Baseball's unofficial start to the second half begins on Thursday, and with it the last chance for many teams to find answers to the questions that will determine who is playing in baseball's second season: the playoffs. (NOTE: Teams presented in order of current standings).
American League East
Red Sox -- We know they can win without David Ortiz (23-16 since his wrist injury). But does a Big Papi return -- he was slugging only .486 -- spell certain doom for the rest of the AL East?
Rays -- All these division upstarts have to do is learn to win on the road (36-14 at Tropicana Field, 19-25 away from home). Can a call-up from hard-throwing lefty David Price help them do that?
Yankees -- Say Joba Chamberlain is everything the Yanks want. Say Alex Rodriguez turns in another MVP performance. Can aging Mike Mussina (11-6, 3.61 ERA) continue to rescue an injury-depleted starting pitching corps?
Orioles -- They won't make the postseason, or be much of a factor in the division race. But the O's are improved. Will Peter Angelos continue to let GM Andy MacPhail do what needs to be done to get this team into contention in the future?
Blue Jays -- What can GM J.P. Ricciardi do at the trade deadline -- besides dump A.J. Burnett, that is -- to set this team up for a real run at the division title next year? It's not happening in '08.
American League Central
White Sox -- Will Ozzie Guillen go nuts again? Wait, wait. That's a given. OK, is Paul Konerko (.217) going to be any help at all to the AL Central leaders in the second half?
Twins -- Painfully young and surprisingly efficient, the Twins will need breakout second halves from guys like 24-year-old right-hander Kevin Slowey (6-6, 4.26) to hang around in what was billed in the preseason as baseball's toughest division. Will they get them?
Tigers -- Everybody knows the bullpen's a mess and needs fixing. That's not the only problem, though. Can this team continue to carry quickly aging shortstop Edgar Renteria (.301 OBP)?
Royals -- Since their 12-game losing streak, they're 22-19. For K.C., there's only this: Can they take some more baby steps?
Indians -- A disastrous first half has sent GM Mark Shapiro back to the drawing board. Minor league stud Matt LaPorta, acquired in the CC Sabathia deal, should help down the road. What other changes will the Tribe make with an eye toward '09?
American League West
Angels -- Good pitching and lame hitting can still win the West. To do more than that, though, the Halos will need some more from aging Garret Anderson (.263, .302 OBP). Does he have anything left?
A's -- He built a team that was nothing short of stunning in the first half, then traded away starters Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. And you still doubt GM Billy Beane?
Rangers -- Can a team with no apparent pitching, a lineup that can pound with just about anyone and a manager (Ron Washington) who pulls it all together really find success in the AL West?
Mariners -- Should a manager (newly installed Jim Riggleman) be judged on whether he can make this team (an MLB-worst 20 games out already) respectable? It hardly seems fair.
National League East
Phillies -- The defending division champions have All-Stars up and down the lineup and the best bullpen in the NL (2.71 ERA). But will Jimmy Rollins (.274) regain his MVP form?
Mets -- Nine wins in a row have brought them back into the NL East picture, so they can certainly win it. Will Pedro Martinez (3-2, 6.25) help in the second half, or is mediocrity all he can deliver?
Marlins -- Manager Fredi Gonzalez has done a masterful job in bringing together this big-swing, big-miss, bad-glove team. But can they win if Ricky Nolasco is their ace?
Braves -- Despite some gut-shots to the pitching staff, this team can wing it (allowing 4.03 runs per game, second in the NL). But will All-Stars Chipper Jones and Brian McCann continue to be their only reliable offensive threats?
Nationals -- The talent isn't nearly deep enough. The FBI is looking into GM Jim Bowden's financial dealings with free agents. How bad can things get in the nation's capital?
National League Central
Cubs -- The lineup is awesome and the pitching staff is enviably deep, making them a good bet to get to the World Series. But they're just 16-14 since Alfonso Soriano went down. Can he stay healthy?
Cardinals -- No one would have figured this: No-names (well, and Albert Pujols) pace this team. But where will the Cards be if starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright don't come back healthy?
Brewers -- With CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, they're built to win in the postseason -- if they can get there. The question, then, is this: Can they finally get a little offensive boost from guys like Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall?
Reds -- Again, they stand no chance at making the postseason. So, looking to next season, can GM Walt Jocketty pull off some kind of a trade for slugger Adam Dunn? (Hint: I don't think it will be to Toronto.)
Pirates -- They're dying to start their rebuilding under new management. Jason Bay and Xavier Nady should be traded. But is that anywhere near enough to make them competitive in '09?
Astros -- A lost season with a lot of rancor and a little pushing has showcased this team's ineptitude and dysfunction. Is controversial GM Ed Wade the guy to build a cohesive, productive team?
National League West
Diamondbacks -- Forget the "still young" excuses already. This team has pitching, and may yet get enough hitting to support it. So is centerfielder Chris Young (.296 OBP) going to do his part?
Dodgers -- In a limping division like the NL West, just about anyone can win. But are the Dodgers finally willing to give up some prospects to get a hitter to tip the scales?
Giants -- The young pitchers (Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson) are fantastic. But who among the young position players is finally going to break out?
Rockies -- Matt Holliday may get traded, but even if he isn't, the tumbling Rocks have to find out who they can count on in '09. So which Troy Tulowitzki will show up: the one who's hitting .166 in 39 games this season, or the one who drew comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr. as a rookie while helping the Rockies to the World Series last year?
Padres -- Wow, what a mess this has been. The Padres could look stunningly different in '09. And it should start now. Will lone All-Star Adrian Gonzalez sue for a lack of support?