Second-half preview: Playoff races, HR record run top list in busy second half

2013-07-19T00:00:00Z Second-half preview: Playoff races, HR record run top list in busy second halfThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Much of the focus as baseball heads into the second half is on the possible suspensions of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and a handful of All-Stars implicated in the Biogenesis performance enhancing drug scandal.

Puigmania, a Pirates revival and one impressive power show in Baltimore may shift the gaze back onto the field, where there will be a lot to watch heading down the stretch of the regular season.

Fans who have been celebrating Mariano Rivera at every stop of his farewell tour should get a chance to watch returning stars Derek Jeter, Chris Carpenter, A-Rod and even Manny Ramirez after a first half dominated by 20-somethings.

Every playoff spot is legitimately up for grabs, with no team leading a division by more than a half-dozen games. And the NL East, where Atlanta is up six on Washington, is the only place where the division leader is ahead by three games or more.

What to look for in the second half, that begins today:

Clock is ticking

• The Washington Nationals need a healthy Bryce Harper to get into a groove and help them chase down Atlanta.

• The big-spending Dodgers are suddenly surging, 17-5 since June 22, thanks to the youthful exuberance of Yasiel Puig, with a smile to match that of owner Magic Johnson.

• The Pittsburgh Pirates appear poised to put 20 years of misery behind them, after two years of teasing their fans by being in the hunt heading into the break only to fade down the stretch.

Homer crush

Baltimore's big bopper Chris Davis is off on a race of his own. With 37 homers before the break - tying Reggie Jackson (1969) for best ever in the AL - talk of the single-season home run record is bubbling again.

Crush Davis, however, doesn't have his sights set on Barry Bonds' 73 homers, he wants to top Roger Maris' 61, the number he thinks is the legitimate, untainted mark.

"After everything came out, I assumed 61 was the record," Davis said. "I think it's what a lot of fans would agree on."

A half for the aged

Move over whippersnappers, the old guard is back - maybe.

Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin and a record 39 first-time All-Stars grabbed the spotlight in the first half but expect to see some seasoned stars in the next few weeks that could impact the division races.

The injury-ravaged Yankees have hung around in the potent AL East with a "Who's on First?" lineup. Now they should get Jeter back after a one-game false start and Rodriguez's return from offseason hip surgery is imminent.

St. Louis has surged to baseball's best record in part behind the pitching of some pretty good rookies. Imagine how much better they'll be if Carpenter is fully recovered from a nerve injury and bad back.

Talking about back, how about Ramirez - all the way from Taiwan? The twice suspended slugger is hitting .300 with three homers in eight games for Texas' top minor-league club, Triple-A Round Rock, and the Rangers are in need of a big righty bat. Could it be the dreadlocked Ramirez?

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