Oh, Bud Selig. What have you done? Ever since “this time it counts” became the mantra of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, I’ve cared less and less about who wins.
Funny how that works.
But now that we know the American League holds home-field advantage in the World Series, it’s time to turn our attention to the remainder of the season. Despite five of the six division leaders holding at least a 5 1/2 -game lead, there should be plenty of interesting storylines to make up for the apparent lack of pennant-race drama.
What will those storylines be? Read on as I present my Second Half Predictions That Will Definitely Maybe Come True.
▪ Neither 2015 World Series team reaches the postseason
Sorry, Royals. Apologies, Mets. But this fall, you’ll both be watching the playoffs from home.
With the Royals making consecutive World Series appearances, players such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain have become household names. Look in a box score now, though, and you’ll see names like Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner. Blame a spate of injuries, and as a result Kansas City is stuck in an AL Central logjam behind the Indians.
Perhaps I’m underestimating a team whose calling card is resiliency, but it’s hard to picture the Royals overtaking the Indians and I see the AL wild cards coming from elsewhere.
The Mets also have endured a number of injuries, especially to their terrific starting rotation. And Yoenis Cespedes, who missed a couple of recent games with a strained quad, cannot carry the offense by himself.
▪ Giants (mostly) stand pat, and still win the NL West
Despite 17 blown saves, which equals the Reds for most in MLB, and injuries to regulars Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, the Giants still reached the season’s midpoint with baseball’s best record (57-33) and a 6 1/2 -game lead over the Dodgers.
Even though the Dodgers have been playing better, that’s still a fair bit of wiggle room. Enough to keep general manager Bobby Evans from pulling the trigger on a blockbuster deal that would force the Giants to give up top prospects.
Instead, look for Evans to shore up an inconsistent bullpen that already has been fortified by Sergio Romo’s return. Those additions won’t be flashy (don’t expect Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller) but enough to stave off the Dodgers for the division crown.
▪ Dodgers make blockbuster trade for a starting pitcher
Don’t the Dodgers have enough starters? Well, sure they do. If you just go by names. But aside from ace Clayton Kershaw, who should return shortly from a partially herniated disc, and Japanese import Kenta Maeda, they haven’t been effective – or healthy.
Los Angeles desperately needs another quality arm to slot into the No. 2 spot (Sonny Gray? Gerrit Cole?) and is one of the few teams with enough major-league talent and depth in the farm system to pull off such a trade.
Fox’s Ken Rosenthal reported the Dodgers are considering dealing Yasiel Puig before the July 31 trade deadline. That would be wise. Even though Puig has been mediocre since 2014, he still has enough perceived value to bring back something nice in return. And with Andre Ethier and Joc Pederson due back soon, the outfield is about to become awfully crowded.
▪ A’s trade away their best player(s)
OK, this isn’t exactly a bold prediction. The A’s always trade their best players. It’s Billy Beane’s modus operandi.
This year, though, I expect a thorough housecleaning. With the A’s 12 games back in the AL West, anyone and everyone with value gets a shipping label. Gray is having a sub-par season (5.16 ERA) and is relatively cheap, so maybe he stays. But look for Rich Hill, Josh Reddick and Sean Doolittle (if he gets healthy) to be wearing different uniforms by September.
▪ Cubs won’t reach 100 wins
We sure were fooled. Back in early June, when the Cubs were a ridiculous 40-16, there was every reason to speculate whether Joe Maddon’s club could eclipse the all-time record of 116 regular-season victories.
Now, after dropping five of their past seven series, even getting to triple-digits seems a stretch. At 53-35, the Cubs are playing .602 baseball. That means they’ll have to play .635 ball from here on out (47-27) to reach 100 wins. Don’t see that happening.
One interesting note, courtesy of Fangraphs.com: The Cubs have played 13 games against the Reds and are averaging 8.1 runs in those games. Against everyone else, the Cubs are averaging 4.7 runs. (The NL average is 4.4 per game.) That’s called fattening up on a patsy.
▪ Astros surge to AL West title
Way, way back in April I predicted a Cubs-Astros World Series. (Yes, despite the Giants’ #EvenYearMagic.) While the Cubs lived up to that billing, the Astros spent the entire first month looking nothing like last season’s AL wild card surprise.
Take another look. The Astros are 41-24 since May 1 to pull within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Rangers. Houston has no shortage of upper-tier talent (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer), and the lineup will get even more impressive once Alex Bregman makes the leap from the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. Now that Cy Young winner Dallas Kuechel has turned things around (five straight quality starts), expect the surge to continue.
▪ Red Sox win the AL East, and Big Papi un-retires
All right, I don’t really think David Ortiz is faking this retirement stuff. But why would someone hitting .332 with 22 bombs and 72 RBIs at the All-Star break want to step away? Especially when his job description doesn’t require a glove.
What Ortiz is doing at 40 years old is simply amazing, and now that Drew Pomeranz is on board there’s no reason to think the Red Sox won’t run away with the AL East.
And if Big Papi has a change of heart after hoisting the AL MVP trophy, well, you read it here first.