Now that Major League Baseball's first-half sensations are back from the All-Star break, it is time to get serious and validate their individual status for the 2013 season. And if that pushes their team into the postseason, all the better.
In the National League last season, key second-half performances by catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval helped push the Giants to a World Series. Posey was the NL MVP and Sandoval the World Series MVP.
This year, the second-half performances of Posey and Sandoval will once again be critical. But unless the entire team improves around them, the Giants will be hard-pressed to leverage their feats even if Posey bats .500 and Sandoval becomes the best pound-for-pound hitter in baseball.
Several players obviously will be pivotal after the All-Star break, but perhaps like Posey and Sandoval — not necessarily with the postseason as an attainable team goal.
Based on a survey by team correspondents with The Sports Xchange, here is a closer look at the National League West's pivotal players in the second half:
Giants: 3b Pablo Sandoval
Weight always is an issue with Sandoval, who has amazing athleticism and agility despite his body type, and for the most part the Giants must accept the third baseman as is. With Posey and Hunter Pence, the Giants have a potentially lethal 3-4-5 combination, and much of it rests with the free-swinging Sandoval.
Arizona D'backs: RHP Ian Kennedy
Kennedy led the NL with 36 victories in 2011-12, but has only three at the break (and a 5.42 ERA). He has at various times been up in the zone with his pitches, and his secondary stuff seems to be there one start, not the next. The D'backs need Kennedy to be an ace in the coming months.
Colorado Rockies: SS Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium position and hits cleanup. The Rockies know all too well what his prolonged absence from the lineup means. The Rockies went 9-16 during his latest DL stint. When he's on the field, he's an MVP candidate.
L.A. Dodgers: CF
Kemp narrowly lost the NL MVP to the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun two years ago. The Kemp the Dodgers have seen this year has been a mere shadow of that player, due mainly to his difficulties recovering from October's shoulder surgery.
San Diego Padres: 3B Chase Headley
Since his breakout second half in 2012, Headley has been mired in a prolonged slump spanning 60 games. In his last half of 2012, he hit .308 with 23 homers and 73 RBIs in 75 games. In the 60-game stretch before the All-Star break, Headley hit .184 (45-for-244) with three home runs and 19 RBIs and is hitting .229 for the season.