MLB's 50 Biggest Storylines Heading into the Second Half

Doug MeadCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2013

MLB's 50 Biggest Storylines Heading into the Second Half

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    The second half of the 2013 MLB season is now upon us, and the first three months of play gave fans, experts and pundits plenty to talk about.

    Chris Davis reached the 30-home run mark on Saturday with two more bombs against the New York Yankees. He's only the third player in American League history to reach that mark before the end of June. He tacked on an additional bomb Sunday for good measure.

    Bartolo Colon, the 40-year-old pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, is on an eight-game winning streak and is threatening to contend for the Cy Young Award.

    And the Pittsburgh Pirates are the best team in baseball, the only club that is 20 games over .500. Yes, the same Pirates that have amassed 20 consecutive losing seasons.

    No question that the MLB season has already produced exciting, unexpected and downright surprising performances.

    What can we expect for the second half?

    Here are 50 storylines to follow as MLB heads into the final three months of the regular season.

Will MLB Hand Out Suspensions Related to the Biogenesis Scandal?

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    The MLB offseason was progressing like any other offseason—until the final day in January.

    On that day, the Miami New Times published a story that reverberated throughout baseball. It listed the names of several prominent players, including Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera, who had allegedly been supplied with PEDs from an anti-aging clinic in Miami called Biogenesis.

    MLB initiated a comprehensive investigation amid other reports, leaked information and more documents, and five months later, that investigation continues.

    ESPN's T.J. Quinn, Pedro Gomez and Mike Fish initially reported that MLB would absolutely be handing down suspensions based on its findings, and that seemingly hasn't changed.

    However, it may not happen this season. In June, Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan told ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM (h/t ESPNDallas.com) that he wasn't worried about losing Nelson Cruz—one of the players named in leaked Biogenesis documents—anytime soon:

    I don't know that there's a time frame that they're dealing with. I know that they're in a fact-finding mode right now, so we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out. But do I worry about losing Nellie here shortly? No, I don't. I really think he'll be with us and we'll just have to see where that goes.

    For now, at least, the story is in the background. But it's reared its ugly head at various points already throughout the season, and it will no doubt do the same in the second half.

Can Trout, Pujols and Hamilton Turn Around Dismal First Half for Angels?

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    The Los Angeles Angels needed a surge in the final week of June just to get to a 38-43 mark at the end of the first half of the season. That's a full seven games behind their half-season mark of last year, when they started the season losing 14 of their first 20 games.

    And they had a trio of sluggers expected to lift them to greatness.

    For the most part, Mike Trout has held up his end of the bargain, finishing the first half with a .315 average, 13 home runs, 52 RBI and a .938 OPS.

    But Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have just about been complete busts.

    Josh Hamilton was the prize of the free-agent market last winter. On the heels of signing Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson the previous offseason for the tidy sum of $317.5 million, Angels owner Arte Moreno shelled out another $120 million to secure the services of Hamilton, who slugged 43 homers with 128 RBI for the Texas Rangers in 2012.

    Hamilton totaled just 10 home runs with 28 RBI while hitting a paltry .221 in the first half. Pujols is far below his career averages as well, hitting .249 with 13 homers and 49 RBI.

    The Angels also have some other issues, namely starting pitching. But Hamilton's massively disappointing showing in the first half has many speculating whether he can ever live up to the contract he signed last December.

    The pressure will be on the Angels and on manager Mike Scioscia to produce with a team that has the seventh-highest payroll in MLB. A large portion of that payroll is paid out to stars—Pujols and Hamilton—who have fizzled thus far.

Can Yu Darvish Reach the 300-Strikeout Mark?

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    Randy Johnson was the last pitcher in MLB to record 300 strikeouts in a season, whiffing 334 batters in 2002.

    With five-man rotations, it's become difficult to achieve that mark. Johnson, Curt Schilling, Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez are the only four pitchers who have eclipsed the 300-strikeout mark in the past 25 years.

    Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish could make a bid in the second half to join that quartet of elite fireballers.

    Darvish has 151 strikeouts after Sunday's contest with the Cincinnati Reds. Assuming he'll make another 16 starts in the second half, including Sunday, Darvish will need to average about 9.5 whiffs per outing to join the exclusive 300-strikeout club.

    Rangers fans will of course be watching their team try to qualify for its fourth consecutive postseason berth. But Darvish's attempt at putting his name in the record books will be a nice sideshow to watch as well.

How Much of the Astros Roster Will Be Sold off Before Trade Deadline?

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    The Houston Astros have been working feverishly to rebuild, and the past several summers have seen them trade off veterans in order to further those efforts.

    Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn, J.A. Happ, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and others have helped Houston restock a farm system that was clearly depleted and in need of a massive overhaul.

    This summer, Carlos Pena, Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Carlos Corporan, Erik Bedard and Jose Veras could all find themselves on the chopping block.

    There's no question the Astros qualify as a selling team with their 30-51 first-half record. The question is whether general manager Jeff Luhnow opts to keep his veterans while his youngsters continue their development in the minors.

    The chances of the Astros standing pat at the deadline are slim. It's a matter of how active they'll be at this point.

Does Philles General Manager Ruben Amaro Change Course and Sell Off Parts?

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    For the past several weeks, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro has gone on record several times to say that he has no intentions of breaking up his team.

    Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com texted Amaro to request an interview in June.

    Amaro's response? "Yes. But I'm not trading anyone."

    When Amaro and Heyman did talk on the phone, Amaro stood pat at the time.

    On Friday, he was also asked about second baseman Chase Utley, a free agent at the end of the season.

    Via Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, Amaro said:

    He's been an iconic player for us. My intention would be to keep him in our uniform for the rest of his career, if possible.

    I kind of view Chase as a Phillie for life. That's my hope.

    However, the Phillies were four games under .500 entering play on Sunday, and they've already lost the services of Roy Halladay and Mike Adams. The presumption that they can compete in the second half is remote at best.

    In a summer that could indeed be long, the future of their high-priced stars will undoubtedly be the top storyline in the City of Brotherly Love.

Will Johnny Cueto's Multiple DL Stints Lead Reds to Look for Rotation Help?

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    On Friday, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto left the game against the Texas Rangers in the second inning with tightness in his upper back.

    On Saturday, the Reds placed Cueto on the disabled list for the third time this season, according to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today).

    Cueto's first two trips to the DL were for a similar problem: a right lat strain. It's certainly disheartening for the Reds in a division where the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals threaten to run away from the rest of the pack.

    The Reds are just under their pace of 97 wins last season. But without their ace, that's a mark that will be difficult to reach.

    Look for Cincinnati to be on the lookout for veteran starting help over the next four weeks.

Will Chicago White Sox Conduct a Mini-Fire Sale and Start Rebuilding Process?

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    With a 32-46 record in the first half and in last place in the AL Central entering play on Sunday, the Chicago White Sox are a team in clear disarray. Their offense has sputtered all season and sits second-last in the American League in runs scored.

    On Friday, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that southpaw starter Chris Sale and veteran first baseman Paul Konerko are the only players considered untouchable in terms of trade talks.

    Selling off high-priced veterans like Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy might be difficult, but if Heyman is correct, the White Sox will certainly listen to any offer. Heyman also pointed out that the Sox are already exchanging names.

    In other words, the White Sox could be a vastly different-looking team at the end of July.

Can Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz Return to Give Texas Rangers Pitching Depth?

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    The Texas Rangers have been competing for much of the season without the services of starting pitcher Matt Harrison, lost to a herniated disc earlier this year. They've also endured the loss of Alexi Ogando, now on the disabled list for the second time with right shoulder inflammation.

    Yet they're in first place in the AL West with a 47-34 first-half record.

    The Rangers have relied on the young, inexperienced arms of Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm at the back end of the rotation. The two combined for a 5.13 ERA in the first half.

    Colby Lewis has been recovering from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow and is targeting a late-July return, per Todd Willis of ESPNDallas.com.

    Neftali Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery last year, and his timetable for return is still unclear at this point. He's been throwing regular bullpen sessions three times a week, but he's yet to face live pitching.

    Their returns at some in the second half could be huge for the Rangers as they attempt to hold off the Oakland A's for supremacy in the AL West.

Will the Toronto Blue Jays Be Buyers or Sellers at the Trade Deadline?

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    The Toronto Blue Jays sputtered to a 23-32 start over the first two months of the season after completely revamping their roster with two significant trades this offseason.

    R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle largely underperformed, and shortstop Jose Reyes was shelved with a badly sprained ankle as the Blue Jays stumbled out of the gates.

    But the month of June has seen a complete turnaround, as the Jays fought back to one game under .500.

    Is it enough to warrant a classification of buyer as the trade deadline nears?

    Toronto is still in last place in the AL East, eight games behind the Boston Red Sox. Its play over the next three weeks will likely determine whether the team considers making upgrades or selling off parts.

Will Mets Manager Terry Collins Last the Entire Season?

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    In early June, veteran New York sportswriter Ernie Palladino of CBS New York called New York Mets manager Terry Collins a "dead manager walking."

    That statement probably isn't far from the truth, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the job Collins has done this season.

    He's had to preside over a Mets team that is easily headed toward a 90-loss season. He's had to field lineups that included players who were other team's castoffs (Rick Ankiel, Eric Young Jr., Collin Cowgill) and been saddled with a bullpen that's again one of the worst in the majors.

    Collins has matured and learned a lot from his days managing the Houston Astros and then-Anaheim Angels. But that education simply wasn't enough to overcome the massive deficiencies in his Mets roster.

Will Matt Harvey Pitch a No-Hitter/Perfect Game?

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    There will at least be one thing for New York Mets fans to keep an eye on this summer.

    Matt Harvey has already had three starts in which he entered the seventh inning with no hits allowed. On May 7, he pitched a masterful one-hitter through nine innings against the Chicago White Sox and walked away with a no-decision.

    On Friday, Harvey flirted with perfection, retiring the first 14 Washington Nationals hitters in order before allowing a solo home run to shortstop Ian Desmond.

    Harvey is absolutely a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound. For Mets fans, it could be the only thing they have to look forward to all summer long.

Will There Be a No-Hitter in 2013?

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    No-hitters are certainly not a common occurrence in baseball, but it's rare that an entire season is played without registering at least one. In fact, 2005 was the last year in which not one pitcher held an opposing team hitless.

    The 2013 season thus far has seen its share of near-misses.

    Yu Darvish was perfect through 8.2 innings in early April against the Houston Astros. Marwin Gonzalez's ground ball that skipped through Darvish's legs and into center field broke up that bid.

    Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins in late May. But Joe Mauer's single with one out ended that threat.

    Several other no-hit bids have been broken up in late innings this year as well. The next three months promise to bring similar efforts.

Can Justin Verlander Get Back to Cy Young Form?

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    When looking at first-half statistics for pitchers, Justin Verlander's name won't be found among the league leaders in several pitching categories.

    For Verlander, who has a first- and second-place finish in the last two years in American League Cy Young Award balloting, that is certainly not the norm.

    Verlander went eight innings and allowed two earned runs against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, allowing four walks with four strikeouts. Per Chris Iott of MLive.com, he worked with pitching coach Jeff Jones to correct flaws in his mechanics, which hopefully will lead to better results in the second half.

    Only Verlander's 9.8 K/9 rate is better than than last year's mark. His 3.77 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9 rate and 9.3 H/9 rate are far worse than his numbers from last year.

Will St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Chris Carpenter Return?

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    Chris Carpenter is without question one of the biggest postseason heroes in St. Louis Cardinals history. He will forever be remembered for his efforts in leading the Cards to World Series victories in 2006 and 2011.

    Carpenter's valiant return last season from surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder was completely unexpected. He started three games for St. Louis, which fell just one game short of reaching the World Series for the second consecutive year.

    However, Carpenter's symptoms related to thoracic outlet syndrome returned this spring. Tingling sensations and numbness during offseason workouts led the Cardinals to announce in February that it was highly unlikely Carpenter would pitch in 2013—or ever again.

    However, much like last season, when it was assumed that Carpenter wouldn't return from his surgery in July, he's working hard to try to get back on the mound once again this season.

    He recently had a setback when he experienced some back stiffness, but according to the AP (h/t ESPN), he has resumed a throwing program.

    Carpenter has shown that he can never be counted out. Cardinals fans once again will be on the lookout for his return sometime in the second half.

Just How Will San Diego Padres React at Deadline Under New Ownership?

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    The San Diego Padres posted a 40-41 record in the first half and were just 2.5 games behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West.

    The overall mediocrity of the division itself has allowed the low-budget Padres to creep within striking distance, and it's unclear what direction they'll take just four weeks from the trade deadline.

    Starting pitching is the focus for the Padres if they decide to become buyers over the next few weeks. Per Chris Jenkins of U-T San Diego, they've already been linked to both Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza.

    Under the new ownership group, the Padres were one of the least active teams this offseason, leading many to question their commitment to giving Padres fans a better on-field product.

    The next few weeks will be telling for the Padres as they work to keep pace in the NL West and determine whether they are willing to invest in upgrades as a result.

Could the NL Cy Young Award Race Be One of the Most Hotly Contested in Years?

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    The race for the National League Cy Young Award is absolutely loaded with talented pitchers who have put up terrific numbers in the first half.

    It's entirely possible that a dozen or so players could be in the running if they can sustain their success in the second half of the season.

    In fact, according to ESPN's Cy Young Award Predictor, any number of pitchers has a deserving shot.

    2013 Cy Young Predictor—NL
    RK PLAYER TEAM CYP G GS IP ER K SV SHO W-L ERA VB
    1 Patrick Corbin ARI 107.0 16 16 109.2 27 85 0 0 9-0 2.22 12
    2 Adam Wainwright STL 106.3 17 17 125.2 31 114 0 2 11-5 2.22 0
    3 Jordan Zimmermann WSH 102.4 16 16 114.2 29 80 0 1 11-3 2.28 0
    4 Jason Grilli PIT 95.2 38 0 35.2 7 58 27 0 0-1 1.77 12
    5 Craig Kimbrel ATL 94.9 31 0 30.1 5 43 23 0 2-1 1.48 12
    6 Cliff Lee PHI 94.2 17 17 125.1 36 115 0 1 9-2 2.59 0
    7 Matt Harvey NYM 90.0 17 17 117.0 26 132 0 0 7-1 2.00 0
    8 Jeff Locke PIT 89.1 16 16 96.1 22 67 0 0 7-1 2.06 12
    9 Mike Minor ATL 85.0 16 16 102.2 34 95 0 0 8-3 2.98 12
    10 Lance Lynn STL 80.5 16 16 99.2 39 98 0 0 10-2 3.52 0

    ESPN's list doesn't even include Clayton Kershaw, who's put up pretty impressive numbers despite a 6-5 record (2.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .193 BAA).

    Without question, it's a list worthy of watching in the second half.

Can Rockies Slugger Carlos Gonzalez Continue His Hitting Dominance on the Road?

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    Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez has always loved hitting at Coors Field. But critics haven't loved his hitting on the road.

    It's understandable when looking at his career splits prior to this season.

    Overall, critics of Gonzalez had plenty of information to back up their belief.

    G PA AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
    Home 319 1423 1278 272 23 74 12 123 270 .331 .390 .606
    Away 298 1318 1202 166 8 46 12 97 326 .265 .320 .446

    But in 2013, Gonzalez has in fact hit better on the road.

       G
    PA AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
    Home 184 160 34 45 9 36 22 44 .281 .364 .588 .952
    Away 167 154 28 48 12 23 13 46 .312 .365 .610 .976

    He hasn't just shut critics up; he's turned them around.

     

    Tables courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Is Jonathan Lucroy the Only Untouchable for Milwaukee Brewers at Trade Deadline?

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    The Milwaukee Brewers occupy last place in the NL Central at the end of the first half and will no doubt be sellers at the trade deadline.

    In fact, in his latest Full Count video for FoxSports.com, Ken Rosenthal said that the Brewers will listen to offers for any player except catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

    Lucroy has a no-trade clause and is considered a vital part of the Brewers' future.

    Does that mean that stars like Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun could be playing for other teams in August? No, but it's certainly telling that Rosenthal mentioned Lucroy as the only untouchable.

Can Tampa Bay Rays' Wil Myers Be a ROY Threat in American League?

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    The Tampa Bay Rays finally called up highly touted hitting prospect Wil Myers in mid-June. While Myers hasn't produced the gaudy numbers posted by Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Yasiel Puig, he's been impressive nonetheless.

    Myers hit .300 with three home runs and nine RBI as the first half came to a close. He's likely the team's everyday right fielder for the rest of the season unless he completely implodes at some point.

    The Rays are once again fighting for a postseason berth, and Myers' contributions could be a key factor in the Rays' success or failure.

    In a year where there's not a clear-cut choice for American League Rookie of the Year honors, Myers' second-half production could propel him into that race.

What Do Royals Do If They're Hovering at .500 and More Than 10 Games out at Deadline?

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    Entering play on Sunday, the Kansas City Royals were four games under .500 and 5.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.

    Offense has been the biggest issue for the Royals, who find themselves in the bottom third of several major offensive statistical categories in the American League.

    Youngsters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas fizzled in the early going, but both have shown signs of turning things around in the second half.

    As the trade deadline nears, the Royals will have a tough decision. If they're hovering near the .500 mark, yet still within striking distance of first place, do they go for broke and attempt to bolster their roster?

    It's a decision the Royals haven't been faced with in a very long time. Their play in the days leading up to the All-Star break could well determine their fate.

Is This the Year That Alfonso Soriano Is Finally Dealt?

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    For the past two-plus years, Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano has been mentioned numerous times in trade speculation. But the sticking point has always been his bloated contract and the no-trade clause in his contract.

    Now, Soriano's contract is a bit more manageable in that he's only owed roughly $27 million through the end of next season. The Cubs will still likely have to pay most of that remaining money to facilitate any deal.

    In addition, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Soriano is much more willing to waive his no-trade clause than he's been in the past, so long as it's a deal that makes sense for him.

    But the deal also needs to make sense for the Cubs. This year may be the best and last opportunity for the Cubs to get something of value for Soriano.

Which MLB Prospects Will Impact Pennant Races in Second Half?

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    The 2013 season has already seen a number of top prospects who have made their major league debuts. As a result, some of those prospects could be key factors for their teams as they battle for a playoff spot down the stretch.

    Gerrit Cole is now 4-0 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who ended the first half with the best record in baseball.

    Yasiel Puig has helped lead a surge for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 14-11 since he was called up.

    Wil Myers hit .300 with three home runs in his first 12 games with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Anthony Rendon is hitting .310 and has acted as a spark in the No. 2 hole in the past two weeks for the Washington Nationals.

    Tony Cingrani joined the Cincinnati Reds in place of Johnny Cueto earlier this season and has posted a 3.42 ERA in 12 appearances, seven of them starts.

    Several other rookies have made debuts as well, and there could easily be more on the horizon who could be major contributors for contending teams.

    It makes for exciting games when rookies can help invigorate their big league teams and act as a spark.

    Last year saw Manny Machado take on an important role for the Baltimore Orioles over the final two months of the season. Who will it be this year?

Will Eric Wedge's Lack of Player Development Skills Lead to Dismissal?

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    Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge entered the 2013 season with a managerial record of 703-755 for a .482 winning percentage. He closed out the first half this season with a 35-46 record and .432 winning percentage.

    The Mariners attempted to load up on offense this season with the acquisitions of Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse, Jason Bay and Kendrys Morales. But they still finished the first half with the fewest runs scored in the American League. They were dead last in runs scored for four straight seasons prior to this year as well.

    Dave Cameron, managing editor and a senior writer at FanGraphs and owner-operator of the popular Mariners blog U.S.S. Mariner, blasted Wedge and called for his dismissal in late May after Dustin Ackley was demoted to Triple-A.

    Cameron cited Wedge's lack of player development skills as the chief concern.

    Considering the failure of the Mariners to improve offensively and the subpar efforts of players like Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero under Wedge's watch, I'm inclined to agree.

Will Cole Hamels Lose 20 Games?

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    When Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension last summer to remain a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, much was expected from the 28-year-old southpaw.

    Phillies fans have gotten a lot from Hamels this season—a lot of losses, that is.

    Hamels is 2-11 with a 4.58 ERA through the first half. He entered this season with a .603 career winning percentage and 3.34 ERA.

    It's been a struggle for the Phillies, but particularly for Hamels. Part of the problem can be blamed on a lack of offensive production, as Hamels has received the ninth-worst run support in the National League thus far.

    But with an ERA over a run higher than his career mark and with a higher WHIP and H/9 rate, Hamels hasn't helped his own cause either.

    Only two pitchers have lost 20 games in the past 33 years: Brian Kingman in 1980 with the Oakland Athletics and Mike Maroth in 2003 with the Detroit Tigers. It's definitely an exclusive group of late, and it's not one that Hamels desires to earn a club membership to.

Will Tim Lincecum Be Moved to Bullpen for Second Half?

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    During the San Francisco Giants' run to their second World Series championship in three years last season, starting pitcher Tim Lincecum was an invaluable member of the roster.

    But it was in a bullpen role that Lincecum shined.

    The two-time Cy Young Award winner struggled to a 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA in 33 starts last year, and his 4-8 record and 4.64 ERA this season haven't given anyone a warm, fuzzy feeling.

    In early June, Lincecum was available for a bullpen role if needed during a Giants doubleheader, and he has said that he would be open to that role in the future.

    "Whatever they need, I'll do," Lincecum told Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. "You go with whatever the team calls for."

    Considering the Giants' recent swoon and the performance of the rotation in general, it's the move that makes the most sense.

Will Stephen Drew Be Dealt to Give Jose Iglesias Full-Time SS Job for Red Sox?

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    Shortstop Stephen Drew has worked to make his way back from a devastating ankle injury suffered in 2011. He ended up hitting returning last season but struggled at the plate, hitting just .193 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Arizona traded Drew to the Oakland Athletics, where he picked it up a bit, hitting .250 in 38 games. But the A's weren't willing to spend to re-sign him, so the Red Sox offered him a one-year, $9.5 million deal.

    Drew suffered from the effects of a concussion that delayed the start to his 2013 season, and he has yet to catch fire at the plate, hitting just .233 with five home runs and 31 RBI. On Friday, he left the game with the Toronto Blue Jays with tightness in his right hamstring, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.

    For now, the Red Sox moved the hot-hitting Jose Iglesias over from third base, with Brandon Snyder and Jonathan Diaz expected to temporarily man the hot corner. Will Middlebrooks, sent down to Triple-A last week, could become an option once again if Drew is forced to the disabled list.

    However, John Tomase of the Boston Herald wrote two weeks ago that the play of Iglesias could put the Red Sox in a position of strength in terms of Drew.

    Tomase reasoned that Drew could be made available by the Sox, who are in need of bullpen help and at the back end of their starting rotation.

    But moving Drew and installing Iglesias as the full-time shortstop clearly leaves a hole at third base. Middlebrooks struggled mightily, hastening his demotion to Triple-A. And Snyder and Diaz are completely unproven major league commodities.

    It may sound like a position of strength, but it's not a likely scenario at this time.

Can Orioles' Manny Machado Break Earl Webb's Doubles Record?

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    Back in 1931, Boston Red Sox right fielder Earl Webb collected 67 doubles for the season. It set a record that has stood the test of time for 82 years.

    Through 82 games this season, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado has hit 37 two-baggers, which puts him on pace to hit 72 for the entire season.

    It's not often that a decades-old record can be broken in baseball. Orioles fans will have a chance to watch Chris Davis become a member of the exclusive 60-home run club and Machado go after Webb's longstanding record.

    It's going to be a fun summer at Camden Yards.

Will Justin Morneau Be Dealt by the Minnesota Twins?

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    Justin Morneau has been a member of the Minnesota Twins since 1999 (including his time in the minor leagues) and is now in his 11th major league season. He has an MVP award to his credit, along with four All-Star selections and two Silver Slugger awards.

    However, it's all about the here and now in baseball, and loyalty is no longer the rule.

    When the trade deadline passes in one month's time, there's a better-than-even chance that Morneau will be helping a contending team down the stretch.

    In the final season of a six-year, $80 million contract, there's virtually no chance of Morneau re-signing with the Twins. Unless, of course, he decides that money means absolutely nothing and Minnesota is where he wants to retire.

    Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com tweeted on Friday that the Twins have already begun hearing from teams interested in Morneau, so the clock on his time in Minnesota is ticking.

Will the Seattle Mariners Be Open for Business?

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    The Seattle Mariners finished the first half with a 35-46 record, and their offense is in a familiar place: last place in runs scored in the American League.

    Aside from the fact that Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik may both be facing endings to their tenure in the Northwest, the Mariners could be unloading several veterans.

    Shortstop Brendan Ryan will likely be made available, according to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com.

    MLB.com's Peter Gammons reported that Hisashi Iwakuma's name keeps popping up in various rumors, but the Mariners have no intentions of letting him go.

    Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez all have expiring contracts—they will all absolutely be candidates for the right price.

    Starter Joe Saunders is also on a one-year deal. His 5-8 record and 4.98 ERA in 16 starts don't exactly help his cause, but for teams looking for rotation depth he could be a good fit.

    Other names could also be made available as the Mariners look to rebuild and grow with some of their younger prospects.

Can Raul Ibanez Make History with Home Run Barrage?

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    On Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, Raul Ibanez hit a solo shot in the eighth inning against Shawn Camp for his 19th home run of the season.

    Ibanez has a chance to do something no player in MLB history has ever accomplished: hit 30 home runs in his age-41 season.

    Ted Williams came close. He swatted 29 home runs in his final season in 1960.

    Unless he finds himself shipped off to San Francisco, where he would have to play half his games at cavernous AT&T Park, Ibanez has an excellent chance of reaching that mark.

Can the Pittsburgh Pirates Avoid a Second-Half Collapse?

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates ended the first half with a record of 51-30. That's not only the best record in baseball, but they're also the only team currently at least 20 games above .500.

    Stop if you've heard that anytime in the last 20 years.

    Yes, the same Pirates who have amassed 20 consecutive losing seasons are MLB's best team at the halfway mark. But recent history shows that the second half has not been their friend.

    Two years ago, the Pirates sat atop the NL Central standings on July 19 with a 51-44 record and a half-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. They would go on to lose 46 of their final 67 games to finish with a 90-loss season.

    Last year, the Pirates were again above .500, this time reaching as high as 16 games above that mark as late as Aug. 8, when they were 63-47.

    They proceeded to lose 36 of their final 52 games to again finish below .500.

    On paper, the Pirates appear poised to finally end their longstanding streak and contend for the NL Central title. In the previous two seasons, general manager Neal Huntington attempted to make moves to bolster his club down the stretch. They ended up having the opposite effect.

    The Pirates need to forget about the past and continue to play the way they have thus far. For them, the third time wouldn't be a charm—it would qualify as a curse.

Can the Cleveland Indians Also Avoid a Second-Half Swoon?

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    Much like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians have also experienced failure in the second half over the last two seasons.

    In 2011, the Tribe finished with a 47-42 record before the All-Star break. They closed with a 33-40 record to fall below .500.

    Last year, the Indians entered the break with a 44-41 record. They lost 53 of their final 77 games to finish at 68-94.

    With their 4-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, the Indians are now 44-38 and in a virtual tie with the Detroit Tigers atop the AL Central.

    For the Indians, stopping a second-half swoon could he aided by finding some starting pitching. It's the weak link on the team thus far, and upgrades to the rotation could go a long way in helping to avoid that second-half collapse.

Will the Rangers Dangle Jurickson Profar at Trade Deadline to Upgrade Roster?

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    The Texas Rangers are set in the infield, with Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre all under contract or under team control until at least the end of 2015.

    That means that prospect Jurickson Profar has nowhere to go except the outfield.

    Rangers coach Gary Pettis has been working with Profar over the past several days to give him more of a chance to play. At just 20 years old, Profar his hitting .257 with three home runs and nine RBI in 31 games.

    With the Rangers in a dogfight with the Oakland A's in the AL West, does that mean they might be more amenable to a trade involving Profar if the return package was right?

    The Rangers have resisted all efforts in the past, but with an infield that's set for at least two years and the chance to get back to the postseason once again, the right offer just might entice them this time around.

Can the Boston Red Sox Go from Worst to First?

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    Nine months after they completed their worst season in 47 years, the Boston Red Sox ended the first half of the 2013 season with the best record in the American League.

    The Red Sox have never gone from worst to first. They've come close, though. In 1966, they were ninth in the 10-team American League and won the pennant in thrilling fashion the following year. In 1945, the Red Sox were seventh in the eight-team league. They got back all of their stars who fought in World War II the following year and ran away with the pennant by compiling a 104-50 record.

    The AL East promises to be a tight race for the rest of the season, especially with a Toronto Blue Jays team that's been surging in the month of June. And the Baltimore Orioles sat just three games back of the Red Sox before their Sunday night contest with the New York Yankees.

    The 2013 Red Sox would be the first team in franchise history to go from worst to first—not quite as dramatic as breaking an 86-year curse, but still impressive indeed.

Does George Brett Replace Ned Yost as Royals Manager?

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    Hall of Fame great George Brett stood idly by and got increasingly frustrated as he watched his Kansas City Royals sputter in the first eight weeks of the season with an offense that was vastly underperforming.

    When asked to help out, Brett jumped at the opportunity.

    He was already a part of the organization as a vice president, but now he was being asked to fill a vital role: as a hitting coach.

    Yeah, that seems fitting for the only player in MLB history to win batting titles in three different decades.

    At the time, Brett said that he was clearly flummoxed when watching his Royals fail to meet the expectations placed on them at the beginning of the season.

    "I feel the same frustrations the players do, the same frustrations as our manager and our general manager and ownership," Brett said, via Stan McNeal of USA Today. "Just frustrated watching it night after night after night."

    At the time, general manager Dayton Moore said that manager Ned Yost's job was safe. "This is the last move we're making," Moore said.

    Well, we'll see.

    If the Royals continue to falter in the next few weeks, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Brett replace Yost.

Could Colon Become One of the Oldest Pitchers in MLB History to Win 20 Games?

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    Bartolo Colon won his 11th game of the 2013 season against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. He held the National League's best offense to one run on six hits in eight stellar innings of work.

    For Colon, it marked his eighth straight win. He's posted a nifty 1.37 ERA during that stretch.

    At 40 years old, Colon has an excellent chance of becoming a 20-game winner. Very few pitchers in history have won 20 games in a season in their age-40 year or older. Warren Spahn was the oldest, as he won 23 games for the Milwaukee Braves in 1963 at the age of 42.

    Roger Clemens came close—he won 18 games for the Houston Astros in 2004 when he was 41. Randy Johnson won 17 games twice past the age of 40.

    But the 20-game mark for pitchers is clearly elusive at an advanced age, and thus far, Colon is making it look easy.

Can Yasiel Puig Actually Continue His Torrid Pace in the Second Half?

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    Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was 4-for-5 on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies, raising his average to .436 on the season. The four-hit day gave him 44 hits in the month of June, the most or any rookie in a single month since Joe DiMaggio collected 48 hits for the New York Yankees in May 1936.

    Granted, it's a relatively small sample size, but through 27 games, Puig has set a pace that's positively blistering.

    Two questions are on the top of every fan's mind right regarding Puig: Will he be selected to the All-Star team, and can he actually keep up this pace?

    No one is expecting that Puig will keep his average above .400. He would need to average 4.5 plate appearances per game for the rest of the season to even qualify for the batting title.

    Possible? Yes. Highly unlikely? Yes.

    Puig is absolutely a special talent—his first 27 games have certainly demonstrated his abilities. But he hasn't yet faced opposing teams a second time around, and they'll have a book on him by that point.

    That is not to take away from what he's achieved thus far. Puigmania has clearly taken hold in Los Angeles. But expecting him to keep up the torrid pace that he has kept for the past four weeks for another half-season is remote at best.

Will Robinson Cano's Pending Free-Agent Status Become a Distraction for Him?

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    Robinson Cano's pending free-agent status has been overshadowed lately by a host of other off-field incidents in New York. For Cano, that's not a bad thing at all.

    Throughout spring training, Cano fielded questions about his future with the Yankees. He insisted at the time that his contract status was not a distraction.

    Then came news from ESPN's Buster Olney and Darren Rovell that Cano had fired super-agent Scott Boras and hired Jay-Z.

    Yes, the rapper.

    With Alex Rodriguez and Brian Cashman sniping at each other, A-Rod and Derek Jeter working on returning to the field and, more recently, the season-ending surgery for first baseman Mark Teixeira, Cano's contract status isn't even close to front-page news right now.

    That can only work in his favor as he prepares for the second half of the season.

Who Will Be the Closer for the Detroit Tigers in the Second Half?

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    As of right now, Joaquin Benoit appears to be the closer for the Detroit Tigers.

    But hang on for a few days, as that could be subject to change.

    It's anyone's guess what the plans are for the Tigers with regard to their closer. It was thought at the beginning of spring training that highly touted prospect Bruce Rondon could take the reins. He ended up spitting the bit during Grapefruit League games when his command issues came to the forefront.

    For the first three weeks of the season, manager Jim Leyland used a closer-by-committee approach. Phil Coke saved a game. Drew Smyly saved one as well. So did Benoit.

    Then came Jose Valverde, the man who saved 110 games for the Tigers over the previous three seasons but famously imploded during the playoffs last October.

    The Tigers initially didn't ask Valverde. But given the shortcomings of their closer-by-committee approach, they re-signed him once again.

    And once again, the old Valverde was back. Sure, he saved nine games, but he also blew another three and posted an ugly 5.59 ERA before being designated for assignment.

    So, once again, the Tigers are in a quandary.

    I would bet the farm that Detroit will have an established veteran closer on board within the next three to four weeks.

Will Alex Rodriguez Return and Help the Yankees in 2013?

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    By now, it's obvious to just about anyone who even has a casual interest in baseball that the Yankees are in need of help.

    It's certainly been a trying six months for Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. He underwent hip surgery in mid-January and was given a six-month timeline for recovery.

    He was then named in the Biogenesis scandal that rocked baseball in late January. With that cloud hanging over his head, Rodriguez has attempted to continue his rehab and make his way back to the field as quickly as possible.

    But in the last week, A-Rod tweeted, general manager Brian Cashman lashed out at his tweet, the two allegedly kissed and made up, reports surfaced that A-Rod would retire to get all of his money and Derek Jeter voiced his support of Rodriguez in his return.

    Yeah, that about sums it up.

    Does anyone really know if Rodriguez is coming back? Only A-Rod's healing hip can really answer that question, and hips don't talk.

    One thing is for sure: The Yankees offense needs whatever help it can find.

Will Derek Jeter Return and Help the Yankees?

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    As much as the New York Yankees need a healthy Alex Rodriguez over the offense given to them thus far by their third basemen this season, they could use a healthy Derek Jeter in their lineup as well.

    Jeter underwent surgery last October to repair a fractured left ankle suffered during the 2012 ALCS. However, doctors discovered a second minor crack in Jeter's ankle during an MRI in April, pushing his recovery back until sometime after the All-Star break.

    He's begun taking batting practice and doing some light running, but there is no timetable for his return—or even for his game rehab process. It will likely be the end of July before he'll be available to help out a struggling Yankees offense.

    If A-Rod, Jeter and Curtis Granderson all make their way back to the lineup sometime in July, the Yankees may not even need to be active at the trade deadline—that trio in itself will be of tremendous help.

Could Cubs Shortstop Starlin Castro Be Sent to Minors?

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    The Chicago Cubs have a broken shortstop, and they need to find a way to fix him.

    Starlin Castro, a two-time All-Star who signed a seven-year, $60 million contract last year, is now hitting .233 for the season. His .266 on-base percentage is the second-worst among all qualified shortstops in the majors.

    In addition, Castro has only walked 12 times and has registered 63 strikeouts. It's clear his approach at the plate is way out of whack. I think that qualifies as a technical term.

    In any event, Castro isn't helping his team in the No. 2 hole in the order right now. The way he's hitting, he's not helping at any spot in the batting order.

    The Cubs altered Castro's approach at the plate last year in an effort to induce more walks and allow Castro to hit for more power.

    Per Sahadev Sharma of CSNChicago.com, Cubs manager Dale Sveum believes that Castro's current issues can be fixed with mechanical tweaks. But thus far, nothing is working for their 23-year-old star.

    It's entirely possible that a stint in the minors could be required in order for Castro to figure everything out. Considering the Cubs aren't playoff-bound this year, it might just be the best course of action to take.

Does Ricky Nolasco Become a Giant Within the Next Few Weeks?

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    Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco has drawn a lot of attention over the past few weeks as the trade deadline nears. The San Francisco Giants are definitely a team that's interested.

    According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Giants are the team to beat for Nolasco's services.

    With Ryan Vogelsong on the disabled list with a broken hand and Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito battling inconsistency, the Giants are absolutely in the hunt for a veteran starter. And Nolasco is 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA in five starts at AT&T Park.

    It could be just a matter of weeks before Nolasco switches uniforms and inserts himself into a heated playoff race.

Will Giancarlo Stanton Be with the Miami Marlins on Aug. 1?

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    Another question that is on fans' minds is whether or not the Miami Marlins will trade right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.

    The Marlins have gone on record as saying that Stanton will not be dealt this season. According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, owner Jeffrey Loria has held firm on that statement.

    However, this is the Marlins we're talking about, and this is the same owner who allegedly told Jose Reyes to purchase a home in Miami days before he was traded. The same owner who supposedly made assurances to Mark Buehrle that he wouldn't be dealt either.

    So you tell me if you take the Marlins' word at face value.

Can Bryce Harper's Return Act as a Rallying Cry for Washington Nationals?

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    According to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, Bryce Harper is expected to make his return to the Washington Nationals lineup on Monday, exactly one month after landing on the disabled list with left knee bursitis.

    The Nationals were 14-16 without Harper, and they clearly missed his energy in the lineup. They were just 11th in the National League in runs scored for the month of June and were 12th in batting average at .244.

    The success of the Nationals in the second half depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is a healthy and productive Harper.

Will Josh Hamilton Ever Break Out of His Funk?

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    Earlier in our presentation, we talked about the Los Angeles Angels and briefly touched upon the prolonged slump of right fielder Josh Hamilton.

    Hamilton was 1-for-2 with two walks and an RBI in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros, raising his average to .223. That's an uptick of 16 points since June 20, so maybe there's a glimmer of hope.

    Still, the 10 home runs and 29 RBI are without question a major disappointment. Even a torrid second half wouldn't bring Hamilton anywhere close to the 43 homers and 128 RBI he produced last year.

    At this point, though, Angels fans—not to mention team management—will take anything they can get. If Hamilton can put together a hot streak and help lead the Halos to a postseason berth, the first-half slump will be quickly forgotten.

    If he doesn't get hot, however, he might wish that he never left Texas.

Can the Dodgers Find Chemistry with a $200 Million Payroll in Second Half?

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    Armed with a $216 million payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers ended the first half five games under .500. Fortunately for them, they ended the month of June winning eight of their last nine games and are only four games out of first place in a decidedly mediocre NL West.

    Injuries played a large role in the Dodgers' slow start, but they're still a team that's struggled with a bevy of stars that make ridiculous amounts of money.

    Making it work with the largest team payroll in franchise history is the job of manager Don Mattingly, and his future could well depend on what happens within the next three months.

    The past 10 days have been a nice turnaround. Whether the team can sustain that great play and run away from the rest of the tightly packed division remains to be seen.

Is Cliff Lee As Good As Gone If Phillies Continue to Stumble?

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    Earlier in this presentation, we also briefly discussed whether the Phillies would be buyers or sellers. More specifically, what of the future of starting pitcher Cliff Lee?

    Lee is owed roughly $62.5 million through the 2015 season, plus a vesting option for the 2016 season. General manager Ruben Amaro has been adamant in saying has no intentions of trading Lee.

    Via Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

    As I've said before, we have a much better chance of winning baseball games with [Lee] at the top of our rotation and Cole [Hamels] at the top of the rotation. And to be frank with you, I want to win with [Lee], not without him.

    Well, that may be all well and good, but as of right now, the Phillies don't look like a winning team. With the current roster, they may not be winning in the future either.

    Amaro will have some choices to make within the next few weeks regarding the direction of his team. Whether or not he changes his stance on Lee's future in Philadelphia will be a hot topic in the City of Brotherly Love.

Will the Yankees Spend $19 Million Saved with Teixeira Salary to Make Upgrades?

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    When it was announced that New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira would be undergoing surgery to repair the tendon sheath in his right wrist, it was devastating news for the offensively challenged New York Yankees.

    However, the money they save on Teixeira's 2013 salary through insurance could help this year.

    According to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, the Yankees will save $18.7 million of the $22.5 million via insurance from the World Baseball Classic and their own policy.

    That money can be used this season without fear of being taxed. Using it beyond this season would make the Yankees liable for taxing under the current collective bargaining agreement.

    That money could certainly help in making offensive upgrades that are desperately needed. General manager Brian Cashman could take chances on players he might have deemed too expensive as half-year rentals as well.

Will Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera Win the Triple Crown?

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    On Sunday, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit his 31st home run of the season. He also has a .332 batting average with 80 RBI.

    Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera was just 1-for-4 on Sunday, but he has a .373 average with 25 home runs and 82 RBI.

    These two are putting on a show, and it's going to be a fun-filled summer if the fireworks continue.

    No one has ever captured the Triple Crown back-to-back, and Davis will be doing everything in his power to make sure Cabrera doesn't become the first.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

    Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.