Now that Jose Quintana is off the market, all eyes will be on the Nationals attempt to find a closer, the expected Marlins’ fire sale before the sale of their club and the dismantling of the Tigers.
Baseball executives have a good sense for who the buyers and sellers will be before the July 31 deadline.
Same as it always is.
“Just read the standings and you can figure it out,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said.
Still, the American League is a jumble with everyone seemingly in the wild-card race, so some “White Flag” trades are certain to jolt fans who believe their team is in contention.
Here are some other things to monitor as the second half unfolds:
A funny thing happened on the way to the Cubs dynasty.
Instead of everyone getting better with another year of experience, the young talent regressed in the first half, leading to a sub-.500 record and a run differential of zero.
The Cubs are 13-21 against teams that are .500 or better, suggesting they’re not one of the elite teams this year. They pounded the sub-.500 teams last year, going 72-33 against them, but are only 30-24 against their likes in 2017.
Quintana should help fix the hole in the rotation, but the hitters must show collective improvement, especially regarding their .230 average with men in scoring position, 27th in the majors.
“We’re working on a better two-strike approach, seeing the ball go to both sides of the field,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “For us to be successful in the second half, a big part of it is being better situationally and better scoring runners from third with less than two outs.”
One thing the Cubs have in their favor is they know they have the talent to win, and now they have another potential ace in Quintana.
“This will change the mix a little bit,” Epstein said. “It’s a fresh start coming off the All-Star break with hopefully a little boost from this deal, and we have got a fighting chance. We still have a great group and I wouldn’t put anything past us.”
The Sox rebuild went into another phase with the additions of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease from the Quintana deal, but both prospects are a year or two away from making it to the South Side.
Second baseman Yoan Moncada and power pitcher Michael Kopech are the two prospects White Sox fans most want to see now, but they may have to settle for just Moncada this year.
Kopech said he feels like he’s ready, and his 101-mph fastball is virtually untouchable at any level.
But he’s still in Double-A, and the Sox may wait until 2018 to bring him up.
The Sox rebuild is an organic process.
“I don’t really feel the pressure,” Kopech said. “For the most part I think we’re all just excited. We all want to get to the big-league level and play on the same team, and we’ll gladly take the pressure off each other if we feel like it’s going to help us get to that next level.”
Thanks to the smart decision to blow off the All-Star Game tie-in, home-field advantage in the World Series goes to the team with the best record now, and the Dodgers went into the break as the leaders at a major league best 61-29, half a game ahead of the Astros (60-29).
“We have the best team in baseball right now,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “We have to continue to improve. Once we get back (to the playoffs) we’ll take care of it from there.”
Last year the Giants had the best record heading into the second half at 57-33, but since the American League won the All-Star Game the leader in home-field advantage for the Series was the Rangers (54-36).
Neither one obviously made it to the Series.
The Nationals are this year’s version of the 2016 Cubs, a team with immense talent trying to overcome a history of coming up short in big games.
The Cubs finally ended their drought in ’16. Can Dusty Baker’s group pull it off this year?
Remember, the franchise never has been to a World Series since its inception as the Montreal Expos in 1969, and Washington hasn’t been in one since the Senators beat the New York Giants in a seven-game series in 1924.
The Nationals enter the second half with a 91/2 game lead over the Braves, while the Marlins are 101/2 back.
And the Mets? Fuggetaboutit.
“Honestly, we have a good-sized lead, I understand that,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer said. “But if we’re going to win this division, we have to stay healthy. That’s our first and foremost thing. …
“If we run into a few injuries and come up lame in certain areas, these other teams in the division can catch us. They’re good enough. I know that sounds crazy, but trust me. This is baseball.”
Sorry, Max. That is crazy. But unless the Nationals bolster their atrocious bullpen and find a real closer, they could be ousted in the first round again.
Yankees rookie Aaron Judge went into spring training trying to win a roster spot. Now he could be in line to win a Triple Crown.
“I set goals, but there were a lot of unknowns,” Judge said of his spring. “I think that’s kind of what motivated me, to see how good you can be, (and see) what can you do every day to help the team and get better as a player.”
Barry Bonds’ 2001 all-time single-season home run record of 73 may be out of reach, but Judge has an outside shot at reaching 61, the old-school mark Roger Maris set in 1961.
After Bonds, the next five spots on the all-time list are held by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. While there are no asterisks next to those numbers in the record books, Maris’ 61 remains the standard for those who prefer their home run heroes chemical-free.
If Judge gets to 50 by September, the chase for 61 could go viral.