When Oakland outfielder Rajai Davis heard the Texas Rangers had acquired Cliff Lee from Seattle in late June, he reacted the same way as many others around baseball did.
"They're trying to make a real run, huh?" Davis said. "They're not playing around."
The Rangers might be in the middle of a messy ownership change that includes a rancorous bankruptcy proceeding, but that didn't stop them from making the first major splash before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Texas added Lee to a team that will carry a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL West into the second half of the season, which begins today.
The Rangers are looking for their first playoff appearance since 1999, and adding Lee to a formidable offense lets everyone know they're serious. Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts last year for the Phillies. But more importantly, he was 2-0 against the mighty New York Yankees in the World Series.
So who will be the next team to make a move?
The Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a big bat to stay in contention with Texas, and the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox have similar designs.
With tight races everywhere and the powerful Yankees playing for something bigger than just another title, buckle up for what is shaping to be a wild ride over the next few months.
Here's a look at some of the keys to the rest of the season:
MOTIVATED YANKEES: The Yankees steamrolled into the All-Star break with 30 victories in their final 44 games, looking every bit the favorite that they usually are.
The defending world champions might not even need to make a move after getting all the extra motivation they needed when longtime owner George Steinbrenner died this week.
TIGHT RACES: No team is running away with anything right now. The biggest lead in any division is the Rangers' 41/2 games over the Angels in the AL West.
A few of the more intriguing races:
- AL East: Arguably the three best teams in baseball -- the Yankees (56-32), Rays (54-34) and Red Sox (51-37) -- are fighting for the title and likely the AL wild card. The Atlanta Braves (52-36) are only other team in baseball with a better record than third-place Boston.
- NL West: Can Mat Latos, Heath Bell and the remarkably successful San Diego Padres make their two-game lead over the Rockies and Dodgers stand up for another few months?
- NL Central: The Cincinnati Reds (49-41) have been the other big surprise, one game in front of St. Louis at the break.
KEY INJURIES: They always play a big part in who makes it in and who falls short in the playoff race. This year, several teams have been ravaged, including:
- Boston Red Sox: RHP Clay Buchholz, C Victor Martinez, 2B Dustin Pedroia (fractured left foot), OF Jacoby Ellsbury (broken ribs), C Jason Varitek (fractured right foot), 3B Mike Lowell (right hip) and RHP Josh Beckett (back) have all missed significant time.
- Philadelphia Phillies: The two-time defending NL champs, and the 2008 World Series champs, are off to a slower start this year after injuries to 2B Chase Utley (right thumb), LHP J.A. Happ (left forearm) and 3B Placido Polanco (left elbow). Utley isn't expected back anytime soon. - New York Mets: SS Jose Reyes aggravated his sore right side and missed the All-Star Game, but CF Carlos Beltran is set to make his season debut today after right knee surgery.
- Minnesota Twins: 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) has been out a week, SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson have made trips to DL and C Joe Mauer's shoulder is hurting for the stumbling Twins, who have fallen to third place in the AL Central.