Much of the focus as baseball heads into the second half is on the possible suspensions of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and a handful of All-Stars implicated in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
Puigmania, a Pirates revival and one impressive power show in Baltimore may shift the gaze back onto the field.
What to look for in the second half, that begins Friday:
The clock is ticking
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The Washington Nationals need a healthy Bryce Harper to get into a groove and help them chase down Atlanta.
The big-spending Dodgers are suddenly surging, 17-5 since June 22, thanks to the youthful exuberance of Yasiel Puig.
North of the border, the Blue Jays made the biggest offseason moves, but NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has been mostly off target and Toronto finds itself last in the AL East.
Pedro Alvarez and the Pirates appear ready to put 20 years of misery behind them, after two years of teasing their fans before fading down the stretch.
In Los Angeles, it’s only been California dreamin’ so far for Josh Hamilton in his first year as an Angel. He’ll have to lift his .224 average and .413 slugging percentage for the Angels to overtake the pesky A’s.
Baltimore’s big bopper, Chris Davis, is off on a race of his own. With 37 homers before the break — tying Reggie Jackson (1969) for best ever in the AL — talk of the season home-run record is bubbling again.
Crush Davis, however, doesn’t have his sights set on Barry Bonds’ 73 homers, he wants to top Roger Maris’ 61, the number he thinks is the legitimate, untainted mark.
“After everything came out, I assumed 61 was the record,” Davis said. “I think it’s what a lot of fans would agree on.”
A half for the aged?
The injury-ravaged Yankees have hung around in the potent AL East with a “Who’s on First?” lineup. Now they should get Derek Jeter back after a one-game false start, and Rodriguez’s return from offseason hip surgery is imminent.
Talking about being back, how about Manny Ramirez — all the way from Taiwan? The twice-suspended slugger is hitting .300 with three homers in eight games for Texas’ top minor-league club and the Rangers are in need of a big righty bat. Could it be the dreadlocked Ramirez?
Cuban defector agrees to sign with Orioles
BALTIMORE — The Orioles have agreed to terms with Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez, according to an industry source.
The 24-year-old Alvarez defected from Cuba last summer, played in Mexico and was declared a free agent in January.
The Orioles consider Alvarez a five-tool player who could move quickly up the team’s minor-league system, much like Cuban defector Henry Urrutia, who will likely join Baltimore on Friday after just 67 games in the minors.
The Mariners, Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Royals, Padres and Diamondbacks reportedly showed interest in Alvarez.
• Injured Braves 1B Freddie Freeman could return to the field Friday or Saturday.
• X-rays this week showed that the broken bone in Angels OF Peter Bourjos’ right wrist hasn’t fully healed, a setback that will delay his return by one or two more weeks.
• Yankees SS Derek Jeter remains day-to-day with a strained hamstring.
• Matt Chapman’s RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning gave Team USA a 2-1 victory over Cuba in Des Moines, Iowa. It was the opener of a five-game series between Cuba and a team of American college stars, and the first between the countries on American soil since 1996.
• The Class A Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts were no-hit for the third time this season when Clinton (Iowa) pitcher Victor Sanchez beat them 1-0 Wednesday. The Lugnuts were no-hit only once in their first 17 seasons.
• The Chicago Cubs’ planned $500 million renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley Field won the approval of another city commission and the support of the local alderman, all but assuring the project will go forward.