He brought new eyes to the Home Run Derby. He forced Major League Baseball to change its All-Star Game rules.

Now, will Shohei Ohtani get the chance to make an impact in October?

As Major League Baseball kicks off its second half on Thursday night with a showdown between the Red Sox and the Yankees in the Bronx, Ohtani remains the person to watch the most, the best story of the game.

The two-way stud, surveying the industry with 33 homers while posting a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts on the mound, presents itself as the American League MVP for keeping his angels (45-44) on the fringes of the playoff race, 5½ games behind Athletics for second place on the Junior Tour (and nine games behind the Astros) in the AL West. They are long shots, no doubt.

Nonetheless, if Ohtani can somehow duplicate his ridiculous contributions from the first half; if Mike Trout can come back soon from his long time on the injured list for a strained right calf and remind people he’s good enough too; if the Angels can somehow cast better beyond Ohtani, what a godsend for the sport it would be to place such a transcendent figure in their prime. Monday night’s Derby at Coors Field posted its best ratings since 2017, and it was with Ohtani falling to the Nationals’ Juan Soto in a first-round thriller. Imagine the global audience if Ohtani could do his thing in the most important games?

Angels Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani throws in the MLB All-Star Game on July 13, 2021.
Getty Images

Other than that, we’ll just have to settle for seeing if Ohtani can break Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record in AL of 61 while racking up, say, 150 strikeouts as a pitcher. Which would be quite spectacular in itself.

Here are nine more storylines from the second half that will grab your attention:

2. Jacob deGrom and the Mets

Put Jacob deGrom
Can Jacob deGrom win both NL MVP and Cy Young?
Corey Sipkin

After missing the All-Star Game, can the sport’s second best two-way player stay healthy, maintain his ERA (1.08) below the 1968 Bob Gibson gold standard (1.12) and increase his OPS (0.758) above 0.800 to become the first double MVP / Cy Young Award winner since Clayton Kershaw in 2014? Most importantly for Mets fans, can deGrom pay a tribute to Madison Bumgarner in October and lead his team to their third title?

3. The deadline for the exchange of Cubs

“Life comes to you quickly,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last week in tribute to fellow Chicagoan Ferris Bueller as well as calling the bugle to the likely end of an era of the Cubs.

Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Joc Pederson and Anthony Rizzo are all in their walking years. How many will Hoyer unload by the July 30 trade deadline? Will it matter if the Cubs, 44-46 away from their division and wildcard runs, play well out of the gate against soft opponents (the Diamondbacks and Cardinals)?

The Cubs’ recent slippage takes some of the glamor and influence away from the very underwhelming Twins, who can buy Jose Berrios (under control until next year) as well as impending free agents Nelson Cruz, JA Happ and Michael Pineda and, if they really wanted to tear things down, Josh Donaldson and Taylor Rogers.

4. Trevor Bauer

Will he relaunch this season? Will he ever relaunch in the big leagues? The top free agent pitcher last winter quickly penalized the Dodgers for ignoring the myriad of red flags surrounding him and paying him $ 102 million. He is currently on administrative leave as MLB and the Pasadena, Calif., Police Department investigate allegations that he committed sexual assault. His status hangs over the thrilling National League West race between the defending champions the Dodgers, currently in second, against the shocking Giants, first, and the thrilling Padres, in third.

5. The pursuit of the triple crown of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

We now understand that neither batting average nor RBI are particularly useful metrics. Nonetheless, the Triple Crown still has a romance, as we saw when Miguel Cabrera captured it in 2012, the first such achievement since Carl Yastrzemski did in 1967. Newly released Vladdy Jr. his MVP performance in the All-Star Game, currently leads the AL in batting (0.332) and RBI (73) while behind Ohtani by five homers (28).

6. Health

This has been a predictable task for many players as MLB returns to the standard 162-game schedule after only playing 60 last year during the pandemic. The Mets deserve credit for fighting through their blizzard of evils, but they’ve also taken advantage of their opponents’ misfortune. Most recently, the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. lost for the season with an ACL tear in his right knee. Baseball surely doesn’t want its playoffs to turn into a Darwinian display of survival like this year’s NBA playoffs.

7. The Yankees

Yankees Aaron Boone
Aaron Boone and the Yankees have a tough road ahead of them.
Corey Sipkin

Oh, there they are! All the way down at # 7, despite the inherent bias in New York City, due to their mediocrity. Can they come out of their hole, with eight of their first 10 games against the resurgent Red Sox? A massive sell-off by the deadline seems pretty unlikely no matter how they fare. Also quite unlikely? Aaron Boone, in the final year of his contract, lands another deal if the Yankees can’t fix that.

8. Sticky stuff

Despite all the early criticism of the search and seizure of referees, the crackdown on foreign substances has largely worked so far, with only one pitcher (Seattle’s Hector Santiago, who is appealing his 10-game suspension) getting caught. , and with a slightly rising attack. . And hey, prime suspect Gerrit Cole even dominated the Astros on watch. Would it be such a simple solution? We will find out in the coming months.

9. The Astros

They’ll perform in front of Dodgers fans August 3-4 at Chavez Ravine, the first such gig since their sign-stealing revelations in 2017, and don’t be surprised if they make Yankees fans look tame and tame. respectful in comparison. Either way, Houston’s dominance under Dusty Baker is remarkable. Can the best villains of any professional sport currently reach their third World Series in five years?

10. COVID-19

Sorry, we weren’t quite done with that scenario, or didn’t you see the Phillies’ Alec Bohm pulled out of a game just before the break after testing positive? With seven teams falling below the 85% threshold for vaccination that would limit them to a myriad of restrictions – and make them much more vulnerable to the Delta variant – this virus will unfortunately continue to play a role in this season’s results.

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