Can the Mets' Johan Santana and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira...

Can the Mets' Johan Santana and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira continue to turn around their seasons after shaky starts? Credit: composite

Eight close races. Two relevant New York teams. One huge trade behind us, and perhaps a few more to come.

One big-time player ready to return.

One titan of the game gone, his defending world champions armed with new motivation to win it all again.

With both the All-Star break and the LeBronathon behind us, and with football nowhere close, it's time to enjoy baseball's second half. Here's a primer:

Reasons to feel good about the Mets:

1. Tonight's return of Carlos Beltran. 2. A tantalizingly easy schedule. 3. Goodness, Jason Bay has to go on a bona fide tear at some point, doesn't he?

Reasons to worry about the Mets:

1. Jose Reyes' health. 2. Will they actually pull off a trade for a starting pitcher? 3. Even if they do, can Mike Pelfrey climb back to being very good, and can R.A. Dickey keep shocking us?

Reasons to feel good about the Yankees:

1. Even without Cliff Lee, they seem to have baseball's best starting rotation. 2. Mark Teixeira seems to be awakening from his long nap. 3. They'll likely trade for reinforcements to their bench and/or bullpen.

Reasons to worry about the Yankees:

1. Age, as it ties into health (Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez) and performance (Derek Jeter). 2. Their bullpen; 3. Their bench.

Best races:

1. NL East. You know the Phillies aren't done. 2. AL Central. Tigers, White Sox and Twins all will stick around. 3. AL wild card. Which club survives Red Sox vs. Rays? 4. NL West. Can the shockingly successful Padres hold off the Dodgers and Rockies?

Best trade chatter:

1 Roy Oswalt, Houston. Can he convince Astros owner Drayton McLane to deal him? 2. Adam Dunn, Washington. He'd be a very appealing bat. 3. Ted Lilly, Cubs. The most likely guy to actually get traded.

Top people to watch:

1. Beltran. Will he be at 75 percent? 50? 2. A-Rod. Because he's A-Rod, and because he's so close to 600 home runs. 3. Joe Torre, Dodgers. Will this be it for his long managerial career?

Looming figures:

1. George Steinbrenner. The rest of the Yankees' season will be viewed through the prism of the departed Boss. 2. Cliff Lee. The Rangers' AL West 41/2-game lead stands as the largest in the game, so before Lee comes to the Bronx for 2011, can he make some history in Texas? 3. Chase Utley: How soon can the Phillies' injured MVP return?


Nah, let's take a break from those. From the look of things so far, the reality of the second half might just surpass anything we can envision, anyway.

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