The start of July signals the halfway point in the MLB regular season. With the All-Star Game set for July 14 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, the Midsummer Classic is clearly one of the storylines to watch this month. But it's not alone, as pennant races will heat up and the July 31 trade deadline looms. Here's a rundown of the five storylines that are sure to sizzle this month
Will Kris Bryant or Joc Pederson separate themselves in the NL ROY race?
The future of baseball seems to be loaded with power, if this year’s rookies are indicative of the shift in baseball. In the NL, the race for Rookie of the Year already seems to be down to a battle between Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant and Dodgers’ center fielder Joc Pederson. Both players have gotten off to incredible starts, especially as they were both highly rated prospects. The question though is whether either one will take a decisive lead in the rookie race. As of now, Bryant leads Pederson in batting average, hits and RBIs despite playing in 11 fewer games. However, Pederson leads rookies definitively with 20 home runs and has a higher on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Bryant. Defensively, Bryant has been more than serviceable at the hot corner, while Pederson has made his share of highlight-reel plays in center field. There is still more than half a season left, but July will be an important month for both players, not to mention their respective teams.
Pitching is all about Chris: Archer and Sale
There have been several pitchers who have heated up as of late, but few dominated in June like Chris Archer and Chris Sale. Archer currently boasts a 2.31 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 17 starts. In June alone, Archer went 4-1 in six starts, including a three-game stretch where he struck out 34 in 20 innings. Sale has been just as dominant, as he closed out June with his eighth straight start with at least 10 strikeouts, tying Pedro Martinez's all-time record for the longest such streak. Sale may only have six wins, but you could make a strong case that the ace of the AL Central's last-place White Sox should start the All-Star Game in two weeks. Then again, the same could be said for Archer, who is leading the surprising pitching staff for the AL East's first-place Rays, who are tied with the Orioles entering July. The intensity each displays on the mound is incredible, and it will be interesting to see how long each will be able to maintain this level of performance.
MLB Trade Deadline: Who's moving?
On the last day of July, the trade deadline will come. However, between now and then, it's entirely possible that some big-name players will change teams. Some teams will seek to maximize their return on desirable assets in hopes of jumpstarting a rebuild, while others are looking to add that key player who will hopefully contribute to a deep playoff run. Players that have already been linked to trades include pitchers Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, and hitters Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Zobrist. Each of these high-profile players brings veteran experience and immediate results to any team in need. Many players have been talked about in trades since last year, so keep an eye out for a blockbuster or two.
Standings Shakeups: Which teams will continue to win and which need to rebound?
As always, several teams have outperformed preseason expectations, while others have struggled to win. The Rays, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Giants and Mets have all enjoyed success at a level beyond what was expected of them. The Astros have certainly garnered the most attention, led by a bevy of young players; orchestrating a surprising turnaround given their results from the past few seasons. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, Mariners and White Sox have been among the biggest disappointments, after each attacked free agency aggressively and made significant moves during the offseason. None of the teams are completely out of the playoff race just yet, but unless an extensive winning streak is on the horizon, it's likely each team could make some changes before the trade deadline. Specifically, the Red Sox need pitching (last in AL, 28th in MLB in ERA) and the Mariners and White Sox need hitting (29th and 30th in MLB in runs scored, respectively).
All-Star Game: What will happen next?
This year's All-Star Game will be played at Great American Ball Park, an NL stadium, but it's the potential makeup of the AL team that's getting the most attention. With the Royals dominating the All-Star voting, it seems that changes to the process could be on the forefront. Whether or not action happens immediately, the dialogue will be important. Baseball has arguably the most important All-Star exhibition out of any of the big four sports because the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. The question is if new Commissioner Rob Manfred addresses the issue, which will certainly be a larger topic for debate. However, don't expect any rules changes in July, as those discussions and decisions will be saved for the offseason.