SECOND HALF ON DECK: Playoff push, trade talk, healing stars


By Ben Walker - AP Baseball Writer



By Ben Walker

AP Baseball Writer

David Ortiz is set to get booed at Yankee Stadium, Chris Sale is ready to resume striking out Kris Bryant and the Kansas City Royals are facing a rugged road back to the playoffs.

Now that the All-Star fun is finished, a look at what’s on deck as Major League Baseball makes the turn and heads home toward October:

PENNANT PUSH: All eyes will be on Joe Maddon and his Cubs as they chase their first World Series crown since 1908. They’re in prime position so far — Jake Arrieta, Bryant and Co. hold the biggest lead at the break, up seven games over St. Louis in the NL Central.

The Cubs have never won a title while at Wrigley Field. All those past failures? “That’s something we don’t really discuss very often,” Arrieta said.

Only one division race closer than five games: The AL East, with Baltimore up two on Boston and Toronto. Ortiz got a lot of love this week, but what Big Papi really wants is one more swing in the postseason. The Red Sox begin the second half Friday night in the steamy Bronx.

Quite a scramble is shaping up for wild-card spots — 18 teams are within five games of the slots. World Series MVP Salvador Perez, All-Star Game MVP Eric Hosmer and the defending champ Royals are hovering at 45-43.

DEAL OR NO DEAL: Will Aroldis Chapman soon be closing somewhere else? Can Jonathan Lucroy catch on with a contender? How about Carlos Gonzalez? Could Drew Pomeranz or Jake Odorizzi be starting a new chapter?

Plenty to track before the Aug. 1 deadline to make trades without waivers. Last year, a lot of big names moved in the final week — Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Cueto and Troy Tulowitzki, among them.

This year, several elite teams need bullpen help. The Yankees have two of the top targets in Chapman and Andrew Miller. A few more wins might quiet all the trade noise, Miller said.

“We can shut down those rumors, and I think that’s the goal. That’s what need to do. That’s what we should do,” the lefty said.

HEAL OR NO HEAL: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Craig Kimbrel come out of the break on the disabled list, as do Felix Hernandez, Michael Brantley and several Texas pitchers.

How fast the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Wade Davis, Matt Carpenter and others can effectively come back might determine how far their teams go.

The defending NL champion Mets had already lost captain David Wright and former ace Matt Harvey for the season and power-hitting Lucas Duda for a long time when slugger Yoenis Cespedes and hard-throwing Noah Syndergaard recently got hurt in the same game.

“I don’t want it to sound like woe is me,” Mets manager Terry Collins said, “but woe is us.”

STEP IT UP!: Andrew McCutchen, Prince Fielder and Giancarlo Stanton are among several stars who slumped through the first half. Jose Bautista, Jason Heyward and Dallas Keuchel also have been shaky.

All over the majors, All-Stars who haven’t performed that way get 2½ months to return to form.

A big second half by Justin Upton could propel Detroit in the playoff chase, same for Yordano Ventura in KC and Adam Wainwright in St. Louis.

FLY, BALL, FLY: Giancarlo Stanton is done putting dents in the Western Metal Supply Co. building at Petco Park. Time now for mere mortals to swing away.

Home runs are at a point that rivals the peak of the Steroids Era, but Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t worried that PEDs are juicing performances.

The increase “takes place against the backdrop where Major League Baseball does 22,000 drug tests a year,” he said.

The ball tends to travel when temperatures heat up — former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used to call this “hittin’ season.”

“It always goes back and forth, and you never know when it’s going to kind of take the swing the other way,” Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said.

DATES TO WATCH: Coming up, Ken Griffey Jr. (in a Mariners cap, not a backward lid) and Mike Piazza (Mets hat) step to the Cooperstown podium for their Hall of Fame induction speeches on July 24.

Later, the Atlanta Braves play for the last time at 20-year-old Turner Field (Oct. 2 vs. Detroit) before moving to a suburban ballpark.

Also in range: Ichiro Suzuki needs 10 hits to reach 3,000 in the majors and Alex Rodriguez is five home runs shy of No. 700.

By Ben Walker

AP Baseball Writer

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