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Sunday Baseball Notes

MLB braces for a memorable second half

Alex Rodriguez has admitted PED use, but he has never failed a test that has counted.

Mike Carlson/Reuters

Alex Rodriguez has admitted PED use, but he has never failed a test that has counted.

Buckle up for what could be an eventful post-All-Star break, with the centerpiece a possible Biogenesis bombshell that could put more than 20 major leaguers on the sidelines with 50-100-game suspensions.

While Major League Baseball would hate the negative publicity, it is eager to make a huge statement to those who continue to try to cheat. According to an MLB source, it feels good about the fact that perhaps this could be the last major scandal now that drug testing is far more comprehensive.

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But here are the issues that some sports attorneys bring up: Can MLB make the suspensions stick on appeal given what could be the lack of positive tests (except on Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, who served 50-game suspensions), the fact that MLB had to pay its main witness, and would the evidence gathered and interviews conducted be enough?

MLB doesn’t need positive tests per se to nail the players, but it needs credible evidence, and more witnesses than Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch. MLB could always claim it had to pay a witness because it doesn’t have subpoena power.

Superstars Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, who appear prominently in the Biogenesis evidence, have not officially tested positive for PEDs. Braun tested positive but the evidence was ruled contaminated by an arbiter, and Braun was cleared of the charges.

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A-Rod has admitted PED use, but he has never failed a test that has counted.

A more positive story is that the Pirates could have their first winning season and playoff appearance since 1992. The story of outfield phenom Yasiel Puig will continue to unfold in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers have gone from down and out to smack in the middle of a division race.

Puig has captured our imagination like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout before him. He is the second player since 1950 to start his career with a .batting average of .400 or better in his first 130 at-bats (Tony Oliva the other), but his edgy personality and playing style have rubbed media and opposing players the wrong way.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero said last week that Puig played with “arrogance.” Montero went on to say, “If he’s my teammate, [I am] probably trying to help him not be hated in the major leagues. That’s where he’s going right now, creating a bad reputation throughout the league.”

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti defended Puig late last week, saying, “If this were an American kid who had been drafted out of UCLA or some big school, coming in to play this early in his development at age 22, it would be hard for him. Now factor in that he’s from a different country and culture. It’s a very difficult thing for him and he’s adjusting to this life. He plays the game aggressively and with an edge. That’s who he is. I know what’s been said about him, but do you think you’d love to have this kid as a teammate? You’d love to have him on your team.”

Colletti said he doesn’t regret not having Puig start the season with the Dodgers, who got off to an atrocious start.

“At the time, we had Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford, and we were concerned about playing time,” said Colletti. “He needed to play every day. And really, though he had a great spring training, he had some rough edges that he needed to work on. He did that and we brought him back up and the kid has just taken off.”

Another story line concerns how Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis finishes the season. Davis, who had 35 home runs following Friday night’s game, is now being asked about PED use, even though he hit 33 homers last season.

He told the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly, “I actually would prefer to talk about it because everybody is thinking in the back of their minds, ‘A guy can’t go from being this terrible to this good,’ ” Davis said.

“But I think the biggest thing has been the consistency of contact and playing every day. I think it sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it. I have never taken them, I have no reason to. I’ve always been a power hitter.”

And Miguel Cabrera already has seven four-hit games this season and could become the first righthanded hitter since Rogers Hornsby (1920-25) to win three straight batting titles. He’s already the first player to hit 30 homers and drive in 90 runs before the All-Star break, so for the guy who won the Triple Crown last season, he’s come back with what might be an even better season.

“What he does out there is absolutely sick,” said David Ortiz. ‘That man is amazing. I’ve never seen a hitter like that. I was around Manny [Ramirez] for years, and even he couldn’t do what Miggy does with the bat. That’s stuff you only dream about.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Breakdown of AL East

So, how is the American League East going to shake down after the break?

1. Boston — The Red Sox will continue to look for bullpen help, hope Andrew Bailey gives them quality in the late innings, and that Koji Uehara continues to perform as the closer. The big thing is the continued health of David Ortiz, and avoiding a major injury to Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, or Jon Lester. They’d love to improve their righthanded hitting, though their .801 OPS entering the weekend was the best in baseball, as was their .353 OBP.

2. Tampa Bay — Since May 8, the Rays have the best record in baseball. They have David Price pitching like his Cy Young season of a year ago, and Alex Cobb returning by August. There’s always the feeling the Rays need another bat, but offense hasn’t been the problem. It’s important Evan Longoria stay healthy. The Rays have the top righthanded-hitting team in the league, the opposite situation of the Red Sox.

3. Baltimore — Even with Scott Feldman, the Orioles could use another starter and bullpen reinforcement. Keeping Brian Roberts healthy is a key to the offense. The Orioles have 12 games remaining with the Red Sox and seem to match up well (5-2 so far). The teams meet for the final three games of the season.

4. New York — Derek Jeter is sidelined again (quadriceps strain), but in the one game he played he buoyed the Yankees’ offense. Jeter provides the good righthanded bat they need. Alex Rodriguez could also return after the break, and should help unless he’s suspended in the Biogenesis scandal. The Yankees seem to have enough pitching, and you never hear about them being involved in trade discussions, but don’t be shocked to see something out of the blue with a pitcher or hitter.

5. Toronto — The Blue Jays haven’t given up on the season, so it doesn’t appear they’ll sell off. They could use another starter and expect them to be in on Bud Norris and Matt Garza. Whether they have enough left in the farm system to give up remains to be seen. They will win by clobbering the ball, but they must pitch reasonably well to make another surge.

Apropos of nothing

1. Mike Napoli has had only 19 games this season when he hasn’t struck out. Entering Saturday, he’s had 14 games of three or more and 37 games of two or more. Napoli is well on his way to shattering Mark Bellhorn’s Red Sox record for strikeouts in a season (177).

2. The Indians are eating former Cy Young winners alive, going 8-4 against them this season, with the pitchers combining for an ERA of 6.82. They have beaten R.A. Dickey twice, David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez. They have lost to Verlander twice, CC Sabathia, and Jake Peavy.

3. Is Jeff Kent a Hall of Famer? Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, an assistant GM for 11 years for the Giants, says yes. “I saw him come into the clubhouse one day when we had a doubleheader and he was sick as could be, flu or something,” said Colletti. “They hooked him up to an IV and he played the first game and we won. Between games, they hooked him up again, and he helped us win again. He was a fierce competitor, and the MVP season he had, and all the great seasons he had with the bat, playing second base very well, yes, he’s a Hall of Famer.”

4. Don’t believe the Orioles are through looking for starting pitching even after acquiring Scott Feldman. They are active in their pursuit, and really need to be.

5. Ran into former Red Sox starter Erik Hanson in Seattle. Hanson pitched for the 1995 Red Sox, going 15-5, then signed a three-year deal with Toronto, where he was reunited with Roger Clemens. Hanson and Clemens were golfing fiends when they were together in Boston. “We played a lot, just about every offday, both when we were in Boston and Toronto,” said Hanson. “It was a lot of fun.” So much fun that Hanson became a scratch golfer. He now plays in major amateur events around the world, and hopes to be on the PGA Tour someday. Hanson, who made about $17 million in his baseball career and now lives in Seattle with his wife Laura, an actress, said he never saw Clemens take PEDs. Hanson’s trainer in Toronto was Brian McNamee.

6. Justin Morneau hasn’t shown the power, and some of his play at first base hasn’t been what it used to be, but look for Morneau to get moved before the deadline. He will be a free agent, and the Twins don’t intend to re-sign him. They also could package righthander Mike Pelfrey.

7. Someone I know in the game proposed Ike Davis for Will Middlebrooks. But the Mets have David Wright at third, I said. Middlebrooks could always be moved to first base. The Red Sox, by the way, are resisting moving Middlebrooks to first. They still view him as a third baseman and feel his value is greater at third than first. Yet, if you’re going to commit to Xander Bogaerts at third, then what?

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. Derek Jeter (below), SS, Yankees — The scouts who watched Jeter’s rehab assignment were shocked he came up as quickly as he did. Of course, Jeter talked his way back, only to a pull a quadriceps. The scouts said “he wasn’t near ready.” Jeter ran 4.7 to first, and didn’t field a lot of balls cleanly. Then again, he’s Derek Jeter, and when he wants to play he will play.

2. Bud Norris, RHP, Astros — Big activity on him by the Braves and Blue Jays, but the Indians, Giants, Rockies, Padres, Pirates, Orioles, and Nationals also have interest. Norris’s name has been out there for a while, and it speaks to the patience of GM Jeff Luhnow that he is waiting for the right package of young players. Norris is going to be valuable whether he gets traded now, at the deadline, or in the offseason, and the Astros will bide their time.

3. Michael Pineda, RHP, Yankees — Pineda, who is on a rehab assignment, is throwing consistently at only 91-92, and topped out at 94 in his last start. The pitcher acquired in the Jesus Montero deal with the Mariners suffered a major labrum tear, and it has been a long, slow road back. He doesn’t seem completely there, and there is a question whether he’ll ever be the promising hard thrower that he was in Seattle.

4. Michael Young, 3B, Phillies — Even though GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week his team is in buying mode since it is hovering around .500, Young is still a player the Phillies would move to perhaps achieve other goals, including a reliever who could suitably replace Mike Adams. Even with Ryan Howard out for two months and perhaps the season, the Phillies see an opening because the Braves seem vulnerable and the Nationals have also yet to get cranking like they did last season. The Red Sox remain interested in Young, but his defense has fallen off.

5. Oliver Perez, LHP, Mariners — Perez has turned into one of the better lefty relievers in the league, and his energy has been evident. Sometimes you’re a victim of past transgressions, and there’s always the feeling that Perez doesn’t care. He seems to have turned that around to the point where a half-dozen teams are paying attention and may look to pry him loose. “He may one of the best guys out there,” said one National League GM.

6. Josh Beckett, RHP, Dodgers — Dodgers GM Ned Colletti remains confident that Beckett will return next season at full throttle after surgery on his pitching shoulder. Beckett has the same nerve condition as the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter, and surgery should take care of it. “We’re very optimistic based on our medical reports that Josh is going to come out of this OK. We don’t believe it’s career-threatening,” Colletti said.

7. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs — A few teams are in on Garza, but keep an eye on Washington. The Nationals have a good core with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, but they entered Saturday 13-24 when one of those three doesn’t start. Dan Haren (4-10) hasn’t pitched well, so Garza has to be a target, and the Nationals have some chips the Cubs might like in return.

8. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants — The Giants are deciding what to do. If they sell, Pence is a righthanded bat and good fielder who would draw interest from a team like the Pirates, who would also be in the Alex Rios market.

9. Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, Mariners — The switch-hitter is someone a few teams are looking at closely as a solution in the middle of the order. Morales entered Saturday with 14 homers and 54 RBIs, with a .281 average and .807 OPS. The issue seems to be whether Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik wants to deal him. Morales can be a free agent after this season.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files: “Orioles third baseman Manny Machado has 39 doubles, one more than the most Brooks Robinson had in any season.” Also, “The Reds are hitting .485 with a runner on third and no one out, the White Sox are hitting .136.” And, “Mike Carp is 5 for 7 (.714) on the first pitch of an at-bat.” . . . Agent Alan Nero, a Rhode Island native, will be enjoying his All-Star break in Narragansett after four of his Octagon clients — Felix Hernandez, Ben Zobrist, Edward Mujica, and Jason Castro — made the All-Star team . . . One of Nero’s former clients, Wade Boggs, who went into the Hall of Fame as a Red Sox, is still waiting for his No. 26 to be retired . . . Happy birthday Mark Brandenburg (43), John Dopson (50), and Chuck Rainey (59).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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