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posted: 7/20/2014 7:33 AM

Still much of interest in baseball

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  • Can starter Travis Wood find himself again and be a part of future Cubs rotations?

    Can starter Travis Wood find himself again and be a part of future Cubs rotations?
    Associated Press


Fall and winter will be amazing in this sports town. There are logical, reasonable aspirations for the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks to all battle for championships.

Risking emotional whiplash, I point out that the Cubs and the White Sox are a combined 21 games out of first place in their divisions.

But man cannot live on anticipation and Bourbonnais training camp stories alone. Even as your options grow, there still are baseball items of interest. These are the worthy objects of our local baseball attention for the season's second half.

3600 North:

• Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo trying to finish strong: These are terrific bounce-back years from both young cornerstones. Let's see them carry this confidence all the way to the off-season.

• Arismendy Alcantara in center field: His mix of power and speed offensively looks MLB-ready. He may go back down to Iowa and come back up some time after the trade deadline.

But let's see him tested in center as often as possible. Someone's got to play there until Albert Almora is ready.

• Javier Baez's play at second base: Speaking of Iowa, positional flexibility for the many young assets is key, but it's hard not to take this move at face value. In September, we might see Baez at Wrigley in that spot, Alcantara in center and perhaps Kris Bryant at third. A boy can dream.

• Can Travis Wood find himself again? The WHIP is way up, and through 19 starts he had given up just 8 fewer earned runs than last year in 32. Is he a piece to count on or not? Throw strikes.

• Young starting pitchers who may have a future: Kyle Hendricks is back and will get a long look. Might we see Pierce Johnson?

3500 South:

• Jose Abreu's chase for 50 homers: That would be fun. He needs about 1 home run every three games to do it, and 50 would be one better than Mark McGwire's rookie record from 1987. Abreu's at-bats continue to be mandatory viewing.

• Chris Sale being a no-hit threat every time he throws, we need to see the continued transformation of John Danks. Yes, he tops out at 88 mph, but the changeup and cutter are slower, too. He still can fool people, and he has been Mark Buehrle-esque in eliciting bad contact. Danks' line-drive percentage is lower than it has been since 2010.

• The possible return of Avisail Garcia: Once thought out for the season, he has been taking batting practice and is considered day to day. Any chance for him to get experience -- and for us to watch -- would be gravy.

• Who is tradable, and whom is Rick Hahn willing to lose: These are different questions.

Adam Dunn, in the final year of that disastrous contract, could be had for almost nothing.

Dayan Viciedo needs to get hot to be appetizing. His OPS can barely stay over .700.

A Gordon Beckham window probably was missed during the annual glimpse of offensive competence. But, hey, those were a fun 33 days.

The big question is whether it's in the club's best interests to trade Alexei Ramirez. If you think you're going to contend in the next two seasons, you probably should keep an all-star shortstop at $10 million per year. Especially if there's relationship value there for your newest Cuban … and best player. I bet Alexei stays.

• I also bet we see prospects Micah Johnson and Marcus Semien in September and that second base will be their job to fight for next spring.

Pennant races:

Meanwhile, there are eight teams within 2-3 games of the five playoff spots in a wild National League. The Angels' Mike Trout is preposterous, again. The Orioles will try to stay in first place through 26 straight games against winning teams. And I want to see just how good the Oakland Athletics can be.

Autumn can wait.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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