Big questions remain for the second half

It’s certainly been an unpredictable and exciting first half to the 2012 season. Who would’ve guessed the White Sox would be in first place at the All-Star break? How many people thought the Tigers would be in third, struggling to stay above .500? Who saw the demise of Tim Lincecum on the horizon? Who knew the Cubs would be so historically bad? (Okay, everyone saw that one coming). But we all know it’s not over till it’s over, so here we are at the halfway point with many questions still facing the Cubs, Sox, Tigers and Giants as they enter the second half of the season. Here are some of the biggest and my hunch for each:

Will the Cubs get good value for their trade bait? YES.
Theo Epstein & Co. should be on their hands and knees thanking Bud Selig for expanding the playoff field this year. With 19 of 30 MLB clubs currently in a playoff spot or within 2.5 games of a Wild Card, there may never have been a better seller’s market as we rapidly approach the trade deadline. And the 33-52 Cubs are clearly the biggest sellers out there with relatively little competition as they continue to attempt to rebuild from the ground up. Expect a long line of desperate GMs to form at Clark & Addison to offer their best prospects for prime commodities like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and even Bryan LaHair as the July 31st deadline approaches with an unprecedented number of teams jockeying to bolster their rosters for a playoff berth.

Will the Sox let Chris Sale pitch 200 innings? NO.
The Scarecrow has been phenomenal in his 102.2 innings thus far this year. But the 23-year old has never pitched more than 130 innings in a season. It would be reckless of the Sox to let Sale get anywhere near that huge of a jump in innings. In a similar situation, the Washington Nationals have made it no secret they are going to limit their prodigy, Stephen Strasburg to 160 innings.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the Sox will shut Sale down in August as the Nats have promised to do with Strasburg, but he may have to be skipped a few times in the rotation and his starts may be limited to five innings from here on out to make sure he’s available down the stretch.

Will the Tigers trade for a second baseman? NO.
Though Detroit’s issues have been equally numerous and perplexing, one glaring weakness has come to the fore: lack of production at second base. Tigers second basmen have combined for a pathetic .532 OPS this season, good for LAST in the majors. But the same seller’s market that is going to work to the advantage of the Cubs is going to work against the Tigers. There’s just not much out there and the few palatable morsels available such as Marco Scutaro (.701 OPS, 4 HRs, 24 RBI) or Darwin Barney (.666 OPS, 3 HRs, 23 RBI) don’t really whet the appetite and will simply aren’t worth parting with any prospects of value. Jed Lowrie (.803 OPS, 14 HRs, 36 RBI) and Kelly Johnson‘s (.721 OPS, 10 HRs, 37 RBI) names have been thrown out there and sound like nice options, but it would require a position change for Lowrie from shortstop and either would cost a top prospect like Nick Castellanos or Jacob Turner—definitely not worth it.  Speaking of worth, It looks like  Danny Worth is going to be the stopgap solution for now as the Tigers just recalled him from Triple-A Toledo this morning. His .182 AVG in 30 games for the Tigers earlier this season certainly doesn’t inspire confidence, but it’s better than moving any prospects for such mediocre options out there.  I would like to see GM Dave Dombrowski go after starting pitching instead, hopefully the aforementioned Matt Garza because of his prior AL experience and favorable contract status.

Can the Giants win the NL West with an underperforming Tim Lincecum? YES.
The Freak’s 
troubles have been well-chronicled here and just about every other baseball media outlet. His 3-10 record, 6.42 ERA, and 1.58 WHIP are astonishingly bad for the two-time Cy Young award winner.  Everything from loss of fastball velocity to lack of dope smoking has been blamed for his demise, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to turn around for Big Time Timmy Jim. However, the Giants find themselves only a half game behind the overachieving Dodgers in the race for the NL West.  The Dodgers have used smoke and mirrors to get to this point after losing Matt Kemp for months, riding the unusually hot bat of Andre Ethier. The Dodgers haven’t shown they can stay healthy with Kemp, Ethier, Mark Ellis and Dee Gordon all taking turns on the DL. That trend will catch up with them down the stretch, opening the door for the Giants.  Even without Lincecum, Giants pitching is more than deep enough to overtake LA with Mr. Perfect Matt Cain anchoring the rotation along with strong contributors Ryan Vogelsong (7-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.12 WHIP), Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.27 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), and even the zombie Barry Zito (7-6, 4.01 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) showing signs of life. Couple that with a far more consistent offense than that of any of their division rivals led by All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera and fellow All-Stars Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey and the division race should be a laugher by the end of August even without the help of Lincecum.  I predicted the Giants would make the World Series back in April and I’m not about to back off now.

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