Dash to the playoffs
Who is best-positioned to go on a memorable spurt the way the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays did in 2011, when they closed 10-game disadvantages in a month? Keep an eye on the Detroit Tigers, although it won't be easy: the American League has 11 teams at .500 or better at the all-star break for the first time. Nineteen teams are within 2 1/2 games of a playoff spot.
The Stephen Strasburg Watch
The Washington Nationals are getting a great deal of love from Vegas, but they say they will limit Strasburg's gold-plated arm to 160 to 170 innings. At the expense of a playoff spot? Really? Veteran John Lannan is making $5-million at Triple A as a fallback and the major-league staff might have enough depth to pull it off, but this is the type of decision that can define a franchise for years.
Remember the name Mike Olt
He is a 23-year-old third-base prospect for the Texas Rangers, and they'll do what it takes to keep their World Series door open with Josh Hamilton apparently destined for free agency. Olt could form the basis of a deal to land one of the trade deadline's pitching prizes (Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster or Wandy Rodriguez) if the Rangers go nuclear in their fight with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Boston Red Sox's Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Bucholz could all be together by Monday. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have gone 24-28 without Matt Kemp after going 23-12 with him in the lineup, need Kemp's strained hamstring to hold up. Evan Longoria's return from a hamstring injury is weeks behind schedule, while the Nationals should get Jayson Werth (wrist injury) back. Last guy out of the rehab room loses.
Guggenheim Baseball Management didn't spend $2.15-billion to finish third. Los Angeles will be the front-runners for both Hamels and Hamilton as free-agents in the off-season – ownership likely did somersaults when it saw that Hamels and Clayton Kershaw had lockers side by side in the National League all-star dressing room – but will they decide to overpay this month to get Hamels in early? The San Francisco Giants are there for the taking as long as Tim Lincecum remains ineffective.