Touching base: Which AL stories will make headlines before October?

Touching base: Which AL stories will make headlines before October?

The Cubs and Cardinals got a jump start on the second half of the baseball season on Thursday night, but the rest of the teams are back at it today. N-G sports copy editor Jordan J. Wilson previews the compelling American League stories that could make headlines before October:

1. Eyes on the East

While the Red Sox and Yankees will both factor into October, there's a good chance we won't know which club will wear the divisional crown in the AL East until the last games of the season. David Ortiz thinks both clubs could end with at least 100 wins, and he isn't wrong. Alex Cora's Red Sox lead the Yankees by 41 / 2 games right now, but the teams will meet 10 times in the season's back half — including a three-game season finale at Fenway Park.

2. About those Sox ...

They are in possession of a crown jewel in the form of ace Chris Sale, whom Cy Young voters have passed over for the last time. Sale boasts the best ERA (2.23) and most strikeouts (188) in the AL, and the lefty hurler just started in his third straight All-Star Game. Perhaps more impressive is that the 29-year-old has allowed more than three runs just twice in 20 starts this season. Trevor Bauer and Luis Severino could still sizzle in the season's second half, but the honor should be Sale's to lose.

3. Winner by default?

What was once a tight race for AL Rookie of the Year has diminished since an injury kept Angels two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani out for the majority of June. Fans can only dream of what a healthy Ohtani could have done this season, and he still surely deserves some recognition. But Gleyber Torres is the obvious choice right now, despite missing the last 11 games. The young Yankees second baseman has 15 home runs in 63 games, a .294 batting average and a knack for hitting into the gaps.

4. Trout beats out Betts for MVP

Ignore the fact that Mookie Betts plays for a contender and Mike Trout's Angels are near the bottom of the AL West. The 26-year-old is still the best in the game. Trout leads MLB with a .454 on-base percentage and is on pace to hit 40 home runs this season, but the kicker is Betts has missed 19 game this year to Trout's zero. There is an argument, too, for Indians slugger Jose Ramirez, but Trout takes the cake.

5. Back to back?

Believe the hype behind the reigning world champions, as the Astros are a legitimate threat to become the first team to win consecutive World Series titles since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000. Third baseman Alex Bregman won MVP honors in the All-Star Game, while Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander have helped Houston cultivate a pitching staff that leads baseball in team ERA (2.94), strikeouts (1,042) and quality starts (65).

6. Time for Cleveland to focus on October

The Indians are sitting pretty atop the AL Central with little standing between them and their third straight divisional crown. And now they have reinforcements en route to beef up their bullpen after Cleveland acquired two-time All-Star closer Brad Hand from San Diego on Thursday. The Indians also got rookie reliever Adam Climber in the deal, providing Terry Francona the tools to make another strong push in October.

7. Mariners go wild

The Red Sox or Yankees are all but guaranteed to claim the AL's first wild-card spot. But there could be a party in Seattle for the first time since 2001. The A's trail by just three games and Seattle is prone to folding. But if All-Star Jean Segura stays hot at the plate, fellow All-Star Edwin Diaz (above) continues to lock down the bullpen and Robinson Cano can provide a jolt when he returns in August from his 80-game suspension, Seattle might be sleepless watching playoff baseball.

8. More yet to see this side of Windy

News flash: The White Sox are on course to finish fourth in the AL Central. Again. For a fifth straight year. But while the postseason fate, or lack thereof, is as good as written in stone, a few players are worth keeping an eye on. Like top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech, who both currently work out of Class AAA Charlotte and could get called up to the majors this season.

9. Kansas City Blues

Hard times have fallen on Kansas City since the Royals capped 2015 with their first World Series title since 1985. Ned Yost deserves credit for turning the club around for back-to-back AL pennants in 2014-15, but the win-now mentality from those years is catching up. In a bad way. World Series starters like Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain have all moved on, meaning the Royals are the worst team in baseball.

10. Arms dealing

The trade market is a little thin when it comes to pitchers, but a few could find themselves in new cities come August. The too-far-gone Rangers are resigned to next year, but could add value if they find a buyer for Cole Hamels, despite the 34-year-old lefty having a career-worst 4.36 ERA. The Phillies and Yankees are both reportedly interested in Toronto's J.A. Happ, while the Rays might deal closer Alex Colome.