Five most interesting teams
1. Pirates: They haven't had a winning season since 1992 but might be the best team in the majors right now. They have pitching, defense and enough hitting with Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte. Manager Clint Hurdle still has a challenge keeping his players positive after the last two seasons when they were a combined 56-93 in the second half after putting together a .543 winning percentage in the first half.
2. Red Sox: Maybe the 93-loss season a year ago was an outlier. But it's remarkable how quickly they have rebounded after cutting the cord with manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein after 2011. Club President Larry Lucchino and owner John Henry have a lot invested in getting this team deep into the playoffs, which will change the tone around Fenway Park. They will go as far as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia carry them, as usual.
3. Dodgers: Here they come. The Guggenheim Partners powerhouse finally seems ready to win, with Hanley Ramirez healthy and Yasiel Puig raking. But the starting pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw is a concern and manager Don Mattingly still is feeling the heat. Matt Kemp is probably the guy who will determine if it's a magical October or a bitter September.
4. Indians: Francona's new team has a chance, even if few people in Cleveland know it. They deserve better than the 19,183 per game who have come to watch them at Progressive Field, but it may take one more big player move to finish the job. Matt Garza is a possibility.
5. Astros: What, you expected the Yankees? Houston played well to end the first half on pace for a 57-105 season, but things could get really ugly in August and September, especially if they trade Bud Norris.
Five most interesting hitters
1. Yasiel Puig: He's not this good, is he?
2. Miguel Cabrera: Fourteen players have won the Triple Crown, with only Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby doing it twice. Nobody has done it in back-to-back seasons, but Cabrera can if he can make up the seven-homer deficit to Chris Davis (37-30).
3. Bryce Harper: He's only 20 but has the talent to carry a team. With the Nationals six games behind the Braves in the NL East, he has a chance to put himself into the MVP conversation if everything comes together.
4. Matt Kemp: Getting healthy isn't enough. Since his stunning first half in 2011 — .982 OPS with 27 stolen bases — he has had mortal totals of 44 homers and 31 stolen bases in 900 at-bats. Nothing would lift the Dodgers more than Kemp getting his 2011 swagger back.
5. Raul Ibanez: Among all the mistakes the Yankees have made recently, including the decision to let Russell Martin leave, nothing is more inexplicable than failing to hang on to the 2012 postseason hero. Ibanez, 41, quietly turned in a monster first half for the Mariners, delivering 24 home runs and an .892 OPS in one of the best post-40 performances ever. He could be the top bat traded at the deadline.
Five most interesting pitchers
1. Clayton Kershaw: Greg Maddux led the majors in ERA three years in a row (1993-95). Kershaw, who has a 2.30 ERA since the start of 2011, has a chance to duplicate that feat for the Dodgers. His 1.98 is better than any qualifier right now, with the Pirates' Jeff Locke at 2.15.
2. Jason Grilli: The Pirates' closer was the oldest first-time All-Star at 36. Now he's being asked to sustain a terrific first-half performance (29-for-30 in save situations) in summer-time heat.
3. Chris Carpenter: Long the Cardinals' bellwether, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner is battling potentially career-ending nerve damage in his shoulder and neck but hit 95 on the radar gun in a recent rehab assignment. He says he will take a bullpen assignment happily if he can't stand up to six or seven innings in a game.
4. Matt Garza: A free agent at year's end, Garza is in line for a big contract if he can duplicate the success Anibal Sanchez had after being traded from the Marlins to the Tigers last year.
5. Max Scherzer: The Tigers stud is on track for a 22-2 season, which would be one of the best years ever for a starting pitcher (even if his 3.7 WAR ranks 10th among starters).
Five guys most under the gun
1. Mike Rizzo: The Nationals' GM has no regrets about protecting Stephen Strasburg last year. He may develop them if his team doesn't make an extended playoff run.