Around Baseball: Midseason questions

Josh Weir

The Cubs are probably the best team in baseball. The Rays are in first place. The Indians are in last.

The 2008 Major League Baseball season has been strange so far. It’s hard to imagine what might be in store after the All-Star break.

Here are some burning questions as baseball heads into recess time.

Can the Rays really keep this up? After winning 11 of 12 games, including a sweep of the Red Sox (June 30- July 2), they’re limping into the All-Star break. The main culprit: A struggling offense. The youthful Rays will have a difficult time holding off Boston.

Can Minnesota keep pressure on the White Sox? At first glance, the Twins are made up of two great position players (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau), a dominant closer (Joe Nathan) and a bunch of role players. But the Twins are fast. They rarely beat themselves. They’re pitching staff is over-achieving. And they’re just ... well, the Twins. They went into Saturday 1 1/2 games back of the White Sox in the AL Central.

Will the disappointments get second life? The Tigers are lurking in the AL Central after starting the season 0-7. The Mets fired their manager and now are on the Phillies’ heels in the NL East. As for the Indians, Rockies, Blue Jays and Mariners, see y’all in the spring.

How many times will Hank Steinbrenner go off in the second half?  The Yankees are in the news more for their third baseman’s personal life, less for their play. Currently sitting in third place in the AL East, the Bombers’ last season in Yankee Stadium isn’t shaping up to be all that special.

Who will get the trade deadline MVP? CC Sabathia for the Brewers? Rich Harden for the Cubs? Is there someone else out there about to make a bigger impact? Matt Holliday is biggest bat potentially out there.

Will there be any individual history?  Chipper Jones’ pursuit of .400 isn’t looking good at the moment. He’s hovering around .375 as he battles numerous aches and pains. He hasn’t been at .400 since June 18. As for Josh Hamilton’s flirtation with the AL Triple Crown, he went into the weekend tied for 10th in batting average (.309), tied for second in home runs (21) and leading in RBIs (91) by a wide margin.

It might be a longshot, but Grady Sizemore could be capable of joining the 40/40 club. He went into Saturday with an AL-leading 22 home runs, along with 21 stolen bases.

Ray Stars

The Rays are the first team since the 1986 Mets to have three All-Stars all 24-years-old or younger. The Rays will be represented by Evan Longoria (22), Scott Kazmir (24) and Dioner Navarro (24) at Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium.

The ‘86 Mets were represented by Dwight Gooden (21), Darryl Strawberry (24) and Sid Fernandez (24).

They said it

Dodgers Manager Joe Torre on Hiroki Kuroda’s one-hitter Monday: “That was about as robotic as I’ve ever seen any pitcher just throw one strike after another. He was like a machine.”

Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas on Roy Halladay’s two-hit shutout of the Yankees Friday: “That’s one of the best starts I’ve ever caught.”

Veteran arm

According to The Associated Press, Josh Hamilton has asked 71-year-old Clay Council to pitch to him in Monday’s Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Council has thrown batting practice to Hamilton since the All-Star’s high school days.

Trophies everywhere

There were four World Series MVPs playing in Wednesday’s Red Sox-Twins game. They were Livan Hernandez (1997), Josh Beckett (2003), Manny Ramirez (2004) and Mike Lowell (2007).

Reach Repository sports writer Josh Weir at (330) 580-8426 or e-mail