Thirty things to watch in the second half of the season
The players, managers, and even one fanbase to keep an eye on after the break
ANGELS: Outfielder Mike Trout. The debate of 2012 was whether Trout or Miguel Cabrera would win the American League MVP Award. There was no debate about Trout winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and this year there's no discussion about a sophomore jinx. He is leading the Angels with a .322 average, second-best in the AL, and fourth in the AL in on-base percentage (.399) and stolen bases (21). He also has 59 RBIs and 15 home runs.
ASTROS: Second baseman Jose Altuve. The organization is on a pace that will result in the club's third consecutive 100-loss season, the third in franchise history. But it's all part of the growing pains for a major overhaul undertaken by general manager Jeff Luhnow, who is in his second season. And Altuve is the face of the franchise's future, having celebrated the All-Star break by signing a four-year deal that guarantees $12.5 million for 2014-17 and has club options for 2018-19.
ATHLETICS: Pitcher Bartolo Colon. Colon went into the All-Star break with a 12-3 record and 2.70 ERA. Impressive? Definitely, particularly in light of the fact he turned 40 on May 24. He is nine wins shy of the record for wins in a season for a 40 year old, shared by Grover Cleveland Alexander, Jamie Moyer, Phil Niekro, Warren Spahn and Cy Young. Four more wins and he'll rank in the top 10 for his age group. His 2.70 ERA ranks as the 10th lowest for a 40-year-old. His .800 winning percentage ranks second for the 40-year-old set, 1.113 WHIP ranks fifth, and 4.667 strikeouts/walk ratio is third.
BLUE JAYS: General manager Alex Anthopoulos. The Jays underwent a major offseason overhaul, which included adding National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to strengthen the rotation. He acquired shortstop Jose Reyes and signed free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera to add to the lineup. Anthopoulos also brought back former manager John Gibbons. The Jays, however, went into the All-Star break as the only AL East team without a winning record (45-49). How the Jays' management deals with the disappointment will be an ongoing saga.
BRAVES: Second baseman Dan Uggla. He has always been a high-power, low-average hitter, and this year he could become just the sixth player to hit 20 home runs with an average below .200. Uggla went into the break with 18 home runs and a .200 average. The five others? Mark Reynolds (32, .198), Mark McGwire (29, .187), Carlos Pena (28, .196), Rob Deer (25, .179) and Ruben Rivera (23, .195).
BREWERS: Shortstop Jean Segura. Only 23, Segura was at the Double-A level with the Angels a year ago and targeted to play second base. A change of scenery worked wonders. Part of the package the Angels gave up to acquire pitcher Zack Greinke, Segura hasn't simply emerged as the Brewers' everyday shortstop, but after hitting .325 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs before the break he was a first-time All-Star selection. The Brewers are counting on him to build off his start to the rookie season.
CARDINALS: Pitcher Chris Carpenter. General manager John Mozeliak admits he is an X-factor in any stretch of moves the Cardinals make, even if he has been sidelined with back and shoulder problems since starting three games last year. He began a rehab assignment at Double-A Springfield on Monday, hitting 94 mph on the radar gun, striking out five and throwing 54 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. It's never wise to give up on Carpenter, seeing as he doesn't give up on himself. Toronto wrote him off after the 2002 season, with Carpenter eventually signing with St. Louis. He rehabbed in 2003 and was a three-time All-Star, won a NL Cy Young Award and finished in the top three two other times with the Cardinals. And the Cards need rotation help. The rotation had a 2.49 ERA on June 1, but 4.65 since, 5.29 in 30 starts made by pitchers other than Adam Wainwright.
CUBS: General manager Theo Epstein. The retooling of the Cubs continues. It's time to slice payroll. Already dealt this season have been pitcher Scott Feldman to Baltimore and utility man Scott Hairston to Washington. Right-hander Matt Garza most likely will go next, and the Cubs would still like to find a new home for outfielder Alfonso Soriano and right-hander Edwin Jackson. First baseman/outfielder Nate Schierholtz is also being dangled.
DIAMONDBACKS: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt. He was never considered a can't-miss prospect and had to earn every promotion on his way to the big leagues. Mission accomplished. In late spring, headed into only his second full big league season, Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $32 million deal. At the All-Star break, he was hitting .313 with 21 home runs and a NL-leading 77 RBIs.
DODGERS: Outfielder Yaisel Puig. The Cuban defector signed a year ago to a seven-year, $42 million deal. Puig didn't make his big league debut until June 3, but he made a big enough impression that last Sunday the Dodgers had Yaisel Puig T-Shirt Day. He drew comparisons to Bo Jackson and put up first-month numbers that hadn't been seen since Joe DiMaggio debuted.
GIANTS: Pitcher Tim Lincecum. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner is 15-24 with a 4.82 ERA since the start of the 2012 season, but finished off the first half of the season with a no-hitter at San Diego on Saturday. Can that provide a spark for the defending World Series champions? A team that went into the break just two games ahead of NL West cellar-dwelling San Diego. Can the Giants avoid becoming only the 13th defending champions to have a losing record? And avoid joining the 1997-98 Marlins as the only teams to go from champions to a last-place finish?
INDIANS: Pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. OK, Jimenez is not the front-of-rotation starter the Indians wanted when they acquired him from the Rockies in July 2011, but he has started to rebound from his initial struggles. He's 4-1 in his last 10 starts, and the Indians have won eight of them. Ubaldo has also lowered his ERA from 5.57 to 4.56. With a $1 million buyout on an $8 million option for next year, a strong salary drive in the second half by Jimenez could give the Indians a major push in an effort to overtake Detroit in the AL Central.
MARINERS: Outfielder Raul Ibanez. He was 29 years old before he appeared in 100 big league games in a season and 30 before he had 500 plate appearances, and now he's making up for that lost time. At the age of 41, he went into the break hitting .267 with 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. Ibanez's 24 home runs are third for a player at the age of 41, two fewer than Barry Bonds and five shy of the age group record set by Ted Williams. With 56 RBIs, Ibanez is seven shy of Edgar Martinez for No. 10 on a list led by Cap Anson's 91.
MARLINS: Pitcher Jose Fernandez. Puig may be getting all the attention, but Fernandez has a story himself, having twice been captured in attempts to escape from Cuba before finally succeeding at the age of 15, enrolling in high school in Tampa and winding up a first-round Draft choice of the Marlins in 2011. Two years later he's not only in the big leagues, but is an All-Star, compiling an 11-5 record for a team that won only 35 of 93 pre-break games.
METS: Pitcher Matt Harvey. Harvey was no secret. He was a third-round Draft pick of the Angels out of high school in 2007, opted instead of attend the University of North Carolina, and three years later went to the Mets as the seventh pick overall. In his first full big league season, Harvey was selected to start for the NL in Tuesday's All-Star Game. And it may have been in his home park, but he had the stats to back the honor -- a 7-2 record with a 2.35 ERA and 15 quality starts out of 19.
NATIONALS: Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The attention goes to the phenoms, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Good as they are, the foundation of the Nationals is still the pitcher/third baseman combo. Zimmermann heads up the rotation with a 12-4 record and 2.58 ERA while Zimmerman was hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs at the break. The Nationals' ability to challenge Atlanta in the NL East will rest on the Z's ability to wake up their teammates.
ORIOLES: First baseman Chris Davis. Davis is the biggest challenge to Cabrera becoming the first player to win back-to-back Triple Crowns. Davis went into the break with 37 home runs, equaling the second most in Major League history at the break and seven ahead of Cabrera. Barry Bonds had 39 at the break in 2001 en route to a record 73. Mark McGwire also had 37 at the break in 1998 and hit an additional 33 that season. And Reggie Jackson had 37 at the break in 1969, but hit just 10 more.
PADRES: Pitcher Eric Stults. At the age of 33, Stults is enjoying the rewards for his refusal to give up. Stults went into the break with a 8-7 record and a 3.40 ERA, and the Padres won 12 of his 19 first-half starts. Not bad for a former 15th-round Draft choice of the Dodgers who had 16 wins in six previous big league seasons, went 6-10 with a 5.07 ERA for Hiroshima in Japan in '10 and was 35-41 with a 5.01 ERA in parts of seven seasons at the Triple-A level.
PHILLIES: Pitcher Cole Hamels. In the first year of a six-year, $144 million contract, earned by going 91-60 and claiming three All-Star selections in his first seven big league seasons, Hamels stumbled. He opened the season 2-11 with a 4.50 ERA his first 14 starts -- the Phillies losing his three no decisions -- but he started to turn things around before the break and can be counted on to carry a heavy load in the second half. The Phillies won his final four starts, and he was 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA.
PIRATES: Manager Clint Hurdle. Each of the last two years, the Pirates have had the appearance of a serious contender at the break, but both times have gone into horrific second-half slides. Hurdle, however, continues to keep the focus on winning, and the Pirates are responding better than ever this year. With 56 wins at the All-Star break -- one short of the franchise record at the midpoint, set in '71 -- these Pirates give every indication of not only breaking a pro sports team record losing streak of 20 years but remaining a season-long factor in the NL Central and Wild Card races.
RANGERS: Pitcher Yu Darvish. He went into the break with 157 strikeouts, which leads the Major Leagues. Ready to come off the disabled list on Monday, he could become the fifth pitcher born outside the U.S. to win a strikeout title, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The four who have are Tommy Bond (1877), Hugh Daily (1884), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Johan Santana (2005, '06).
RAYS: Tampa Bay area baseball fans. The Rays are baseball's success story: a low-budget team with a high-level of success, and they had a Major-League best 39-22 record from May 8 to the break. Is anybody noticing? The Rays are averaging 17,791 fans per game, 29th in baseball, lower than every team except Miami and well below the overall Major League average of 30,268. Commissioner Bud Selig expressed strong concerns about the challenge the Rays face, indicating he is ready to step in to try to deal with the situation, admitting that the Tropicana Dome is a problem, but the Rays have 14 more years on the lease to the facility.
REDS: First baseman Joey Votto. When Votto had only four home runs and 18 RBIs 41 games into the season, there was concern that the former MVP was in an unexpected fade. Reds officials, however, preached patience. Votto was still hitting .325 and felt that some of the production -- or lack thereof -- was more a matter of cirumstances. Seems they were right, and that's why the Reds are expecting an impactful second half from the first baseman in the team's bid to overtake NL Central leading St. Louis. Votto wound up a four-time All-Star and was hitting .318 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs at the break.
RED SOX: Reliever Koji Uehara. Red Sox have failed in 14 of 34 save opportunities, but still had 58 wins at the break, the most in the Majors and 11 fewer than last season's win total. After Joel Hanrahan struggled and finally underwent Tommy John surgery, his replacement, Andrew Bailey, was moved out of the closer role (8-for-13 in save situations) and manager John Farrell turned to Uehera. Since taking the role over on June 26, Uehera has converted 8 of 10 saves, allowing two runs, one earned, in 12 1/3 innings. His ability to maintain that level of success will enhance the Red Sox's ability to finish an impressive rebound from last year.
ROCKIES: First baseman Todd Helton. He's made nothing official, but with his 40th birthday on Aug. 20 there is the expectation he will retire at season's end. In his 17th pro season, Helton is a five-time All-Star, three-time NL Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner and four-time winner of the NL Silver Slugger Award. He is among the top 100 in career batting average (.318, 57th), hits (2,471, 99th), doubles (577, 28th), home runs (360, 77th) and RBIs (1,375, 79th).
ROYALS: Pitcher Bruce Chen. Chen spent the first half of the season in the bullpen, but now gets a chance to stick in the rotation with the Royals hoping he can provide a consistency that his predecessor, Luis Mendoza, failed to do. Chen was 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA in 20 appearances, 19 out of the bullpen, prior to the break. He'll look to build off late-season success the past three years -- 18-11, 3.71 ERA in 18 starts.
TIGERS: Third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Just when it seems Cabrera is as good a hitter as there is, he gets better. Cabrera is leading the Majors with a .365 average and 95 RBIs, and his 30 home runs rank second in the Majors and AL behind Davis of Baltimore. Can he become the first player to win back-to-back Triple Crowns? Can he become the first right-handed hitter to win three consecutive battle titles since Rogers Hornsby won six in a row from 1920-25? Don't bet against him. He has 2 1/2 months to do both.
TWINS: Manager Ron Gardenhire. Twins have fallen on hard times, but Terry Ryan is back as the general manager, and he knows the value of the role Gardenhire played in the Twins advancing to the postseason six times from 2002-10. A member of the Twins' organization since 1987, Gardenhire is in the final year of his contract, but Ryan built the Twins into a consistent contender before stepping aside for a few years, and he did it with his belief in continuity. The fact he promoted Gardenhire to take over as manager after Tom Kelly retired underscores his faith in Gardenhire.
WHITE SOX: Manager Robin Ventura. As soon as Ventura turned down a contract extension offer in Spring Training, uncertainty surfaced about his long-term desires. Well, Ventura is making every one aware of what he wants to do: manage the White Sox next year and into the future. There is little question that owner Jerry Reinsdorf wants him back, but the fact that Ventura isn't signed, and the Sox, who spent 117 days in first place last year, are in last place will put a focus on Ventura's status in the final half of the season.
YANKEES: Closer Mariano Rivera. The game's all-time saves leader is going out in style, and fans will cherish every time he takes the mound the rest of the season. The MVP of the All-Star Game, in what was as much a sign of respect as anything else, Rivera has bounced back from a torn ACL in his right knee that limited him to nine appearances a year ago. He went into the break with a 1-2 record, 30 saves and a 1.83 ERA, showing no signs of fading in the final days of his pitching career.