Second-half storylines: Pirates, Reyes, Dontrelle, much more
PHOENIX -- Thank God for baseball. It's the dead of summer, two major sports are locked out, and baseball is the only thing we have to satisfy our sports appetite.
Sure, there has been some bad news during the first half. The Dodgers are in bankruptcy, the Mets are endangered and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens is facing a perjury rap in Washington, D.C. But let's put the nasty stuff on the shelf for a few happy moments and speculate on things we hope to see over the next four months of the baseball season.
• A division championship for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh is an underrated American city that's been without a winning baseball team for too long. The Bucs haven't been over .500 since 1992, which is the last year they made it to the postseason. Now they're 47-43 at the break, a mere one game out of first place in the National League Central. Good for Clint Hurdle. Good for Steeltown. Getting Pittsburgh back in the playoffs would be good for baseball.
• The Indians or the Tigers in the playoffs. I can't decide who I'm rooting for in the American League Central. I love Cleveland and Detroit.
Like Pittsburgh, they are downtrodden, rust belt cites and they have fans who would love to return to the postseason. The Indians of the 1990s were one of the greatest hitting teams of all time (remember Manny Ramirez batting seventh in a lineup with Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome?), but could not break their World Series drought. Jim Leyland got the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, but they were wiped out by the Cardinals.
• A fast start for 19-year-old Angels centerfielder Mike Trout. Trout got the call to the bigs when flossy Peter Bourjos went on the disabled list. In the spirit of Bob Feller, Tony Conigliaro and Robin Yount, we always root for teenagers to make it big in the bigs.
• Curtis Granderson win the American League MVP. Boston's hit machine Adrian Gonzalez is the clubhouse leader, but Granderson has 25 homers and 63 RBIs at the break.
• Jose Reyes still with the Mets after the trading deadline. Reyes is the best position player ever developed by the Mets. They have to figure out a way to keep him. Mets fans have suffered enough already.
• Players still tossing foul balls into the stands.
• A full-blown, Jack Nicholson, five-star nutty ejection scene involving Joe West and Ozzie Guillen.
• A comeback for Dontrelle Willis (two runs in six innings in his latest comeback start for the Reds against the Brewers Sunday).
• Fewer rainouts and rain delays. It was a tough first half for the Doppler gang.
• Justin Verlander throwing 98 in the ninth a few more times. I would also love to see the pride of Old Dominion win the AL Cy Young Award.
• A contract extension for Jack McKeon.
• More home plate collisions. The outcry after the Giants' Buster Poster was hurt was preposterous. Home plate crashes are part of the game. Fact is, too many runners go around the catcher because they don't want contact. I say bring back the old Frank Robinson style.
• Albert Pujols hitting like the old Albert Pujols.
• Less pimping after home runs. That means you, David Ortiz.
• A new home for Matt Garza, who has been a big disappointment with the Cubs.
• Some progress in Baltimore. The Orioles' young pitchers simply aren't ready and the once-great franchise continues to struggle mightily.
• Another Boston-New York playoff classic. I realize the rest of America hates the Red Sox and Yankees. Certainly it would be fun to tweak the big payroll boys and see the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoffs again. But we haven't had Red Sox-Yankees since Boston's epic comeback of 2004. It's time for an autumn revival of the greatest rivalry in sports.
• A Giants-Red Sox World Series, steeped in tradition. The last time they met in October was in 1912. Fenway is the best of the old ballparks and AT&T is the best of the new breed. Great players, great uniforms, great fans.