Posted on: July 14, 2010 11:31 pm
Edited on: July 15, 2010 11:14 am

Nine questions for second half

The first half is in the books, and the NL has home-field advantage in the World Series. Now, all that's left is finding out who changes zip codes at the trade deadline and which teams are left standing in October.

Below are nine questions for the second half to answer ...

Are the Padres for real?

The Padres are currently in first place with a 51-37 record, two games ahead of the Dodgers. However, they're doing so on luck, ranking 22nd in runs scored and with a MLB-leading 3.27 ERA. Their 3.81 xFIP suggest there's plenty of regression to be had, and while that xFIP also tops the league, it's the third biggest disparity in the bigs. And San Diego cannot afford regression in its strength. To stay on top, additional help needs to be brought in. Other questions include the surging White Sox, the sexy-sleeper-who-wasn't-supposed-to-be-this-good Reds and the Mets, who will be bolstered by the addition of Carlos Beltran.

Who will be the biggest name traded at the deadline?

There's always a surprise in store, but the early favorite is Florida's Dan Uggla. The Marlins are sliding out of the pennant race and have a second-baseman making $8 million for the penny-pinchers. Uggla will be a nice commodity as he remains under team control for 2011 is having yet another strong season. The Rockies are closely linked to Uggla, but he could end up on any team -- including suitors who may be eyeing him for third base. Don't rule out Adam Dunn being shipped; the White Sox would love to add him to the fold.

Can the Red Sox and Phillies stay afloat?

Boston and Philadelphia have been rocked by injuries, and while plenty of players have stepped in admirably, one can only get by for so long with replacement parts before feeling the sting. One benefit to players going down with injuries is that both teams will eventually be bolstered by returns, but until then, one of three things will happen: 1) Most players will play over their head, 2) Everyone will begin playing to their true level and 3) Trades to bring in complementary pieces will happen. Going with No. 1 is the most foolhardy thing one could do.

Who will be the next impact player from the minor leagues?

There's been a ton of graduations from Triple-A to the majors lately, and that doesn't figure to change in the second half. Domonic Brown could give the Phillies some offense, while Desmond Jennings could do the same for the Rays. How about Aroldis Chapman coming out of the bullpen breathing fire for the Reds or Jeremy Hellickson strengthening the Rays rotation? Could Brett Wallace help usher in a new era in Toronto alongside new shortstop Yunel Escobar? Or will the promotion of Chris Sale to Triple-A serve as a harbinger for a major-league promotion to help the White Sox stay atop the AL Central?

Are the Orioles this bad?

While the O's were overrated entering the year, no one could have expected a 29-59 record at the All-Star break. Now that they have gotten rid of the chaff (goodbye, Garrett Atkins) and are on the verge of getting Felix Pie back, they should play significantly better to the point where it's questionable if they end up with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011's amateur draft. (Key word: Should.) Cleveland and Pittsburgh have better chances of playing worse than Baltimore. It's hard to imagine the O's remaining pathetic, but in a division where the No. 4 team has a 44-45 record, the going will be tough. Another storyline to follow with the Orioles is who the new manager will be -- all indications point to Buck Showalter.

Will Bryce Harper sign with the Nationals?

The signing deadline for prospects is August 16, and many signings will take place around that time. It's hard to imagine Harper turning down an opportunity to get into pro ball right away -- after all, every move of his to date has been with that goal in mind. For Washington's part, there's been a ton of good feelings surrounding the team lately. By failing to sign another young phenom, the Nats' armor would be dented. The move makes too much sense for both sides. The Pirates should ink Jameson Taillon, but can the Dodgers prove everyone wrong that the selection of Zach Lee wasn't motivated by finances? Lee is considered virtually unsignable, and the Dodgers have money woes. Probably not, but it will be just as intriguing a storyline as Harper's decision.

Can anyone hit 40 home runs?

Currently, Jose Bautista leads the majors in homers with 24. He's on pace to end up with 44, but regression to the mean figures to hit Bautista severely in the second half. Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto all rank second with 22, and all have excellent chances of cracking 40 -- but it's far from certain. And if Albert Pujols can get hot -- he's on pace for just his third season with an OPS under 1.000 out of 10 -- watch out. The best chance of anyone? Dunn, if he goes to the White Sox or another park kind to big boppers.

Can the Year of the Pitcher continue?

There have been two no-hitters and two official perfect games (one unofficial) so far on the year. It's an unheard of mark, and will be fascinating to see if the trend can continue. There are plenty of quality pitchers on the mound and hitters have looked overmatched all year long. Which is why baseball could very well see someone not hit 40 home runs in a season. Keep your eye on this list -- one of those may be celebrating on a mound near you.

Pay attention to Josh Johnson of the Marlins as well, who has a scant 1.70 ERA and would be the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2005 (1.87) to have an ERA below 2.00 if he keeps this up.

Who will win the playoff races?

The AL East has quite the three-way battle brewing between the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. Two are certain to get into the playoffs thanks to the wild card. One will be playing golf in October. While the Red Sox are currently in third place, more advanced standings suggest Boston should be in second place, while the Yankees are just a few key injuries away from their older and productive stars from tumbling off a cliff. The White Sox, Tigers and Twins are locked in their own-three way battle. And don't count the Angels out of the West just yet.

Over in the NL, Atlanta has a nice lead, but the Mets and Phillies refuse to die, the Central has what promises to be an entertaining seesaw battle between the Cardinals and Reds, and the NL West is anyone's game -- well, except for the Diamondbacks. Will a Game 163 be played again this year? With so many tight races, the odds are strong.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Posted on: July 10, 2010 1:07 am

Strasburg will stay in turn until innings run out

Stephen Strasburg The Nationals have been pondering two scenarios for rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg:

A) Spread out his starts, using days off and bullpen sessions to keep him throwing to the end of the season without exceeding the 160-inning limit mandated by the team.

B) Keep him in turn and let him end the season early.

Friday, they announced that they are going with B.

Strasburg, who beat the Giants on Friday for his first win in nearly a month, will start Washington's first game after the All-Star break and then stay in the five-man rotation until he hits 160. That would give him roughly nine more starts, taking him to the end of August or early September.

"When the innings are done," manager Jim Riggleman said, "they're done."

-- David Andriesen

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 9, 2010 11:30 pm
Edited on: July 10, 2010 5:07 pm

What's a guy got to do?

Adam Dunn Here's an amazing fact: Washington's Adam Dunn has now hit 20 or more home runs before the All-Star break in eight consecutive seasons, extending the major-league record he already held.

Here's another amazing fact: In those eight seasons, Dunn has been an All-Star exactly zero times.

Dunn hit three home runs Wednesday night, then tacked on two more Friday to bring his total to 22. So what does a guy have to do to make the All-Star team?

The problem isn't the number of homers, it's the numbers in some of the other categories. In the past seven years, he has averaged a staggering 101 strikeouts before the break, and his career first-half batting average is .253.

Dunn made his only career All-Star appearance in 2002, the year before his 20-homer streak started. He batted .300 in the first half, then .190 in the second.

But for better and for worse, Dunn has otherwise been amazingly consistent. In 2005-08, he had exactly 40 homers each year. In '09, he had 38. In five of the past six years, his RBI total has been between 100 and 106.

Dunn just is what he is.

-- David Andriesen

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 7, 2010 11:13 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2010 11:42 pm

White Sox 'all over' Dunn

Adam Dunn If Adam Dunn is trying to boost his trade value, he's certainly doing a good job.

Dunn cranked three home runs on Wednesday as the Nationals edged the Padres 7-6. He has 20 home runs on the year and is well in line to reach 40 home runs for the sixth time in seven years (and barely missed in 2009 with 38). With a .280 mark, he's also well over his .251 career mark.

All told, the free agent to be is having a sensational year, and is available to be traded as the Nationals are not in the playoff hunt. While Dunn may return to Washington after the year, for now his destination for the rest of the year is in question.

Dunn has been linked most heavily to the White Sox, but there have been conflicting reports of the ChiSox's interest. ESPN's Buster Olney, however, says that Dunn would fit Chicago perfectly and the White Sox are "all over" Dunn.

Dunn can play first base and left field -- perhaps not capably, but he can. And of course, Chicago has the DH slot open for Dunn that he would likely occupy. Paul Konerko is all set at first, but on his days off Dunn could step in. As for the outfield, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin occupy these spots, meaning current DHs Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay -- who also double as outfielders -- stand to lose a lot of playing time upon a Dunn acquisition.

Jones has been a solid power hitter for Chicago even as he struggles to get over the Mendoza Line while Kotsay isn't bringing much to the plate even though he has a similar OPS to Jones (.722 as opposed to .734 for Jones). Kotsay would probably be the one to lose his roster spot to Dunn.

Dunn in Chicago would be a tremendous fit. The home park is homer-happy, and if Dunn goes on a hot streak, couldn't be discounted for 45 or even 50 home runs in that park. The White Sox would also have the resources to extend him at the end of the year if both teams were pleased with the fit.

Dunn would also get a chance to play for a contender -- his only other time doing so was with Arizona after being swapped from the Reds in 2008. 'Zona finished 82-80, second in the NL West, two games behind the Dodgers.

Although Dunn expressed interest in returning to the Nationals, that may be because sees Washington on the upswing. Chicago, however, offers him a chance to see October in 2010 as the Pale Hose are just 1 1/2 games behind Detroit, tied with Minnesota for second.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 7, 2010 3:03 pm

Hot weather, hot tempers

Ryan Rowland-Smith As if there werent enough disincentive to watch the Nationals play (at least on non-Strasburg days), it's going to reach a toasty 103 degrees in Washington on Wednesday, slowly roasting the brave souls who show up at Nationals Park. The Padres should petition to have the game moved to Petco Park (61 degrees) on the basis of human decency.

The East Coast heat wave is going to make the going tough in a lot of ballparks Wednesday: Philadelphia 99 degrees, New York 98, Detroit 92, Chicago 91. Our pick city of the day: Seattle, where it's going to be sunny skies and 76 (pictured above, Tuesday night it was 77 for first pitch).

Many studies have been done on the way heat affects the way a ball moves, but how about how it affects the way the players act? A 1991 study at the University of Michigan (you can read the abstract here; to see the whole study costs $25, and it's not that interesting) found that there was a strong and linear relationship between temperature and number of hit batters. The study suggests that high temperatures leads pitchers to be more aggressive.

So if beanballs and brawls abound during the heat wave, don't be surprised.

-- David Andriesen

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 7, 2010 9:32 am
Edited on: July 7, 2010 1:56 pm

Strasburg: I didn't deserve All-Star spot

Stephen Strasburg Every columnist, player, manager, ex-manager, blogger, broadcaster and loudmouthed coworker has weighed in over the past fortnight on whether Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg deserved to make the National League All-Star team.

Well, now the only person whose opinion actually mattered all along -- NL manager Charlie Manuel -- has rendered his opinion, and Strasburg will be taking Tuesday off.

Strasburg said he's fine with that.

"You look at the guys who are going to the All-Star Game and the years that they've had — and they've done that since opening day," Strasburg said, addressing the issue for the first time since the teams were announced. "I haven't been here since opening day. They deserve it. Hopefully, someday I'll deserve it, too."

-- David Andriesen

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 6, 2010 5:26 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 11:55 am

Slim pickings for bullpen arms

Matt Capps How bad is the reliever market?

The Tigers -- who are without Joel Zumaya -- are in Seattle scouting the bullpens of the Royals and Tigers, AOL Fanhouse's Ed Price writes .

The bullpen arms on display were hardly top shelf -- Kyle Farnsworth, David Aardsma, Brandon League and Chad Cordero.

Price says the Indians are trying to find a taker for Kerry Wood and Pittsburgh is open to getting anything in return for Octavio Dotel.

The best arm on the market may be the Nationals' Matt Capps, but Washington has made no move to indicate they're ready to start dealing, although it's likely only a matter of time.

Capps, the Nationals' All-Star representative, is on a one-year deal he signed on Christmas Eve with Washington. The Nationals have two young bullpen arms under team control that look to be ready to take over the closer's role in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.

Because of the lack of relievers on the market, Capps' trade value may be as high as it ever will be and the Nationals should strike while they can.
-- C. Trent Rosecrans

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Posted on: July 6, 2010 1:30 am

White Sox cooling on Dunn

Adam Dunn White Sox general manager Ken Williams has cooled his pursuit of Adam Dunn, the Chicago Sun-Times ' Joe Cowley writes .

The Nationals' asking price is too high for the White Sox. Quoting unnamed sources, Cowley writes Washington is "asking for the moon" in exchange for Dunn.

Although reports have linked the White Sox and Prince Fielder, Cowley shoots that down on two lines: 1. Scott Boras and 2. Fielder reportedly wants a Ryan Howard-type contract when he becomes a free agent after the season.

-- C. Trent Rosecrans

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com