50 reasons to love MLB's second half
Here are 50 reasons you might, should and will love the second act of our national pastime:
1. Albert Pujols (.332 BA, 32 HR, 87 RBIs) going for the first Triple Crown since 1967.
2. The inevitable, but addictive, hype over Yankees-Red Sox when they meet again in August and September but God help us all if they meet in October.
3. Every start Tim Lincecum makes. As he aims for his second straight Cy Young, Lincecum has become the most exciting pitcher in baseball. Plus, there's the added bonus that at some point he'll fire off a 97-mph fastball and his mullet (yes, we're calling it a mullet) will actually whip around, hit him in the face and give him a black eye.
4. The Yankees' run in September getting derailed not by injuries, but by grand jury subpoenas.
5. September call-ups (think Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 and David Price in 2008). The two most intriguing names who could affect a division or wild-card race are both Giants: pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey.
6. The potential AL batting race between Joe Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki. Currently, Mauer is hitting .373 and Ichiro .360. Their contrasting styles make it even more fun: Mauer rarely swings at a bad pitch, has power to all fields and stands 6-foot-5. Ichiro rarely draws a walk, slaps the ball over the field and stands 5-9 on a bad hair day.
7. The one story that will save us from all things Favre: Where will Roy Halladay be playing in August?
8. And while we're at it, who will sign recently defected Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman?
9. And let's not forget the countdown to Aug. 17 -- the deadline for Stephen Strasburg to sign with the Nationals.
10. The possibility that Clay Buchholz records his second no-hitter in three years and is then honored by the Red Sox when Theo Epstein offers to personally drive the pitcher back to Pawtucket.
11. Interrupting all the NFL training-camp holdouts and
pretend exhibition games to remind the world that there's still baseball being played.
12. B.J. Ryan clinching the wild card for the Cubs on the same day that his former GM, J.P. Ricciardi, is fired by the Blue Jays.
13. The young Orioles who bring hope to a downtrodden franchise: Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis, plus maybe September call-ups for stud pitching prospects Chris Tilllman and Brian Matusz.
14. On the heels of trading for Yuniesky Betancourt, the Royals continuing to search for offense by trading for Chris Davis, Dioner Navarro, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Delmon Young. "You acquire talent based on what you believe [a player] can do in the future," Royals GM Drayton Moore will say, "and not necessarily what he did in the past. We have people who believe these guys are going to continue to get better through a change of scenery."
15. Felix Hernandez closing out the season on three days' rest against the Rangers with the AL West title on the line.
16. Phillies versus Giants, July 30-Aug. 2 in San Francisco, or Sept. 1-3 in Philly. Please, please, please give us Jamie Moyer versus Randy Johnson.
17. Let the "daddy" chants begin: Aug. 24, Phillies (Martinez, 2-1, 4.23 ERA) at Mets (Santana, 14-7, 2.82 ERA).
18. Knowing every ball hit to Carl Crawford is a potential Web Gem in the making.
19. Seeing whether Zack Greinke can keep up his winning ways even though he has the Royals and their last-place offense in his corner.
20. The beauty that is the MLB Extra Innings package, which gives us not only Bob Uecker from Miller Park, but also Michael Kay from Yankee Stadium saying, "We'll come back and try to make sense of it all," after every New York loss.
21. Mauer, attempting to become the first catcher to lead his league in slugging percentage, finishing the season at .579, two points ahead of Ben Zobrist, and saying, "I'd like to thank the Twins fans, my teammates, and the dream of someday signing a $200&nsbp;million contract with the Red Sox. By the way, who the heck is Ben Zobrist?" OK ... that part about the Red Sox contract wouldn't actually be cool.
22. The daily "Hey, where are they now?" episode that is the Oakland A's.
23. Watching Pablo Sandoval, a.k.a. "Kung Fu Panda," a.k.a. "Fat Ichiro." How about this for a nickname: "Hitter."
24. Finding out if David Ortiz (and his eyedrops) is for real, or really done?
25. Checking the Internet every 30 seconds when someone on your team (real or fantasy) is "going to see Dr. Andrews."
26. Avoiding the Internet altogether when someone on your team (real or fantasy) is being talked about by Roger Cossack.
27. The trading-deadline deals that happen at 4:59 p.m. on July 31.
28. Finding out who will be this year's CC Sabathia, the temp worker who leads his team to the playoffs.
29. Wondering if Danny Haren will finish the season with an ERA under 2.00. Currently at 2.01, Haren was the best pitcher in the season's first half, posting an amazing strikeout-to-walk ratio of 129 to 16. The only starting pitchers this decade to post an ERA under 2.00 were Roger Clemens with the Astros in 2005 (1.87) and Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in 2000 (1.74).
30. After the Nationals break the 1962 Mets' record for most losses in a season with a 14-2 defeat to the Dodgers, hoping Bud Selig allows the national anthem to be replaced by Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends" for all Nats home games.
31. Seeing which will be worth more in September -- Derek Jeter's bat, or his house?
32. Anticipating a second-half Cubs comeback or Lou Piniella's next outburst.
33. The bat-crushing fastballs of Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson.
34. Raul Ibanez's second-half numbers.
35. Oct. 4, final day of the season, Tropicana Field: Wild card on the line, Yankees leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, bases loaded, Mariano Rivera pitching to Evan Longoria.
36. In an attempt to give the slumping players a boost by a change of scenery, hoping the Mets trade Jeff Francoeur to the Braves for Ryan Church in a waiver deal on Aug. 15.
37. Bartolo Colon returning to the White Sox rotation and going undefeated in his first five starts wearing a rhinestone-studded baseball glove.
38. Watching every Manny Ramirez at-bat and knowing the Dodgers have three young stars just as exciting in Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley.
39. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun -- baseball's best 1-2 hitting combo that you might miss if you wait for October.
40. Game on the radio, beverage in hand, sitting on the back porch. If you need more than that in life, then you need professional help.
41. The reality that any hope the Astros have of making a playoff run will rely on a dude named Wandy.
42. Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn or Carl Crawford on first base with second wide open.
43. Aug. 1 -- welcoming Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter back to the pennant race.
44. Carl Pavano winning his 15th game in September.
45. Joe Torre capping off his 14th straight playoff-bound season.
46. The second-half surge of Josh Hamilton.
47. The Mets avoiding a late-season collapse by going 5-24 in August, including back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez. With Mets owner Fred Wilpon admitting: "Hey, I've spent $147 million in worse ways. Just ask Bernie Madoff."
48. A one-day playoff game. Or better yet: A three-way tie for the NL Central division crown.
49. Because no one phones it in until the playoffs (sorry, NBA) and there are more days played than days off (you too, NFL, sorry), and because anything can and will happen.
50. Finally, knowing that the trends of history never lie: 1997, 2003, 2009. The Marlins locking up the NL wild card and rolling to the World Series title, with Ricky Nolasco outdueling Tampa Bay's James Shields in the Game 6 clincher.