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Original Issue

QUICK PITCHES

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We assembled a panel of SI baseball writers to answer some key questions for the second half

Mike Trout—who else?—is the runaway favorite to win his third AL MVP, but baseball's other awards are up for grabs. What will be the most compelling awards race?

BR: Justin Verlander seemed a lock for AL Cy Young—and Kate Upton certain of saving her hilarious, R-rated tweets in defense of her hubby for another year—until a couple of weeks ago. But two straight rough starts caused Verlander's ERA to skyrocket (albeit to the low altitude of 2.15) and allowed six other legit contenders—Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and perhaps Blake Snell—to make a race of it again. Have at it, Kate.

EB: Give me the AL Cy Young race, too. The top four candidates each represent a distinct career phase—Severino is 24, Sale is 29, Kluber is 32, and Verlander is 35—and they're all likely to pitch this October.

JT: The easy call before the season was to pencil in Braves wunderkind Ronald Acuña Jr. as your NL Rookie of the Year pick. Once the Braves were done suppressing his service time he'd be up and raking—and he's been mostly doing that for a first-place team. And yet! Nats outfielder Juan Soto, who is somehow younger (just 19), is stealing his thunder by hitting .302 with eight homers in 44 games. We're seeing two future MVPs amid a dynamite NL ROY race.

Shortstop Manny Machado, likely on his way out of Baltimore, could be a game changer for a contender. What team will he be playing for on Aug. 1?

BR: The Golden State Warriors. If that somehow falls through, the Phillies, who have the sixth-worst OPS in the majors.

EB: With the hole created at shortstop by Corey Seager's injury, the Dodgers make almost too much sense. L.A. has just enough space under the luxury tax threshold to take on Machado.

JD: I'm afraid it'll be Baltimore. The pool of potential acquirers is realistically limited to those with holes at shortstop or third and of those teams, only Arizona has enough riding on 2018 to surrender a super-package. But if they are negotiating against themselves, why would they need to meet Baltimore's asking price?

What unlikely team could make the World Series?

JT: If the Braves can add a starter and reliever, they have a shot at surviving the postseason gauntlet. Acuña, Ozzie Albies (above), and the offense is legit.

JD: I'm not sure it's so unlikely anymore, but the Brewers have turned into the kind of team that could plow deep into October. With their three-headed bullpen monster (Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel and the lethal Josh Hader) they have the defining asset of recent Royals and Indians pennant winners.

BR: A potential darkhorse is hard to find this season. But the Giants are just out of a wild-card spot with a rotation of Madison Bumgarner and four guys you've barely heard of. What happens if Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are healthy for the stretch run?

EB: Given how favored they were entering the season, it might seem strange to label the Cubs "unlikely." But they have gone essentially the entire first half without ever getting a hold on first place in the division. They're better than their first-half record showed, with the NL's best offense. Don't be surprised if the World Series parade ends in Grant Park for the second time in three years.