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As the All-Star break is now upon us, a look back at this year’s Major League Baseball season reveals many surprises.

As the All-Star break is now upon us, a look back at this year’s Major League Baseball season reveals many surprises.

Injuries have plagued the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who are barely holding ground in the NL Central. The New York Yankees’ season has swung back and forth through droughts and hot streaks like a pendulum. For the first time since 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers hold a 4.5 game advantage in the NL Central.

Suffice to say that it has been an unpredictable year, thus far. Three teams in particular need to turn it up if they want to make a push for the playoffs following the All-Star break.

The Bronx Blunders

At times, the Yankees have looked completely unraveled. Other times, they look like contenders. The disastrous times are more pressing in the Big Apple.

Alex Rodriguez is enjoying a monstrous year, hitting .315 with an MLB-leading 29 homeruns and 82 RBIs. Minus A-Rod, the Yankees hitters have done nothing, as the formerly fearsome Bronx Bombers’ lineup has gone yard only 57 times.

Chien-Ming Wang is the only Yank holding it down on the mound with a team-best 8-4 record and 3.58 ERA. The Yankees’ big free agents, pitchers Kei Igawa, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, are a combined 8-11 in 32 starts with ERAs between 4.00 and 6.00. Not to mention Mariano Rivera, the most untouchable closer in history, has a mere 11 saves–a clear indication the Yanks are troubled.

Mediocrity is not good enough for the Yankees. If someone doesn’t rally the troops soon, the Yankees could be swallowing their first playoff whiff since 1994, manager Joe Torre would be fired and George Steinbrenner will need to make serious changes to his frivolous-spending business model.

Worn-out White Sox

The Chicago White Sox, winners of the 2005 World Series, may need to take their Geritol and call it a season. Sitting 13 games back in the AL Central behind playoff contenders Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota, the aged, beaten up Sox are in need of a fountain of youth.

The team holds a pathetic .241 batting average, the worst in MLB. First baseman Paul Konerko has a team-leading 18 homers and 48 RBIs. However, his .262 batting average and .359 on-base percentage means he is all power and no punch. These glaring holes in Chicago’s line up must be filled soon, or the fans will look forward to watching the city’s competitive squads: the Bears and Bulls.

The pitching that won the Sox a ring not even three years ago has also lost its magic. Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle has a team best 3.03 ERA with six wins and four losses, including a no-hitter thrown in April. He is as good as it gets. Jose Contreras has been as bad as it gets, amassing a 5-10 record and 5.19 ERA for a staff ranked 22nd in ERA at 4.58.

It looks like the Jose Guillen experience might be over. At this rate, the White Sox will retire into the slumping basement dwellers they have always been, unless there’s a quick turn around in the Windy City.

Cubby catastrophe

Chicago went on a free-agent tear, acquiring talent like outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Cliff Floyd, and gifted second basemen Mark DeRosa. They also snatched pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis.

Even with all this money invested, the Cubs still have not lived up to their hype. Holding a 44-42 record and resting 4.5 games behind the surprising Brewers has not helped the Cubs’ cause.

Club ace Carlos Zambrano has been shaky this season, compiling a 10-7 record, 4.15 ERA and 107 strikeouts. However, Lilly has proven himself a good pick-up with his 8-4 record, 3.67 ERA and 98 punch-outs.

The Cubs’ top hitters include third basemen Aramis Ramirez, who is hitting .309. Ramirez leads the team with 51 RBIs and is tied with Soriano for homeruns with 15 apiece.

As the Cubs have heated up, winning 22 games in June and July, so has Soriano. 11 of his 15 jacks and 18 of 33 RBIs came in June.

If the Cubs continue their hot stretch after the All-Star break, then maybe the team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003 will finally get some respect. If not, it will be another off-season of griping and retooling on Chicago’s north side.

Will the Bronx be burning? Will the teams that call the North and South sides of Chicago home be sitting in their living rooms come October? Look for these Major-League squads’ fates to be decided, as well as the other 27 teams’, in the second half of the season.