The MVP races in both leagues. At the moment, the leaders are the two most sensational talents to hit the scene in years; 25 year old Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and 20 year old Mike Trout of the Angels. McCutchen is hitting .373 with 22 homers. Trout is hitting .347 with 33 stolen bases. Both dazzle on defense and play with dashing flair. Loath as I am to anoint mere kids for immortality before they've begun to shave, it must be said they seem the real deal which further obliges us to recall that once upon a time we said that about Freddie Lynn.
Comeback of the decade: That would be the inscrutable AJ Burnett, rebounding from his epic folly with the Yankees to become prime contender for the NL's Cy Young award. First NL hurler to reach 14 wins, he's doing it the old-fashioned way with long outings of sharp, disciplined pitching high in strike outs and quality outings. It's not a mere comeback by AJ Burnett, it's a bloody metamorphosis. To think, the Yankees actually gave him away.
Team to root for: Has to be Pittsburgh's Pirates. After 19 consecutive dreadful losing seasons a storied franchise rather lost in time emerges from a deep sleep. What a story. McCutchen and Burnett are two keys. But the Bucs brim with young talent; Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, James McDonald. All nicely blended by enlightened new ownership and a rousing manager in Clint Hurdle. Haven't heard of these guys, you say. You will!
Team most likely to implode: My nominee is the Rangers. Suddenly their pitching looks awfully fragile. Josh Hamilton -- also fragile -- must snap out of it.
Am also not convinced of the Yankees' inevitability although a playoff berth would appear safe, the curious reservations of Bobby Valentine notwithstanding. In the NL, the Nationals remain unproven.
Team most likely to explode: Depends what you mean by the term "explode." Whether the connotation is negative as in "falling apart," or positive as in "taking off," the winner among baseball observers would probably be the Red Sox. They are as likely to finish last as make the World Series. Who can fathom them? Wise folks need not try.
Most interesting character under the microscope: Has to be Valentine. Un-mellowed by age. As mercurial as ever. Give him credit for being contemptuous of the conventional wisdom. But does it all add up to a death wish? The ending will have a certain Viking quality to it. Of that much, you can be sure.
Other players to watch: Only the more fascinating examples include the Reds' Joey Votto when he comes back from injury. The A's Cuban phenom Yoenis Cespedes disdained by the big-shot teams. The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg rebounding from Tommy John surgery and facing a shutdown. The Rays David Price. Can he win 25? The Yanks' Ichiro. Will he make a difference? Does Dan Duquette realize atonement in Baltimore? Does Don Mattingly overcome all the doubts in Los Angeles? Can Adam Dunn rebound from being AL's worst player to home-run champ?
There's lots to groove on these next few weeks. Welcome to "the Dog Days."
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