SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Across the globe, everybody is watching Shohei Ohtani in awe and intrigue.
Major League Baseball can only love the attention from around the world surrounding the Angels’ two-way star and the spotlight he’s brought to the sport.
Can Ohtani keep this up? An encore to a sensational first half? He leads the majors with 33 home runs and has shown no signs of slowing down or slumping — and should soon have a healthy Mike Trout back in the lineup with him.
Pitchers across the big leagues are doing their part so far, too.
There have already been seven no-hitters in the majors this season, matching the mark for most in one year during the modern era. The record of eight was set in 1884, the first season overhand pitching was allowed.
Will Jacob deGrom, Walker Buehler and Gerrit Cole join the list soon? And will the uproar over sticky substances tamp down?
Manager Torey Lovullo and the Arizona Diamondbacks are eager for a fresh start, determined to forget that record 24-game road losing streak in which they went more than two months without a win out of Chase Field.
The rush to the playoffs — and the judgments — for fans all over begin Thursday night when the second half opens with one game: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and the AL East-leading Red Sox visiting Yankee Stadium to start an early stretch that could decide New York’s fate.
Here are some things to watch when play resumes:
Trevor Story, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Gibson are sure to attract plenty of attention as the July 30 trade deadline — moved up a day this year — rapidly approaches.
Story becomes a free agent after this season and Colorado might try to get something for the star shortstop. Rockies teammate C.J. Cron also will draw interest.
At 41, all Cruz does is continue to hit home runs. He’s got 18 more this year and is batting .304. In a down year for the Twins, the big bopper at Target Field is sure to be a trade target.
Gibson, enjoying his best season ever on the mound, and slugger Joey Gallo could be on the move if Texas wants prospect packages for its All-Stars.
Arizona infielder Eduardo Escobar and Miami outfielder Starling Marte would be solid fits for plenty of contenders.
OH, YES, OH-TANI
No matter which coast or division, all eyes are on Ohtani, especially after he topped 500 feet in the Home Run Derby and threw 100 mph heat as the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game.
The two-way Japanese phenom is five homers ahead of All-Star Game MVP Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. for the big league lead. He’s also got 70 RBIs, just three behind Guerrero for most in the majors.
Want more? He’s tied for AL lead with four triples. No one has led in league in homers and triples since Jim Rice in 1978 (before that, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays both did it in 1955). Plus, Ohtani tops the Angels with 12 stolen bases.
On the mound, he’s 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts. He’s struck out 87 in 67 innings, allowing just 46 hits.
“Obviously the difficult part is the preparation, you prepare differently as a pitcher and a hitter, and it’s different for me every day,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “Just getting used to the preparation, that’s the biggest challenge.”
At 57-32, reinvigorated Buster Posey, resurgent Kevin Gausman and the surprising San Francisco Giants not only lead the talented NL West, they own the best record in baseball — with two more wins than the Red Sox and Houston Astros both at 55-36.
In a division the defending World Series champion Dodgers or San Diego Padres were expected to dominate, it’s second-year manager Gabe Kapler’s Giants with an unexpected place at the top.
“With our performance so far as a team we get asked a lot, ‘What’s the secret?’” said Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball operations. “There’s no one thing, it’s a lot of things that have gone well. Our veteran guys not just performing well but really setting the tone in the clubhouse and how they go about it on a day in, day out basis.”
The Giants swept Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals in four straight at San Francisco ahead of the break.
“We’ve been battling day in and day out,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said. “But they understand that when we come back, we’ve got to come back and start off strong.”
Aaron Judge and the Yankees weren’t supposed to be eight games out of first place and 4 1/2 behind for a wild-card spot right now, but there they are. New York plays the Red Sox in eight of its first 10 games out of the break — a bad showing could turn the Yanks from buyers into sellers in a hurry.
Many clubs counting on contending come September are depending on a superstar to get healthy, from Trout to Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg to Red Sox lefty Chris Sale.
Angels manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said since Trout went down how the rest of the group just needs to hang in there until the three-time MVP can return for the stretch run.
Trout strained his right calf May 17 and was expected to be sidelined 6 to 8 weeks. He is eligible to come off the 60-day injured list Saturday, when the Angels host Seattle in their second game after the break.
“It’s going to be interesting to get him back with all the growth that’s occurred within this team,” Maddon said.
And, at least in the Giants’ case, getting some players back from injuries could influence how San Francisco approaches the trade deadline. First baseman Brandon Belt, third baseman Evan Longoria and infielder Tommy La Stella all are rehabbing and expected to return this month. Posey is recovering from a bruised thumb.
“We really like our team. We like the way the pieces on this team fit,” Zaidi said. “We have some of the best clubhouse team chemistry that I’ve ever been around and any time you talk about those moves it’s kind of fun to speculate but there’s a very real impact on the clubhouse of bringing in, even if something is a move that makes sense on paper, it’s disruptive to the team dynamic and you just have to think through that.”
Others on the injured list who could have a big impact in the final 2 1/2 months: Slugger Eloy Jiménez and outfielder Luis Robert with the AL Central-leading White Sox, Mets pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco, World Series MVP Corey Seager of the Dodgers and pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Chris Archer of the Rays and Shane Bieber of the Indians.
How many more no-hitters might we see in the second half?
The no-hitters this year have been thrown by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove (April 9), Carlos Rodón of the Chicago White Sox (April 14), Baltimore’s John Means (May 5), Cincinnati’s Wade Miley (May 7), Detroit’s Spencer Turnbull (May 18), the New York Yankees’ Corey Kluber (May 19) and a combined no-hitter by the Chicago Cubs on June 24.
In addition, Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner pitched a seven-inning hitless game in a doubleheader on April 25 that is not recognized as a no-hitter by Major League Baseball.
AND THE PRIZE GOES TO …
Guerrero might add more hardware at season’s end — if he can keep pace with Ohtani. The pair look like front-runners for AL MVP. The 22-year-old Blue Jays slugger leads in average (.332) and RBIs (73), putting him in contention for a Triple Crown chase.
With Ronald Acuña Jr. out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, the door is open for Tatis to run away with the NL MVP. He has 28 homers, 20 stolen bases and 60 RBIs.
DeGrom is on course to win his third NL Cy Young Award. The Mets ace is more likely to be stopped by his own nagging health woes than another pitcher. Harder to pick a favorite in the AL — perhaps Cole or White Sox teammates Lance Lynn and Rodón.
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