Red Sox’ Title Chase, Pujols’ Campaign Among Top Stories to Watch


Jul 16, 2009

Red Sox' Title Chase, Pujols' Campaign Among Top Stories to Watch With half a season down and half to go, we’ve seen a whole lot of
interesting story lines emerge in baseball in 2009. As we start down
the stretch, the pennant races are on — the pressure is mounting, and
the tension is thicker than CC Sabathia’s waistline. Here are the top 10 stories to watch from now to season’s end:

10. What will Pedro do?
The Phillies introduced Pedro Martinez
as their newest pitcher on Wednesday, hoping the former Red Sox
superstar could ignite their struggling rotation — but they sent him
straight to the disabled list. Will Pedro return in time to lead the
defending champions back to the World Series?

9. Who comes out of the NL Central?
The champion of baseball’s worst division is anyone’s guess — St. Louis
holds a 2.5-game lead, but the Cardinals might be one big bat away from
being locks for a division title. The Cubs and Brewers are certainly
still in the mix, and a deadline deal from any NL Central team could
seriously shake things up. Even the last-place Pirates are only 9.5
games out of first.

8. How good are these Tigers?

Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander
have led Detroit to the best record in the American League Central in
the first half. The rest of that pitching staff is suspect, however,
and you have to wonder if the Tigers will fold down the stretch and
allow either of last year’s division contenders — Chicago or Minnesota
— to sneak into the playoffs.

7. Are the Rangers for real?

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter or Derek Holland,
but that doesn’t mean they can’t lead the Rangers to their first
division title since 1999. After years of ineptitude, the AL franchise
in the Lone Star State has hope — the Rangers are just 1.5 games off
the Angels’ pace in the AL West and threatening to make a run.

6. Are the Rays still in this thing?
The team’s still in third place, but you could still make the argument
that the Tampa Bay Rays have the best offense in the game. Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and even Ben Zobrist have been carrying the Rays back into the hunt — they’re 6.5 back, but if Scott Kazmir and David Price do what they’re capable of, these Rays are not dead.

5. Can the Mets rebound?

It’s been a bad couple of years to be a baseball fan in Queens, with
back-to-back late-season chokes sending the Mets home for the winter
before the playoffs. But while the Mets are in fourth place this
season, they’re still capable of making a run if Carlos Beltrán, José Reyes and Carlos Delgado can all return and give this team a late-season boost. Plus there’s the small matter of David Wright finding his power stroke.

4. Will the Yankees stick around?
There’s no doubting the offense with the Bronx Bombers, but with the health and effectiveness of Chien-Ming Wang always
in question, that pitching staff remains on thin ice. Will the staff
persevere? Or will the Yankees never fix their pitching staff’s holes,
opting to slug their way out of it instead? Or neither?

3. Et tu, Manny?
Even without superstar slugger Manny Ramirez
for 50 games, the L.A. Dodgers have maintained the best record in
baseball. Now, with Manny back in the lineup, they should cruise to the
NL playoffs and will probably be the favorites to win the pennant. Will
they hold up? Things look good now, but a lot can change over the next
two to three months.

2. What can’t Albert Pujols do?
He’s already proven himself to be the best hitter on the planet, bar
none. But this year, the Cardinals’ slugger can accomplish a lot more.
He can win his third MVP plaque before his 30th birthday, a feat shared
only by Barry Bonds and fellow Cardinals legend Stan Musial;
he can win baseball’s first Triple Crown in 42 years; and he can even
singlehandedly carry the Cardinals in the NL pennant race. It wouldn’t
be that surprising to see all three.

1. Can the Red Sox win it again?
In a decade defined by parity, the Red Sox have been the only team to
win more than one World Series. As the first 10 years of the 21st
century come to a close, the Red Sox are a serious threat to win their
third title — the offense is there, the rotation is deep and the
bullpen is among the best in the game.

Can the Sox return to the top of the baseball world? Sure — all
things considered, they’re likely baseball’s best team. But anything
can happen between now and the end of October. That’s why they play the

Here in Boston, they’ll play 74 of them — at the very least. Enjoy the second half.

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