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The 25 Degrees of Manny

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Since Manny Ramirez(notes) operates on the premise that the entire world revolves around him, and since the good people of Los Angeles enable him every step of the way, it only seemed fitting to test his hypothesis.

So rather than go Miss Cleo on the second half of the baseball season, which starts Thursday night, we took the most compelling storylines of the coming 11 weeks and weaved them together to see if Manny was right.

Forget Kevin Bacon. He's passé. It's a lot more fun to play 25 Degrees of Manny Ramirez.

1. Which, of course, starts with the biggest story in the game this year: The 50-game suspension of Manny for trying to get pregnant. Or, uh, well – he still hasn't quite explained what he was doing with a prescription for human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug, and he's unlikely to blather about it anytime soon. So life goes on with Manny mashing as usual (.379/.471/.759 with three home runs since the suspension ended) – and forever pegged a drug cheat. Pretty much like ...

2. Alex Rodriguez(notes), who before the All-Star break found a groove for the first time since his extended absence (following hip surgery). A-Rod quietly hit 17 home runs in 58 games, has cut his strikeouts to an incredible-for-him 38 in 199 at-bats and leads the highest-scoring lineup in baseball. In other words, he and Ramirez may well be the most fearsome right-handed hitters next to ...

3. Albert Pujols(notes), whose run at a Triple Crown isn't hyperbole. No one is catching Pujols in home runs, his RBI lead is safe and he won a batting title in 2003 and has a career average of .334. This year, Pujols can do anything. Well, except ...

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Mauer

4. Hit .400, and neither, for that matter, can Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer(notes). For all the chatter about the magic number, Mauer is down to .373 entering the second half. More compelling than his futile chase will be his race with Ichiro(notes) Suzuki for the batting title. Ichiro sits at .362 after hitting .403 in his last 45 games. Barring injury, he'll finish the year with more than 200 hits for the ninth consecutive time, breaking Wee Willie Keeler's record. Impressive, though not as much as ...

5. Mark Reynolds(notes) getting ready to shatter his own strikeout record, set last year with 204. Reynolds vowed this offseason to cut down on his K's, and he has. By one one-thousandth of a point. Yep. Last year, he struck out in 37.847 percent of his at-bats. This year, it's at 37.846 percent, 123 in 325 at-bats. The problem: Reynolds is on pace for an extra 45 at-bats, which means 17 additional strikeouts and a total of 221. And he'll get the at-bats, unlike ...

6. Magglio Ordonez(notes), this year's victim of incentive clauses coming back to bite players in the behind. For an $18 million option to kick in, Ordonez needs to start 56 games or make 163 plate appearances before season's end. Already he's been relegated to a platoon role. Whether the Tigers continue him there or flat-out release him depends on production. Because his lack thereof is one thing separating Detroit from ...

7. Grabbing ahold of the pitiful American League Central. Questions abound with the Tigers, from Edwin Jackson's(notes) long-term viability to Rick Porcello's(notes) innings cap to the effect of Jim Leyland's switch from Marlboro Reds to Lights. While the Tigers try to hold on to their lead, someone else tries to hold on ...

8. To his job. How Eric Wedge remains employed is something to be studied by MBA candidates for years to come. While Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro's loyalty is noted, so is the Indians' second straight disappointing season. Which is one short of the current standard set by ...

9. The New York Mets, that merry band of bruised, contused and confused. In 2007, they blew a huge division lead. In 2008, they couldn't make up a big deficit. And this year, they're an afterthought. When Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran(notes) and Carlos Delgado(notes) return may not matter, as the Mets have burrowed themselves into quite the pickle. They've done nothing but get weaker while their main rival gets ...

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Roy Halladay commands a king's ransom on the trading market for playoff contenders.
(Getty Images)

10. Different. It would be stupid to say Pedro Martinez(notes) makes the Philadelphia Phillies stronger, because he has been so underwhelming the last three seasons. And it would likewise be far too early to call it a desperate signing, as even a glint of Martinez's old self could mean a game or two. Not the kind of difference, say, affected by ...

11. Roy Halladay(notes), the prince of this July. He's officially on the market, and he's going to cost a first-born, a pot of gold, the Hope Diamond and an oil well in the Middle East. Or four premium prospects. Whichever comes first. The Phillies have the money, kids and motivation to do it, as does Boston. With such overwhelming interest, odds are Halladay ends up somewhere in the continental 48, the trade deadline's lone big name because ...

12. Matt Holliday(notes) isn't a big name anymore, at least not big enough to fetch multiple prospects. He makes sense a lot of places – Holliday isn't totally a Coors Field mirage – but the price is prohibitive, even for teams with deep farm systems and punchless lineups like St. Louis and ...

13. San Francisco, which currently holds the lead in the National League wild-card race. The Giants' pitching is the best in baseball, with a 3.51 earned-run average, and they are the team no one wants to face in a short series, not with Tim Lincecum(notes) and Matt Cain(notes). Whether the Giants can hold off Colorado and Milwaukee and Florida and Atlanta and the Mets for that final playoff position is one thing. Oh, and we can't forget ...

14. The Chicago Cubs. Or can we? The Cubs are a .500 team at the break, mediocrity at the cost of $135 million. Aramis Ramirez(notes) is back and Derrek Lee(notes) is hitting. Carlos Zambrano(notes) is combustible and Milton Bradley(notes) is unstable. Yin and yang at Wrigley, where Lou Piniella may still blow up knowing that his team can't even run away with ...

15. The eminently winnable NL Central. Seriously, does anyone want to win? Even last year, when his team was under .500, Houston GM Ed Wade was trading for Randy Wolf(notes), convinced the division was there for the taking. Same thing goes this year, and the ambiguity between buyer and seller is deeper only ...

16. In Seattle. The Mariners shouldn't be this good. New manager Don Wakamatsu and GM Jack Zduriencik are a dynamite team. Seattle has valuable assets in Erik Bedard(notes) and Jarrod Washburn(notes), both free-agents-to-be who won't cost an outrageous amount in prospects. Except the Mariners are only four games behind first-place Los Angeles and 1½ back of Texas in the AL West, which ...

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Armed with serious heat, Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz might factor heavily into the AL West race.
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17. Better get ready for Neftali Feliz(notes). He could be this year's Francisco Rodriguez(notes). The Rangers moved him to the bullpen figuring he could be a greater asset there this season, and Feliz's fastball is sitting at 99 mph and hitting 101 at Triple-A. Nothing like a triple-digit fastball to make someone froth ...

18. Right, Washington Nationals? The Stephen Strasburg drama will play out at high volumes over the next month. Already the posturing has started. The Nationals haven't talked with the No. 1 overall pick since they drafted him, and agent Scott Boras hasn't given any indication he wants less than the $52 million fetched by Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes). The Nationals are now interesting for two reasons, the other being ...

19. Adam Dunn's(notes) quest to hit more home runs than his team wins games. Dunn entered the break with 23. The Nationals have 26 victories. Weirder things have happened, and perhaps the better race is between Dunn's home runs and the number of games the Nationals finish behind the first-place team (currently 22½). For what it's worth, he's hit exactly 40 the last four seasons, a number last reached in 2000 by ...

20. His good friend Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) In all likelihood, this season is Junior's last hurrah, and while it's been something of a boondoggle – he's hitting just .222 – the ovations in September deserve to be thunderous. Then it's five years before he's off to Cooperstown, where he'll join ...

21. Rickey Henderson. Bless the man. He is a raconteur of the highest order, and Rickey's Hall of Fame induction speech July 26 is bound to be an all-timer. Oh, the third-person stories he'll tell: "Hey, everybody, did you know Rickey was ...

22. The last person to steal more than 80 bases in a season. It's true. He and Vince Coleman did it in 1988. No one has been there since, the closest Jose Reyes' 78 in 2007. Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford(notes) is on track for 80 on the dot, though it's a tough pace to keep, like Mauer's .400 and ...

23. Dan Haren's(notes) shot at an 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The amazing Arizona ace is there right now, at 8.06-to-1, and would be the sixth starter in the modern to do so over a full season (Curt Schilling(notes), Bret Saberhagen, Greg Maddux(notes), Ben Sheets(notes) and Pedro being the others). There's good and bad news. Bad first: He's a notorious first-half pitcher. The good: He pitches in a division loaded with flaccid bats, compared to the Viagara-popping ...

24. American League East. Yes, it's still baseball's powerhouse, and if Toronto reloads through a Halladay trade and Baltimore's young pitching is half as good as it's supposed to be, we may be looking at the greatest division in history in 2010 or '11. For now, the East is content to watch baseball's three best teams, Boston, New York and Tampa, joust for two playoff spots. And that is with all due respect, of course, to ...

25. The Los Angeles Dodgers. Manny Ramirez's Los Angeles Dodgers. Lord. He's right. Everything does come back to Manny. The Dodgers are the class of the NL, and were the league not so bereft of a dominant team to challenge Los Angeles, the Dodgers might deserve distinction among the AL elite. For now, they'll settle for being the class of the NL and perhaps fulfilling what looks like a prescient preseason prediction, Dodgers and Red Sox in the World Series. And just imagine: a Game 7, at Fenway Park, the Green Monster looking down on an old friend, the world still revolving around Manny.