Storylines to follow in MLB’s second half

AP Photo/LM Otero

While we suffer through the worst sports days of the year, it’s time to turn our attention to the second half of the Major League Baseball regular season. Even if it’s not your team, some storylines deserve our full attention the rest of the way.

Here, my loyal readers, are the stories you can’t neglect in the second half of the season.

Are the Pirates going to win the NL Central?

Right now, the Pirates are a game up on the Cincinnati Reds in the standings, but they’ve been bad for so long that it’s hard to picture them actually making the playoffs. In 2011, Pittsburgh rushed out to a 53-47 record, leading the NL Central. At the end of the year, they were 72-90 and finished 24 games back.

At 48-37 so far in 2012, how is this year any different?

A year ago, the Pirates were too young and immature to keep up with a team like the St. Louis Cardinals. This time around, they have an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, a solid starter in James McDonald and one of the best closers in the game, Joel Hanrahan, to shut the door. This year could be different, and with an extra Wild Card spot up for grabs this season, the odds are in Pittsburgh’s favor.

How will the Giants win the West when Tim Lincecum is so bad?

Months ago, I wrote about the slow start of Giants starter Tim Lincecum. He hasn’t turned it around — at 3-10, he’s officially in that realm of “broken beyond repair,” for the rest of this season, at least.

It’s a very Jair Jurrjens-esque situation, because the Giants are paying Lincecum a boatload of money to get batters out. He hasn’t been successful, so what should San Francisco do? That 6.42 ERA continues to climb, and if the Giants can’t figure out what’s wrong with one of their fallen aces, the Dodgers will be tough to hold off.

Can the Phillies/Red Sox circus continue?

Philadelphia has been that bad, while Boston has been a revolving door of injuries and prospects getting promoted.

Starting with the Red Sox, there’s a fighting chance they’ll make a run before the season is over. Here’s why — despite a 43-43 record, the Red Sox have outscored opponents 432-389. If they can score runs at that rate the rest of the year, they can overcome lousy starts from their makeshift rotation. Factor this in, though: with the recent trade of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox, they might not have the leadership in the clubhouse to get it done.

The Phillies’ circus is looking more like the three-ring variety, and there isn’t much hope for the second half. Cliff Lee has one win in 14 starts, and their only starting pitcher with a winning record is Cole Hamels. This staff was supposed to be loaded, but this year, they wouldn’t even be loaded by water gun standards.

Who, if anyone, will be able to catch the Yankees and Rangers?

Yep, the Yankees are running away with the AL East yet again, and the Rangers are doing the same in the West. Both teams have winning percentages above .600 — the only two teams in the majors who can say that.

The scary thing about New York is they started slowly. Now, they have one of the best offenses in the league (again), in one of the deepest divisions.

As for the Rangers, they will only be challenged by the Anaheim Angels in the AL West, and while the Angels will be a formidable foe, I see no reason why the Rangers won’t win the division. The two might meet in the postseason, and I might even venture to say the Angels would be the only threat to a disruption of a Yankees-Rangers ALCS.

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