Trade deadline day has morphed into a TV show in recent years, with MLB Network providing up-to-the-minute coverage of deals and rumors in the final hours before the deadline.
But A's general manager Billy Beane and Cubs President Theo Epstein concocted their own spoiler alert July 4, preempting the show with their big deal of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for the A's top prospect, Addison Russell, and two others.
"I was surprised, man," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "I didn't think Billy was conjuring up something that big this early.
"For one reason, our pitching staff is pretty good, up in the top three of the American League. But then to add a guy like Samardzija, and Hammel, we felt like that was a postseason move for us, and the Angels have one of the best lineups in baseball. Adding a couple of guys like that is like sending a message."
In a different era, under a similar scenario, former Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said: "I believe there are certain things that cannot be bought: loyalty, friendship, health, love and an American League pennant."
The A's are hoping to prove Williams right. They kicked backsides and took names in the first-half, despite opening the season with an $84.4 million payroll that's ranked 25th overall and ahead of only the Indians, Rays and Astros in the American League.
"It just speaks volumes, that we're just here trying to win games," catcher Derek Norris said. "We're not trying to change anything. We're not going to all of a sudden start paying guys hundreds of millions of dollars. We're going to stick to what we do. … We're making a statement. We're going to try to make a strong second half push and see what happens."
With the second half beginning Friday, here are a few other things to watch heading down the stretch:
Hardware races: The AL MVP race is shaping up to be another Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout spectacular, just like the last two seasons. After being runner-up twice, Trout should win this time if he keeps it up his pace and the Angels make the postseason. The National League MVP race is wide open, especially with Troy Tulowitzki playing on a poor Rockies team. Andrew McCutchen could repeat if the Pirates make the postseason, and hey, look, Yasiel Puig has been on his best behavior.
Felix Hernandez should wrap up his second AL Cy Young award and the NL battle is likely to come down to Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright, just like the decision on All-Star Game starter. Fortunately for Kershaw, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny doesn't get a vote.
Jose Abreu likely will be AL Rookie of the Year, and the NL rookie award is probably the Reds' Billy Hamilton's to lose. The A's Bob Melvin should win his second Manager of the Year award, and Ron Roenicke should earn the NL nod if the Brewers can hold on and win the NL Central. If not, it's a toss-up.
Free-for-all: A four-team race is underway in the NL Central, with everyone but the Cubs joining in. The Brewers experienced their first prolonged slump ending the first half and shortstop Jean Segura left the team last week for the Dominican Republic after 9-month-old son, Janniel, died of an illness.
Segura is slated to return Friday when the Brewers play the Nationals.
"It' is a sad story," teammate Aramis Ramirez said. "I can only imagine what he's going through. I have three kids. It's tough. Hopefully he can move on and have a great second half."
Biogenesis survivors: Commissioner Bud Selig proclaimed that MLB drug testing is the best in sports. Perhaps, but fans seemingly have moved on, voting Nelson Cruz as the starting designated hitter for the AL in the All-Star Game. Cruz could be one of three players suspended in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal to lead their teams to the 2014 postseason, along with the Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta and the Brewers' Ryan Braun.
Milestones watch: The Angels' Albert Pujols needs one home run to take over 21st place on the all-time list. He's currently tied with Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews with 512. … White Sox slugger Adam Dunn recently moved into third-place on the career strikeouts list, and with 2,320 could pass all-time leader Reggie Jackson (2,597) in 2016. … Yankees' star Derek Jeter has 1,907 runs scored, and is 13 runs from passing Alex Rodriguez (1,919) for 10th-place in history.
Strikeouts R Us: In 1978, the Reds led the majors with 899 strikeouts. At the All-Star break this year, five teams already have more than 800 strikeouts: the Astros (847), Marlins (846), White Sox (833), Cubs (809) and Braves (807).
No team is a threat to break the Astros' all-time record of 1,535 set last season. But combined strikeouts have risen each year since 2006, including the current record of 36,710 set last year.
King is dead: Who knew the expiration date on the World Series champions would come in July? With the Red Sox all but dead, the Orioles, Blue Jays and Yankees will compete in a watered-down division.
With Edwin Encarnacion suffering a quad injury before the break and Brett Lawrie on the disabled list after being hit by a pitch in the right hand and breaking his index finger, the plunging Jays' chances of ending their 21-year playoff drought looks shaky.
"We're going to try and fight the storm while these guys are out right now, until they can come back," starter Mark Buehrle said.
Jose Bautista also is nursing a hamstring injury, and the bullpen ranks 27th in the majors, so the storm figures to win the battle.
Amusin' Mets: The actual team on the field has been overshadowed in New York by 50 Cent's cringe-worthy first pitch and a tell-all book by a former Mr. Met. Yet they're only seven games out of a wild-card playoff spot and ended the first half winning eight of 10.
Chasing history: With a team average of .214, the Padres are challenging the 1910 White Sox's record for lowest single season average in history (.211). It may come down to how many starts Tim Lincecum has against them because "the Freak" already has no-hit them twice over his career.
Jeter farewell: In case you haven't heard, the Yankees' shortstop is leaving the game.
Twitter @PWSullivanCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun