MLB Insider: Eye on trade deadline, second-half storylines

Posted Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Top five Cardinals: Have steadied things after a relatively iffy stretch. Red Sox: Most wins in baseball, but will need bullpen help. Rays: Hottest team in baseball surges into postseason hunt. Pirates: Still a couple weeks until Pittsburgh fans start to fret. A’s: Pitching covering up a lot of blemishes at the plate. Bottom five Astros: Houston loses even when a player hits for the cycle. Marlins: Owner even more foolish to not hear bids for Giancarlo Stanton. White Sox: Have a chance to be a bad team for a long time. Brewers: Bad decision to sign Kyle Lohse may turn into good deadline deal. Padres: Have cratered badly to sink to bottom of mediocre NL West.

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To get everyone ready for the in-progress and upcoming trade rush, a gentle word of warning with 10 days to go until the deadline arrives: Don’t believe everything that’s put out on Twitter.

Baseball has been back in business only two days after its annual break for the All-Star Game, and already the Texas Rangers are making the most noise.

Their pursuit of right-hander Matt Garza, the prize of the July trade market, was news before the second half opened Friday, and it has overshadowed what is happening on the field at Rangers Ballpark.

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is always a major second-half storyline, and there’s no doubting that the Rangers have blemishes they need to cover up if they want to be a playoff team for the fourth consecutive year.

A rotation of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez and Ross Wolf doesn’t seem like it would be enough. Colby Lewis, whose comeback has felt an awful lot like Brandon Webb’s in 2011, and Matt Harrison are trying to make themselves available, but come with no guarantees.

So Garza would be welcomed with open arms.

The Rangers, though, aren’t the only team at the makeup counter.

Two of the three division leaders in the American League need bullpen help. Detroit has needed a closer all season, and repeatedly using the slow-working Joaquin Benoit is killing the average time of games.

Boston just put Andrew Bailey on the disabled list, and the Red Sox have been living dangerously for the past month with Koji Uehara as closer.

Yikes.

While trade talk generally produces the most second-half buzz, here are some other stories to keep in mind over the final 10 weeks of the season:

Beasts of the East: The East has become the top division in the AL thanks to Tampa Bay shifting it into high gear the past three weeks. They are only 11/2 games behind Boston, which has the most wins in the game.

Third place belongs to Baltimore, which surged last season to take the second wild-card berth and then knocked off the Rangers and took New York to five games in the division series.

No one should sleep on the Yankees, either, as they continue to get bodies back. Even Alex Rodriguez, a shell of his former self, will be an upgrade. He’ll also be on display this week at Rangers Ballpark.

“I really think Tampa is going to be as big a foe as anybody, and Boston has to be the favorite right now,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “So if you sit there and dwell on that, you’ve just got to stay focused on what you’ve got to do to stay in it and have a chance to roll the dice in September.”

Roger, Dodgers: One team in Los Angeles seems motivated to hold up its end of the preseason Freeway Series predictions.

The Dodgers have climbed back from the basement of the not-so-good National League West and entered Saturday above .500 and only 11/2 games behind first-place Arizona.

Try to forget about Yasiel Puig, the talented rookie from Cuba. Matt Kemp, the talented center fielder from the Oklahoma City area, could be the key to the Dodgers making good on all that money Magic Johnson is spending.

Hoping to not three-peat: Pittsburgh, for a third straight season, is enjoying a baseball renaissance. The problem the past two years is that the Pirates have folded like a Dollar Store lawn chair in the second half.

Pirates fans remain hungry for a winner, something they haven’t had since 1992. Pittsburgh has a stout pitching staff, buoyed by the hard-throwing Gerrit Cole and anchored by closer Jason Grilli, and their lineup is no pushover.

The problem the Pirates face is that they are in the NL Central, which is home to the best team in the majors (St. Louis) and another playoff contender (Cincinnati). They should be able to finish above .500, though their recent history suggests to proceed with caution.

Zero to 60: Chris Davis is on the record saying that he considers the true major-league home-run record to be the 61 Roger Maris slugged in 1961, and not the 73 a juiced-up Barry Bonds hit in 2001.

Davis entered Saturday with 37 homers, and 65 games to see if he can push past Maris’ mark. Can the former Rangers first baseman do it? It might seem unlikely, but then again, so did Davis’ first half.

“I think he can do it, especially with that park he plays in. He’s using the whole field now. You can’t just pitch him in one spot, and pitchers are going to make mistakes,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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