What to watch for in the second half
Baseball's stretch run promises to be loaded with storylines
On the night after the All-Star Game, my wife and I scrolled fruitlessly through the television's on-screen guide.
You forget, in the course of 30 teams playing 162 games, just how devoid of quality content that guide can be when America's pastime takes a brief break. There were cooking shows and home-remodeling shows and "Seinfeld" reruns and, yes, I suppose we could have taken this opportunity to learn more about Egyptian mummification on one of the history channels, if we were so inclined.
We settled on a romantic comedy that was neither romantic nor funny.
Summer nights without baseball are a bit bizarre, aren't they? It's like a detox but without the supposed health benefits. It's like a fast from fastballs, not food. There's no peeking at the score on your phone when you're out and about. No background ball chatter on the radio if you're relaxing on the porch or driving in the car. And as far as TV is concerned, well, let's just say the remote control might as well be lost deep in the couch cushions.
"I just flipped on Root Sports Pittsburgh expecting to see the Pirates, and there's poker on," my buddy Mike e-mailed me literally just as I was writing this. "Downgrade."
Time for an upgrade.
Today is our Opening Day, Part Deux, our return to normalcy. There are 15 games on tap, six division titles and four Wild Card spots on the line and a million bits of minutiae to discuss, managerial decisions to second-guess and statistics to study.
It is a testament to the pull of baseball's steady, six-month pace that even the briefest of breaks feels oddly like an eternity. But our time astray is over, and not a moment too soon. Because on the second night after the All-Star Game, I was starting to feel like a mummy myself.
Here's a non-exhaustive but still-extensive list of things we're looking forward to in the second half:
• The upcoming Trade Deadline and all the requisite hand-wringing, ridiculous rumors, Twitter paranoia and instant analysis it causes. Should be fun!
Seriously, though, we're dying to know if David Price goes anywhere.
And if Cliff Lee proves healthy enough to get dealt.
And we'd love to see Adam Dunn play for a contender. Pretty strange that he's played 14 seasons and been to the Oscars before he's been to a dugout in October.
On that note ...
• Jose Bautista and Felix Hernandez -- arguably the best active veteran position player and pitcher to never reach the postseason -- will be playing meaningful second-half games.
• Bryce Harper. At long last, he's healthy. Now, is he ready to spark the Nats?
• Evan Gattis. "El Oso Blanco" will be back any day now, and his power bat is essential for a Braves club searching for consistency.
• Jose Abreu's run at the rookie home run record. He's got 29; Mark McGwire set the record with 49 in 1987. Game on.
• George Springer. He's just three homers away from breaking Lance Berkman's Astros rookie record (21).
• The newly qualified Lonnie Chisenhall vying for a batting title on an Indians team in another playoff hunt.
• Max Scherzer's continued bid to top the $144 million he turned down in Spring Training. So far, so good on that front.
• Victor Martinez's bid to become the first player since Barry Bonds (2004) and only the second since the mid-1950s to hit at least 30 homers and strike out fewer times than he goes deep. As it stands, V-Mart has 21 homers and 23 K's.
• And, oh yeah, the Tigers' bid to claim their fourth straight American League Central title.
• The Orioles going for their first division title since 1997.
• The Blue Jays aiming for their first since 1993.
• The Mariners looking for their first playoff appearance since 2001.
• Big, beautiful, blue-clad crowds at Kauffman Stadium when the Royals try to push their way into their first October since 1985.
• Tim Lincecum. He's started to put it together for a Giants team in a dogfight with the Dodgers. And any start Lincecum makes against the Padres (the Giants face them seven times in September) is now required viewing.
• The callups. Even in situations lacking 2014 hope, there is at least 2014 hype. Perhaps this September we'll see the likes of Noah Syndergaard (Mets) or Javier Baez (Cubs) or Mike Foltynewicz (Astros) or Alex Meyer (Twins) or Archie Bradley (D-backs) or maybe -- if we're really good and do our homework and brush our teeth -- Joey Gallo (Rangers).
• The Adam Wainwright-Clayton Kershaw National League Cy Young battle. At the moment, it looks like a race between these two established aces. We know who got the All-Star nod, but who will get the hardware?
• More Bartolo Colon at-bats. You can never really get enough.
• The Padres finding their new GM.
• That A's-Angels race. The only clubs in baseball with winning percentage of .600 or better happen to reside in the same division. Could get ugly.
• Giancarlo Stanton, doing more things like this
• The NL Central rookies. Have you noticed how much better Billy Hamilton has gotten, month by month? Have you considered how much more dynamic the Pirates and Cardinals can be if Gregory Polanco and Oscar Taveras reach their potential? Can you imagine how much deeper that Milwaukee rotation will be if Jimmy Nelson's Triple-A showing translates?
• More Yasiel Puig Instagram videos. Heck, more Puig, period.
• The continued development of Mookie Betts. It's been too long since baseball had a Mookie.
• The Yankees calling up more guys whose names begin with a "Z." Surely, the well that brought us Zelous Wheeler and Zoilo Almonte can't be tapped, can it? We need more Yankeez!
• Derek Jeter's final game. All right, we're not really "looking forward" to it, but we've definitely got it circled on the calendar. And with the Yanks' playoff hopes taking a huge hit due to injuries, No. 2's finale could come Sept. 28 in Boston, with the final home game Sept. 25 vs. Baltimore.
• Mike Trout, possibly putting the finishing touches on that other MVP Award.
• Troy Tulowitzki, trying to hold onto pole position for his first.
• More baseball. Break-free, and ready for the big finish.