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Believe it: Baseball's 2nd half will feature some great stories

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Tim Lincecum's 6.42 ERA is the worst for any full-time starter in the big leagues this season. (US Presswire)

Imagine if I'd told you a year ago that the Cardinals would go from first place at the All-Star break to 10 1/2 games out in late August to World Series celebrations in late October.

Imagine if I'd told you that the Red Sox would go from first place at the break to an American League-best 83 wins through August, and then a major-league worst 20 losses in September.

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I could tell you right now what's going to happen in the second half of this season, but you wouldn't believe me.

Here's what you would believe:

-- For the Brewers and Phillies, it's already September.

"Our season is essentially riding on these next nine or 10 games," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said at the All-Star Game.

It's easy to see why. The Brewers are eight games out of first place and six games out of the final playoff spot, and Zack Greinke isn't signed for next year and apparently isn't signing anytime soon.

So if the Brewers don't start making up ground in this stretch of nine games against the teams in front of them (Pirates, Cardinals, Reds), Greinke will be elsewhere by July 31 and the Brewers will basically be done.

Where will Greinke land? Well, as CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday, the Angels have now gotten involved, along with the Rangers, Braves and possibly the Orioles. But Brewers players still hold out hope that they can play well enough to convince management to keep him.

"You always have a better chance of winning with your best pitcher than without your best pitcher," Braun said.

The Phillies could say much the same thing, except their best pitcher is Roy Halladay and he should be back from the disabled list next week. The problem for them is a much bigger deficit (14 games in the division, 10 games in the playoff race), and a Greinke-like issue with Cole Hamels.

Hamels is considered more likely than Greinke to sign a new contract this month, but that doesn't make him likely to sign. Hamels and Greinke are probably equally likely to be dealt, and in both cases the current betting is more that they will than that they won't.

In both cases, a winning streak this month could change minds.

The Brewers can only hope that the mind they change isn't Braun's.

"Realistically, we're still in this thing," he said.

They are. For now.

-- For Stephen Strasburg (and perhaps others), it's already August.

We don't know exactly when the Nationals will shut down their best pitcher. Strasburg doesn't know, either, which is why he dreads the innings-limit questions.

"I'm just in the dark," he said.

But from spring training on (and probably before that, too), Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has stayed consistent. Strasburg will not pitch a full season, no matter how well he's pitching (real good so far) or how well the Nationals are playing (also real good so far).

So he's saying that Strasburg won't pitch in the playoffs if the Nationals get there?

That's exactly what he's saying.

And he's serious?

He sure sounds serious. We'll see.

And what about other young pitchers, guys like White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, who has already pitched more innings than he did all of last year?

"I understand Chris Sale's got to be looked after," teammate Jake Peavy said. "He's a prized possession. But for us to win games, Chris Sale's going to have to start. People say he's not going to hold up. They said that about [Tim] Lincecum when he was young, too."

-- For Tim Lincecum, it may already be September, too.

The Giants are trying to win the National League West, but they have a pitcher who is just about guaranteeing them a loss every fifth game. That pitcher has a 6.42 ERA, the worst for any full-time starter in the big leagues, and the Giants are 4-14 in games he has started.

That pitcher, as you no doubt realize, is Tim Lincecum, the guy with two Cy Young Awards and a $40.5 million contract. The Giants allowed him to make all 18 of his scheduled first-half starts.

The Giants, in all their history (New York and San Francisco), have never had a pitcher make more than 21 starts with an ERA over 6.00.

-- For Chipper Jones, it's nearly October.

The All-Star Game was a nice send-off for the 40-year-old Jones, who has already announced that he will retire. But wouldn't it be more fitting if Jones, whose 92 career postseason games are second to Derek Jeter among active players, gets one more chance to play in October?

-- For the Tigers (thankfully), it's still July.

The Tigers aren't like the Phillies and the Brewers. They're not into the final weeks to save their season. They won five straight games going into the All-Star break, they're still most people's pick to win their division (after beginning the season as everyone's pick).

And on the July trade market, they're definitely looking to add, not subtract.

"Trades are always good," Miguel Cabrera said. "With [general manager Dave] Dombrowski, you never know what will happen. But I trust him."

-- For Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury and others, it's already July (thankfully).

Kemp is ready to rejoin the Dodgers for the start of the second half, after missing most of the last two months. Ellsbury is just about ready to rejoin the Red Sox, after missing basically all of the first 3 1/2 months.

Kemp is sure that his return (and Andre Ethier's) will make a difference.

"We'll be tough to beat," he said.

Is anyone that sure that Ellsbury's return (and possibly Carl Crawford's, as well) will be enough to make a difference for the Red Sox?

Other big players could be coming back, as well, including Roy Halladay, Jaime Garcia and (maybe) Evan Longoria.

-- For the Pirates, it's July (2012, not 2011).

Yes, the Pirates were a big first-half story last year, too. Yes, the Pirates ended up below .500, again.

This year is different, they say. And here's how they know it:

"Now the fans are coming out in Pirates gear," closer Joel Hanrahan said. "Last year, they were showing up, but they were wearing Steelers and Penguins gear."

They know how the second half will go. So do I.

You won't believe it.

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