wild Card picture this year? And if not, would they consider moving Cruz, a Seattle favorite, who at age 37 is having another good offensive season and has one year left on a pretty affordable deal? The Mariners probably could get a decent return on Cruz, but they would have to admit that they're out of the race. You get the feeling the Mariners are not ready for that admission yet.

Moment 5: With the American League up, 1-0, Molina hit his first opposite-field home run all season -- he's hit only seven in his entire career -- to tie the game. Molina then came out wearing what looked like gold-plated armor as catcher's gear. Yadi was unquestionably one of the stars of the Miami night.
Second-half question: Can Yadi lead the Cardinals back into the race? The Cardinals have problems. They can't score. They've had some fundamental breakdowns. But their starting pitching, led by All-Star (who threw eight 100-mph fastballs in the game), has been solid, and the division isn't exactly running away from them. The Cardinals have a losing record, but they're only 5 1/2 games behind a Brewers team that continues to surprise.

Moment 6: After Molina's home run, Cleveland shortstop sort of hugged and congratulated him after he rounded second base.
Second-half question: How can you not love Lindor? His joy for the game is so infectious and overpowering. Lindor had a rough offensive first half -- there are those who think he got a little home run crazy -- and it will be fascinating to see how he responds to his first bit of struggling in the big leagues. Cleveland goes as Lindor goes.

Moment 7: Short-inning relievers -- , Brad Hand, , Greg Holland, , and -- mostly dominated the All-Star Game. This was why, even with so many powerful hitters, the game was 1-1 going into extra innings.
Second-half question: Will dominant bullpens be the difference come September and October? Everyone knows what the Royals did with their overpowering bullpen in 2015 and '16. The two best teams in the first half, the Astros and Dodgers, have excellent bullpens with dominant strikeout pitchers to close things out. The Nationals, meanwhile, can hit with anybody and have great starting pitching, but their bullpen in the first half was basically a fiasco.

Moment 8: Cano hit the game-winning home run off Chicago's Davis, who is famous for not allowing home runs. Davis has allowed only one this year and none last year. But this curveball hung, and Cano did not miss.
Second-half question: Is this just another sign that this will not be the Chicago Cubs' year? Injuries, inconsistency, maybe something of a World Series hangover have haunted the Cubs all year and maybe it's just not meant to be. But, say this: The Cubs are only 5 1/2 games back, and if last year proved anything, it is that the Cubs are no longer wrapped up in curses or bad signs.

Moment 9: The American League won its fifth All-Star Game in a row and 23 of the last 30.
Second-half question: So who gets home-field advantage in the World Series? It will not necessarily be the American League. Remember: Home-field is no longer decided by the All-Star Game; the team with the best overall record will get it. That will be something to watch as the Dodgers and Astros are on pace for spectacular 100-plus win seasons.

Moment 10: This is incredible: The American and National League are now 43-43-2 in All-Star history and have each scored exactly 361 runs. The NL had its dominant time, the AL is having its dominant time, but it all evens out.
Second-half question: Who wins the close divisions -- both Centrals and the American League East in particular? Cleveland, Chicago and Boston were all pretty heavily favored when the season began, but the season has played out differently than anyone could have predicted. It always does. Are Houston and Los Angeles on a collision course? How many players will hit 50 home runs? Can the Brewers hold on? No idea. That's the wonder of baseball. And the second half begins.