With Midsummer Classic approaching, answers to baseball’s pressing questions

The season’s halfway point has passed.

Rosters for the All-Star Game are set and the game will be July 9 in Cleveland, a city that has hosted four other games, the first in 1935.

With that, here are answers to the game’s most burning questions.

Q: Which team is the biggest surprise?

A: That would be Texas in the American League West. The Rangers are an AL version of Atlanta, meaning they have a dangerous offense and thin pitching after Mike Minor (2.40 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) and Lance Lynn, who has 118 strikeouts in 108 innings. Now, instead of trading either pitcher, they might have to add before the July 31 trade deadline. Joey Gallo has 20 home runs. Lynn and Minor are surprises, and so is Hunter Pence, who has re-energized his career with the Rangers and returns this week off the injured list with 15 home runs. Former Nats reliever Shawn Kelley has saved 11 of 15. The Rangers lost their first series since early May when they were beaten 6-2 in Tampa Bay. They were 6-0-3 in their previous nine series.

Q: What about a National League team?

A: San Diego. The Padres go into the week a game above .500. They can’t catch the Dodgers in the NL West, but shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (.335) is the most exciting player in the game. And, who can argue with Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfro, who have 24 dingers each. Manny Machado has 19 homers. The Padres’ most experienced pitchers - Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchessi - have barely more than a year under their belt.

Q: Is there a chance any team could make a surprise run after the break?

A: The Reds, who for the last four seasons has had the worst pitching in the NL, could do just that. They improved their pitching in offseason. Former Nat Tanner Roark has a 3.66 ERA with Sonny Gray at 3.94 and Luis Castillo at 2.47. Overall, they rank third in the NL with a 3.66 ERA. But the Reds didn’t expect their run production to rank 13th in the league with 350 runs. If Yasiel Puig, Joey Votto, Nick Senzel and Scooter Gennett, back from the injured list, can hit like they are supposed to, the Reds, last in the NL Central, could make up their 5 1/2-game deficit.


Q: The Nationals’ Max Scherzer leads the NL with 170 strikeouts. What are his chances of being the NL starter in Cleveland?

A: The way he’s pitched in June - 1.00 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 45 innings - he’s made an excellent case. But he hasn’t had a consistent season. His ERA was 4.55 in April. The Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, 32, doesn’t have the strikeouts (94 in 103 innings), but he has a 1.83 ERA. Ryu has the edge. If Scherzer does start, he’ll match Jim Palmer and Randy Johnson with four All-Star career starts. Only three - Robin Roberts, Lefty Gomez and Don Drysdale - have each had five All-Star starts.

Q: What gives with the Yankees’ D.J. LeMahieu leading the AL with a .345 average?

A: It wasn’t the most predictable story at the season’s start because LeMahieu, 30, was signed to be a backup infielder. But the Yankees’ injuries changed all of that. Now he’s got a chance to win a batting title in both leagues. He hit .348 for Colorado to win the 2016 NL batting title.

Q: Is LeMahieu the first-half AL MVP?

A: Yes, given all the intangibles, he would be. Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco, hitting .321 with 11 home runs and playing strong defense, would also be a candidate. The Twins’ TV analyst, Hall of Famer Jack Morris, says that Polanco’s mannerisms remind him of former Twins infielder and Hall of Famer Rod Carew.

Q: What about the NL MVP?

A: There are more impressive numbers in the NL race. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger is the leading candidate. He’s hit .348 with 27 home runs, a .445 on-base and an OPS of 1.149. Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich is a strong second, with a .327 average. .423 on-base and 1.127 OPS.

Q: Should the Orioles trade Trey Mancini?

A: Yes, it is understood that he’s the face of the franchise and the team’s most popular player. And that he’s hitting better than .300 with 17 home runs. But he’s 27 and it isn’t wise to build around a power hitter approaching 30. Mancini should only be traded if the right deal comes along. Tampa Bay and Houston could be teams calling the Orioles about Mancini.

Q: What about pitchers Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner?

A: Yes, but already there are too many holes in the Orioles rotation. And there’s nobody in the system that’s ready to come up. A trade of either - or both - would make this year’s rotation even worse, but it could be good for the Orioles’ future.

Q: Does Orioles second baseman Jonathan Villar ever get tired of playing for rebuilding teams?

A: The other day, I approached him at his locker and asked, “Jonathan, mind if I talk to you about the rebuild?’’ He answered: “Which one?’’ making the point that he’s played for rebuilding teams in Houston and Milwaukee before coming to the Orioles. “Carlos Pena (in Houston) and Ryan Braun (in Milwaukee) taught me how to work hard no matter what and that’s helped.’‘

Q: Who will be the most sought-after starters on the trade market?

A: In no particular order, it’s the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, the Mets’ Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, and the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman, an All-Star with a 3.18 ERA.

Q: Cashner told reporter Dan Connolly of The Athletic that he’ll consider retirement if he’s traded. Are we supposed to believe him?

A: The guess here is that Cashner’s trying to say the right thing to show loyalty to the Orioles. It’s every player’s dream to be on contending team. I don’t believe him.

Q: Who is the favorite for Bumgarner?

A: The Yankees and the Braves are considered the favorites, but the Astros could use him as well. Bumgarner, 29, who pitched the Giants to three World Series titles, is a free agent after the season. He’s pitched at least six innings in 11 of his last 12 starts, but his ERA is at 4.02 and he has 113 strikeouts in 109 innings.

Q: How about relievers available for trade?

A: The top three will be San Diego’s Kirby Yates, Cleveland’s Brad Hand and San Francisco’s Will Smith. Considering that virtually every contender outside of the Yankees is in need of bullpen help, the cost for any of those three is going to be high. The cost is so high, the Nationals have tried to fix their bullpen with 42-year-old Fernando Rodney and Jonny Venters, who has had three Tommy John surgeries.

Q: Who is the favorite to win the All-Star Home Run Derby?

A: Josh Bell of the Pirates. He’s having a breakout season with 22 home runs. And five of them have been measured at more than 450 feet.

Q: What’s the best Cleveland story in the All-Star Game?

A: Carlos Santana. He played eight years in Cleveland and then went to Philadelphia, Seattle and back to the Indians. He says Cleveland is home and he can’t believe he’s going to be in an All-Star Game on his home field. He’s the first Indian to start a game since Jim Thome in 1999. And he’s the fourth Indians player to start on the home field, the last being David Justice in 1997.

Q: Who is going to win the All-Star Game and who will be the MVP?

A: The NL will win 6-5. The MVP will be Ronald Acuña Jr. of Atlanta.