Will the Pirates collapse again?: In 2011, Pittsburgh finished the season on an 18-41 skid that led to a 19th consecutive sub-.500 season. Last year the Pirates were 16-36 down the stretch to finish at 79-83 and extend the streak to 20 seasons. They are 56-37 now, so it would take a 24-45 slump to drop them below .500. It doesn’t seem possible, but last year in particular was surprising. More importantly, the Pirates also have a chance to end their 20-year postseason drought.
Can Chris Davis reach the 60-homer plateau: Only five players, and just eight times combined, have ever hit 60 homers in a season. And, you know, wink, wink, that was from a different era. Not everyone is all that impressed by Barry Bonds’ 73, Mark McGwire’s 70 and 65, or Sammy Sosa’s 66, 64 and 63 any more. Why was that again? Anyway, Babe Ruth’s 60 and Roger Maris’ 61 are still a pretty strong gold standard. Davis is on pace for 62.
Biogenesis: Kind of like when Ohio State was allowed to play the Sugar Bowl with players who would be suspended the following season, Major League Baseball has indicated that it likely won’t be able to enforce any of its suspensions regarding the Biogenesis investigation until next season, since the suspensions would likely be appealed or possibly reviewed by an arbitrator. Great news for fans of the Rangers (Nelson Cruz), A’s (Bartolo Colon), Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) and Tigers (Jhonny Peralta), whose teams apparently won’t be affected in the pennant race or postseason. Bad news for fans of the Brewers (Ryan Braun), whose season is already over and would then start with a major disadvantage next season.
Royals rebound?: Kansas City is relevant again, though .500 remains a more realistic goal (the Royals are 43-49) than the playoffs (they are eight games out of first place). The Royals run a strong collection of starting pitchers to the mound, though they are looking for a viable No. 5 option (Danny Duffy?). The bullpen is sound, with enough to choose from at Class AAA Omaha to mix and match, recalling hot pitchers and sending the struggling ones down. The everyday lineup hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but it’s improving from a slow start. It’s worth watching to see if the Royals will give slugging second baseman Johnny Giavotella the chance to be the everyday guy for three months instead of just a handful of games here and there. Look for the Royals to possibly move Bruce Chen at the trade deadline, but also check to see if they are buyers instead of sellers for the first time in a decade. That mindset requires a strong second-half start at home against the Tigers and Orioles. If Kansas City can hold its own, then 12 consecutive September dates against the Tigers and Indians could be very interesting.
Josh Hamilton and R.A. Dickey?: The highest-profile acquisitions of the offseason were the Angels grabbing Josh Hamilton as a free agent and Toronto reeling in Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey by trade. How’s that worked out? Well, Hamilton, whose late fade last year sent him from front-runner for the MVP for the second time in three years to fifth (though Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown and Mike Trout’s sensational season would have probably trumped Hamilton), has continued his slide. He’s hitting just .224 and is on pace for 24 homers and 68 RBIs after getting 43 and 128 last year while hitting .285. And the Angels aren’t winning, again, despite a huge payroll. Also struggling are the Blue Jays, who looked so improved after landing Dickey, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson and others. But the veteran knuckleballer, who was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and a National League-leading 230 strikeouts last year, is a mundane 8-10 with a 4.69 ERA that puts his ERA+ at a below-league average 93. Reyes, Cabrera and Johnson have all missed time because of injuries. And the Blue Jays are 45-49.