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25 Degrees: Biogenesis' dark cloud takes baseball's second half up a few degrees

There are new names coming in the Biogenesis case. They are not big names. They are not superstars. Neither matters. More than anything, this embodies the great frustration of the scandal that has clenched its jaws on baseball and refuses to yield: until final judgment is rendered, a thousand great unknowns hang over the sport, haunt it, sap it of energy like a battery-draining app.

Sources this week told Yahoo! Sports the names publicly linked to Biogenesis are not the only major league players being investigated, and that, too, promises to be another storyline in a second half of the season. Not just who's going to be suspended for frequenting the Miami-area clinic that allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs. Or for how long. Or when. But who the mystery players are. And how their possible suspensions may affect the future of their teams.

The entire exercise is as tiresome as it is loathsome. Players allegedly ran afoul of their agreed-upon rules. Baseball, looking to make up for years of feigned ignorance, started digging and found its greatest nightmare.

And the worst part is its end is far from imminent. MLB hasn't even finished its interviews with players, sources said. Any hope of an expedited process is unlikely. Though there are already ongoing negotiations for suspensions, one person involved in them said: "They're not going anywhere yet." The league is stubborn. The players are stubborn. What a disaster.

So much as our second-half preview tries to focus on the players outside the nine circles of Biogenesis, we're instead doing this 10 Degrees-style. And at this particular moment, against all odds, the baseball world is revolving around …

1. Alex Rodriguez, his balky hips and the monster suspension that he is vowing to fight until the end. If

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Alex Rodriguez, playing for Double-A Trenton on Monday, is returning to the Yankees, whether they like it or not. …

Rodriguez really is coming back from the disabled list Monday, he will join a New York Yankees team that wants nothing to do with him and would love nothing more than to take the 4½ years and $97.5 million remaining on his contract, soak them in lighter fluid and set a big, symbolic bonfire, because that's exactly where they believe that money is going.

Once again, sources said, A-Rod's cousin, Yuri Sucart, is square in the middle of the doping allegations against him, as the runner and bag man. Rodriguez's recidivism has him in line for the sort of harsh penalty ...

2. Ryan Braun will face if Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch and other witnesses have linked him to PED use rather than his excuse that he used Bosch as a consultant for his original positive test in which a lab found synthetic testosterone in his urine. The arbitration case that Braun won on chain-of-custody issues really serves as Patient Zero for Biogenesis – and it presents an interesting about-face from the MLB Players Association.

In comments this week, MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said the union would support suspensions for players with overwhelming evidence against them. With a high testosterone-epitestosterone ratio that triggered a carbon isotope ratio test, and that confirming the fake testosterone, Braun back in 2011 seemed like one of those players. And yet he fought the suspension, along with the union, and won.

This, sources said, enraged a number of players. For years already players had stood in union meetings and voiced concern over dirty players. Their argument: PED users were the sort the union shouldn't protect. No matter the damage it may do, Weiner seems inclined to listen to his membership, and it could push Braun even further from 2011 when he and ...

3. Justin Verlander were named MVPs. Verlander is in the midst of his worst season since a dreadful third year – and, relatively, it's nothing to scoff at, with a 3.50 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning. And yet not only is Verlander averaging just 6 1/3 innings a start – nearly a full inning less than last season – the velocity concerns of April were no mirage.

Verlander's average fastball this season is 92.7 mph, according to FanGraphs, a full 1.6 mph lower than last season. Fifteen starters are throwing their fastball harder than Verlander, whose velocities have ranked thusly in previous years: fourth highest, second, second, second, ninth, third, second. In the first season of his seven-year, $180 million deal, this is a dreadful sign, even if Verlander can somehow find his inner ...

4. Matt Harvey in the second half. He's got the fastest fastball these days at 95.7 mph, and the hardest slider, too, at 89.7 mph, and he is so popular in New York these days you'd think he was a Yankee. Nope. Just a Met, about to rejoin a team full of mediocrity and spend his second half trying to earn the title of Best Pitcher In the World, something that is eminently possible. There must be something about his name and awards, because ...

5. Matt Garza currently wins the Best Pitcher Available Via Trade. Texas is hot after him. Competing executives believe St. Louis, Boston, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the likeliest teams if the Rangers can't get him, though they're certainly compelled. Even though Yu Darvish is expected back Monday and Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis soon after that, the Rangers may miss Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz for the year, and it's compelling their search for pitching. If it's not Garza, it could be Bud Norris, who also is a favorite of Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco, the Dodgers and plenty more for this year and beyond. Pitching may not even be Texas' biggest problem. With an offense that ranks ninth of 15 in the AL and 13th of 30 in baseball, the Rangers sure would love to have ...

6. Josh Hamilton back. Uh. Nevermind. In fact, let's allow Albert Pujols and Hamilton to share a degree. Because when you combine their numbers – 29 home runs, 86 RBIs – they pale compared to ...

7. Chris Davis and his 37 home runs and 93 RBIs in 343 at-bats for $3.3 million this season compared to

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Can Chris Davis keep up his historic pace? (AP Photo)

696 at-bats for the pair of Angels who over the lives of their contracts will make a combined $365 million. Not only is the question whether he can outhit the pair for a full season but if he can threaten the old single-season record of 61 home runs – which isn't a record anymore even if Davis thinks it is. In addition to leading the Orioles to their second consecutive playoff appearance for the first time since Brady Anderson rocked sideburns, Davis is the best candidate to break up ...

8. Miguel Cabrera's remarkable run at a second consecutive Triple Crown, something never before done. Cabrera is seven home runs behind Davis and two RBIs ahead. Those are tossups. The 43-point lead in batting average would seem a safe bet if …

9. Mike Trout weren't the one behind Cabrera. It is incredible how similar a season Trout is having this year to his MVP-worthy rookie season last year. Trout's final line in 2012: .326/.399/.564. Trout's current line in 2013: .322/.399/.565. By the way, he is still just 21. So for everybody who wants to argue that ...

10. Manny Machado is the best of the young triumvirate along with Trout and Bryce Harper – well, as long as Trout is doing that, the argument isn't very good, especially with Machado sporting a .337 on-base percentage, thanks to plate discipline that's nowhere near as good as either of his cohorts. On the other hand, Machado's glove at third base is incredibly valuable, and though his pursuit of the doubles record is now off-pace at 66, it's the sort of thing that can inspire genuine interest, though not ...

11. Yasiel Puig-level interest. The last players to finish the first half with a higher batting average than Puig's .391 over at least 150 plate appearances are Larry Walker (.398) and Tony Gwynn (.394) in 1997. Of course, one of the funniest parts of Puig-mania is that ...

12. Hanley Ramirez actually has been even better than Puig. His 1.137 OPS over 142 plate appearances is 99 points higher than Puig's. He plays a more important position, and with the return of Matt Kemp and the presence of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Hanley, not Puig, may well be the key to ...

13. Don Mattingly unlocking a contract extension from Dodgers ownership. Their reticence has been

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Don Mattingly

warranted. The Dodgers were awful in April, mediocre in May and thrived only upon the recall of Puig and return of Ramirez. This is a $200 million-plus collection of talent that spent the first half clawing its way back to .500. Donnie Dodger hasn't exactly been a bespoke-suit fit from the beginning, but his survival instincts through the mess that was the season's first two months was laudable. He's got a little more than two months to ensure the year ends with a playoff berth. Otherwise, the guillotine awaits. Across the country ...

14. Clint Hurdle knows Pirates fans are ready to call for his head in similar fashion if their 2013 incarnation misses the playoffs. Over 93 games, the Pirates have played better than .600 baseball. This seems incredible, seeing as Pittsburgh hasn't made the playoffs since Barry Bonds couldn't throw out Sid Bream. Here's the thing, though: Last year, the Pirates had six stretches of 93 games when they went the exact 57-36 they did in this year's first half. And those Pirates finished 79-83. Hopefully, for the organization's sanity, Hurdle doesn't manage his team to a colossal blunder as ...

15. Ruben Amaro Jr. seems to be doing as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Emboldened by ... a strong finish to the first half in which the Phillies pulled to .500, Amaro has scrapped any potential trades that dump players in search of those who fortify a Philadelphia team with a minus-45 run differential – worse than the Mets', almost as bad as the Twins' and 24th out of 30 in all of baseball. This is not a baseball team that should be buying. The Phillies rank among the bottom third of teams in hitting and fielding and near the bottom third in pitching. Again: This. Is. Not. A. Playoff. Team. The best possible thing that could happen is the Phillies losing their first 10 games after the break, because maybe then ...

16. Cliff Lee will go from doubtful trade candidate to possible one. And July 31 is his deadline. Remember, last year when the Phillies tried to sneak him through waivers in August, the Dodgers claimed him. Lee is his typical self: Pac-Man with innings, impeccable control and command, good strikeouts and the sort of playoff experience teams love. Because of the money, the Phillies may not get the sort of prospects the White Sox would if they dealt Chris Sale or the Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton or even the Twins with Glen Perkins, a reliever with a team-friendly deal. While none is off-limits, all have monster price tags, ones proportionate with their value, as opposed to ...

17. Tim Lincecum and the Giants still treating him like Old Timmy. Whether that's because of some newfound affinity following his first-half-ending no-hitter or the recognition that he won't bring commensurate value in players, calls for Lincecum are being returned with a strict: "No thanks." Nobody in baseball expects Lincecum to stay in San Francisco after this season. Mega-riches don't necessarily await him, especially with the degradation of his stuff. Remember, in his prime, Lincecum won two Cy Youngs, the sort of season ...

18. Stephen Strasburg hopes to have now that the Nationals have finally let the reins off him. No more

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Who's ready to see Stephen Strasburg in the postseason? (AP Photo)

jokes about sitting down in September. No more ultra-babying. Strasburg turns 25 on Saturday. Harvey already has eclipsed him on the phenom scale. Strasburg at the very least can do the sort of postseason damage Harvey's team renders him incapable of doing. If Bryce Harper stays healthy and Ryan Zimmerman remembers how to throw and Anthony Rendon is as good as he looks and Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez keep dealing and their bullpen stabilizes and, perhaps most of all …

19. The Upton brothers keep sucking. Since May 1, Justin Upton is hitting .238/.333/.353. J.B. Shuck, Pedro Florimon, Eric Sogard, Maicer Izturis and Jordy Mercer all are outslugging him. In that same time period, big brother B.J., he of the five-year, $75 million deal that began this season, is at .194/.285/.312. One executive believes despite owning a six-game lead, by far the biggest in the game, the Braves' grip on the NL East is tenuous. The argument against the Braves isn't great, though their 826 strikeouts is exceeded by only the ...

20. Houston Astros and their 871. The Astros, in case you haven't noticed, really are some kind of awful. In 2011, they lost 106 games. Last year, they lost 107. This season, 108 (or worse) is not at all far-fetched. The Astros could turn in the worst record since Arizona lost 111 in 2004. They are worth watching for masochists, dashboard-cam-crash enthusiasts and Houstonians who don't want to lose their affection for a team that soon enough is going to be pretty good. They just need more guys like ...

21. Paul Goldschmidt to carry their team. It's something Goldschmidt did much of the first half. He leads the NL with 77 RBIs. He ranks in the top 5 in on-base percentage and slugging. He makes a great case to win the Gold Glove at first base. He is now called America's First Baseman. It pretty much couldn't have gone any better, and yet a great deal of people pegged ...

22. Yadier Molina as the likelier MVP candidate. A catcher? With seven home runs? And a slugging

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Yadier Molina

percentage below .500? Molina is the hipster candidate, popular among the crowd that considers itself in the know and enjoys little more than patting itself on the back. Some in the mainstream, too, have accepted this idea that because Molina supposedly calls such a wonderful game and handles the Cardinals' staff so adeptly, it legitimizes his candidacy. Never mind that Joe Mauer is every bit the hitter of Molina and arguably as good a catcher and hasn't received a whiff of MVP talk. No, when it comes to MVP awards, we know the most deserving candidate doesn't always win, something ...

23. Mariano Rivera reinforced during this week's All-Star Game. The remarkable scene in the eighth inning gave way to the realization that we've got about 40 percent of a season left to indulge in Rivera's particular brand of How the Hell Does He Do That? For nearly two decades they've asked and not found the answer. Nobody ever will. Rivera's pitch is too perfect, and it's best to sit there and appreciate what it does rather than lament his impending retirement. We might want to do the same whenever ...

24. Derek Jeter returns from injury. Though the Captain has given no indication this will be his final year, his contract does end this season, and the only thing binding him to the Yankees is an $8 million player option, $3 million of which he would receive simply by declining. Jeter is 39. Still, he hit .316 and had the highest OPS among AL shortstops last season. Jeter is expected back this week, and if ...

25. Alex Rodriguez can find his way to third base, the Yankees' longtime left side of the infield will reunite – almost 77 years between them, nearly half of those spent in the major leagues, more than 6,000 hits and 900 home runs and all the chemistry of an open tank of gas and a Bic flick. Just about everyone treats Rodriguez like that these days. Because of his PED use before, his Biogenesis ties now and the other varying chicanery, Rodriguez's return has the feel of something temporary, like he's a stopgap for another era waiting to begin.

Whether he plea bargains or doesn't, whether he wins with a novel defense like Braun's or loses and serves a suspension, Rodriguez is again a magnet for eyeballs, just like all those years ago when it was for what he did on the field, not off it.

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