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LOPRESTI: On deck, intriguing baseball scenarios await resolution

July 18, 2015

mike lopresti sportsSo the American League won the All-Star Game. You know what that means, of course? Yes, the Cubs will be playing Game 7 of the World Series away from Wrigley Field.

This concludes the fantasy portion of the program, so let’s move on. The first half of the baseball season poses questions. Part II gives us solutions. Among the things we’ll find out about the teams who are nearest and dearest to the hearts of most fans in this neighborhood:

• When do the Indianapolis-stocked Pirates catch the Cardinals, as the Pittsburgh-St. Louis season series bubbles into the best in the game? Or do they?

• When do the Reds trade Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman? And is there a pink slip in the manager’s future in Cincinnati?

• Do the White Sox ever get out of last place? And up the red line in Chicago, do the Cubs ever wake up one morning and remember, well, they’re the Cubs?

If you’re a Reds fan, you’ve watched Billy Hamilton steal 44 bases in 50 attempts, possibly the best success rate for thievery since the James gang. Todd Frazier—aka the Home Run Derby king— set a pace to become the first man with 40 homers and 40 doubles in the history of the franchise, which goes back to four years after the Civil War. You’ve seen Aroldis Chapman strike out 65 batters in 37 innings, and convert 53 consecutive save opportunities at home, going back to 2012. Joey Votto passed last year’s homer total on April 28 and last year’s RBI output on May 30. Five different rookie pitchers start games.

But you’ve also watched the third-highest bullpen earned run average in the National League. And a .210 team batting average with runners in scoring position. Which is how a team with this many intriguing individuals can reach the break at 15-1/2 games out of first place.

If you’re a Cubs fan, you’ve seen a team go 9-4 in extra innings, and win 19 one-run games before the break. Only clubs with good karma usually do that sort of thing, and when’s the last time anyone used that phrase discussing the Cubs? You’ve seen Kris Bryant hit multiple grand slams, and the only other Cubs rookies to do that hit them in 1962 and 1890. You’ve seen Lafayette’s own Clayton Richard became the 2,000th man to appear in a game for the Cubs, and Chris Coghlan push his major-league-leading consecutive-games streak to 150 at the break. Meaning he’s due to catch Cal Ripken late in the year 2030.

But you also saw a .215 team batting average in the 19 games before the break, and wonder if that is a sign of some sort of Cubs swoon, with the Mets and Giants in the rearview mirror for the last wild card spot. You’ve seen swoons before.

If you’re a White Sox fan, you’ve had the pleasure of watching Chris Sale pitch every fifth day, striking out the enemy in waves. He has fanned 10-plus in seven consecutive road games this season and, according to the number crunchers at Elias Sports Bureau, no one else in the modern history of the game has done that. We’re talking since 1900. You’ve seen 19 one-run wins, most in the AL. And just as many as the Cubs. You’ve seen and liked the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Series sweep of the Astros. You just don’t like the fact the White Sox have won exactly one postseason game since 2005.

You’ve also seen a team that seems momentarily frozen by the national anthem, getting outscored 67-27 in the first inning. And a team whose 292 runs at the break were 18 fewer than anyone else in the majors. Hence, to no one’s shock, last place.

If you’re a Cardinals fan, you’ve seen a team with the best record and best pitching ERA in baseball, despite losing its ace, its Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, and its center fielder for significant stretches of time. You’ve seen the nifty work of Mike Matheny, a manager who, in his first three years, has already written out the lineup card for 39 postseason games. And a bullpen so steady, the Cardinals at the break were 44-2 when leading after seven innings and 49-0 when leading after eight.

But you’ve also seen the injuries keep coming, and wonder when that starts to show. Especially with the Pirates on the move. If you’re a Pirates fan, you’ve seen a team go 40-19 from May 9 to the All-Star break, and go 14-5 in one-run games at home

The Pirates and Cardinals have played 10 times so far this season, and five have gone extra innings. They have nine more meetings—six in St. Louis, where the Cardinals swept Pittsburgh in three early games, all of them going beyond the ninth.

Should be fun. Should be enlightening. Should be decisive. But then, that’s what the second half of a season is for.•

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Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mlopresti@ibj.com.

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