With equal parts subjectivity, hope, logic and spectacular guesswork, we look ahead to what promises to be a fabulous second half of the baseball season. Here are 10 things to watch.
Will Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run? Yes. It will come in his final game of the season, Oct. 3 at Dodger Stadium.
But, there are other numbers to follow.
Will Bonds finish the season with more intentional walks than hits? At the All-Star break, he had 69 hits and 71 intentional walks, more than Jose Canseco, Garret Anderson and Jason Giambi have in their careers, and soon to be twice as many as Alex Rodriguez has in his career.
Will Bonds finish with more runs scored than hits? At the break, he had scored 71 runs to go along with his 69 hits. In the last 100 years, only Max Bishop in 1930 finished a season with more runs than hits.
What will be the fate of the Montreal Expos? In late July, Major League Baseball will announce the Expos will play the next three years at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., then will move into a new ballpark either in D.C. or in Northern Virginia in 2008 -- our guess is the latter.
This will happen only after some sort of major payment is made by MLB to appease Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who still will not go silently.
How long can the Rangers stay in the AL West race? They're going the distance. They might not make the playoffs, but with the game's best offense and best attitude, plus a bullpen that's much better than people think, they can run a long way with the A's and the Angels.
Who will be traded before the July 31 deadline?
Kris Benson: Yes
He makes $6.1 million a year, he's a free agent after the season, he hasn't warranted a huge extension with the Pirates and he can bring Pittsburgh what it needs, a young third baseman, first baseman or outfielder. Eight teams appear to have interest, including the Twins.
Steve Finley: Yes
He, too, is a free agent after the season. He's the youngest 39-year-old on the face of the earth, he could help a contender (Padres) that needs an offensive and defensive boost down the stretch.
Carlos Beltran: No
The only way the Astros spin him is if they have no chance to make the playoffs. And Houston has a run left in it that will keep the Astros in the NL wild-card race.
Nomar Garciaparra: No
The Red Sox should try to win with him, then he'll walk this winter.
Randy Johnson: Maybe
This is too tough to call. Johnson has given the D-Backs permission to field trade offers, but it's very complicated. Do the Yankees have enough to give to Arizona to make the deal? Will the Angels include young third baseman Dallas McPherson, who has great power, in the trade? Will the Diamondbacks be willing to trade away the team's biggest draw and best player for two minor leaguers?
Will the Red Sox make the playoffs? Yes. Only as the AL wild card, but with the way they played for a couple of months, they should be happy with that. The Red Sox finally have their lineup together, their defense is improving and they're actively trying to get another pitcher. But, chances are, it won't be Johnson.
Will Pudge Rodriguez win the American League batting title? Yes. He will be the first catcher to do so. It will be another line for a résumé that already has him in the Hall of Fame. Most catchers switch to a less strenuous position, or cease offensive production, at his age (32) and the number of games that he has caught. Not Rodriguez. He seems to be getting better with age as a hitter, which few catchers have done.
Will the Astros rebound under new manager Phil Garner? Yes. They are a flawed team, no doubt. They are sub-par defensively, their bullpen isn't even close to the Wagner-Dotel-Lidge group from last year, and their starting pitching hasn't been nearly as good as it should be. But, their offense, despite their station-to-station approach, has to get better. So does everything else. The NL wild card is winnable, and you have to think the Astros have a chance.
Will Vlad Guerrero win the Triple Crown? No. There's a reason why no one has won it, or really come close, since 1967 -- it's really hard to do. It's even harder now with more players and more specialists; that is, guys who just hit home runs, guys who just hit singles.
Will a second-half recall make a difference in the second half? Yes. And his name is David Wright, the Mets' bright young third baseman. What if the Mets were to trade hot-hitting Ty Wigginton in a deal for a pitcher, then recall Wright, and throw him into a pennant race? It's risky, but if he is as good as most people say, maybe he's ready.
Who will win the World Series? The Yankees. We haven't done that well in our predictions so far (Diamondbacks to win the NL West?), but the Yankees' lineup is fabulous. Their bullpen, with Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill setting up Mariano Rivera, is way better than it was last year and they're going to get a starting pitcher before July 31.