Race is on as teams head for second half

Fri Jul 18, 2014 6:25pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - With the All-Star Game done and dusted, Major League Baseball zeroes in on the race for the postseason, with five of the six divisions looming as fights to the finish.

The Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels, who own the two best records in the major leagues, are battling for division honors in the American League West, while all three National League division races remain up for grabs.

Stakes are high as divisional supremacy is crucial given that the title holders go directly into a best-of-five series, while the two wild card teams in each league must survive a one-game playoff to advance to the Divisional Series.

The mid-season break also allowed non-contenders to assess their outlook in advance of the July 31 trade deadline, and difference-making talent could be swapped for prospects.

Prominent players rumored as possible trade targets included pitcher David Price of Tampa Bay (9 1/2 games out of first), pitcher Cliff Lee of Philadelphia (10 games out) and slugger Adam Dunn of the White Sox (10 1/2 games out)

Oakland showed their determination to reign by dealing one of baseball's brightest prospects in minor league shortstop Addison Russell in a package to the rebuilding Cubs for a pair of strong starting pitchers in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The pitchers joined an Oakland team that carried an MLB-best 59-36 record into the All-Star break.

A game and a half back at 57-37 were the charging Angels, who are getting another MVP-caliber season from 21-year-old Mike Trout and a return to hitting form by Albert Pujols.   Continued...

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (14) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Jul 1, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports