|Barton Silverman/New York Times|
By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
The first half of the MLB season and All-Star break are officially behind us. The American League will have home field advantage in the World Series thanks to a 3-0 victory over the National League in the Mid-Summer Classic. With the second half set to get underway Friday here are some bold predictions for the remainder of the MLB season.
Alex Rodriguez will return and hit double-digit home runs for the Yankees…And they will still miss the post season and finish last in the AL East.
The much maligned New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is expected to return to the big league club next week once his rehab assignment is over. He has not exactly been tearing the cover off the ball during his rehab, but at this point even a declining A-Rod would be a welcomed addition to this Yankees lineup. The Yankees are getting absolutely no production from the third base position this season so giving A-Rod a shot is a no-brainer. Rodriguez has a lot to prove with seemingly everyone in the Yankees organization being against him and seeming to almost be rooting for Rodriguez to fail; it has gotten to the point you almost feel bad for him but then you realize he is making $28 million this year and you don’t feel too bad anymore. A surprise second half should be on the horizon for Rodriguez as he looks to prove his doubters wrong.
For the Yankees a resurgent Rodriguez most would think would be enough to propel them into the playoffs. With Derek Jeter seemingly close to returning and Curtis Granderson due back within a few weeks the Yankees lineup will start more closely resembling the one they thought they would have during spring training. Even with those players coming back it will be a high mountain to climb for the Yankees. Their offense has been dreadful all season and it is hard to foresee a turnaround for the whole club; they currently have more scoring problems than their cross-town rival Mets who are basically fielding a Triple-A team. They also have a lot of ground to make up in the standings, as three teams are ahead of them already and they currently sit tied with the Cleveland Indians. How the Yankees fare with a very difficult schedule out of the break will make their second half; they can either build momentum with series victories over the Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and Dodgers or sputter like they did heading into the break and find themselves in the cellar of the AL East; the latter is where I expect them to be.
Miguel Cabrera will win a second consecutive Triple Crown after MLB went the previous 45 seasons before last without one.
Cabrera is by far the best hitter in baseball. He hits for a high average with great power and discipline at the plate. His slash line of .365/.458/.674 says it all. He leads the AL and MLB with that batting average and is also pacing the Majors with 95 RBI. He has also launched 30 home runs, so it is fair to raise the question of how this is a bold prediction. It is a bold prediction because Chris Davis is actually performing just as well if not better as Cabrera in the run producing and power departments.
Davis has had an outstanding season batting .315/.392/.717. He has hit 37 long balls of his own and has knocked in 93 runs. He also went into the All-Star break on a tear, hitting four home runs and getting 8 RBI in his last four games. He has the only legitimate shot at keeping Cabrera from a second consecutive Triple Crown and MVP award. No offense to Mike Trout, who put up historic numbers of his own in the first half, but he does not have the power or run producing numbers of these two; he does have more tools though as he is an exception fielder and base runner.
Davis has a shot to overtake the RBI lead and leads by seven home runs but Cabrera winning the Triple Crown again I think will happen. Before the late surge Davis was struggling to hit the ball as his strikeout numbers were creeping up. He also suffered a blister during the Home Run Derby that may hinder him for a period of time. The fact he participated in the derby may hurt him as well; players who partake sometimes struggle the second half of the season not only matching their power numbers from the first half but even hitting the ball. This all spells trouble for Davis if he hopes to stave off Cabrera’s push to take over the Triple Crown stats.
Max Scherzer will have more losses than wins after the All-Star break and won’t get 20 wins.
Scherzer has been great the first half of the season, delivering a 13-1 record with a 3.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. There are no indications really that he will slow down; it is just a hunch of mine. He did lose his last start when he was roughed up by the Texas Rangers, giving up four runs in six innings. The law of averages was bound to catch up to Scherzer and the fact he lost should come as no surprise. That should also continue in the second half.
Scherzer was very lucky in the first half as the Tigers scored under three runs only once in his 19 starts; that kind of run insurance is bound to come down a little bit. Scherzer has also not felt the wrath of what is the Tigers bullpen. The Tigers have one of the worst late inning bullpens in the MLB yet Scherzer has been basically gone unfazed by this in his win-loss record; in the four losses the Tigers started in Scherzer starts, he surrendered three or more runs three times. Luck is bound to run out on Scherzer as the terrible Tigers bullpen combined with some off days from the offense will result in much uglier second half results.
Also, the last player to put on a performance like this in the first half was Ubaldo Jimenez with the Colorado Rockies in 2010; he went 15-1 in the first half but ended the season well off that pace with a 19-8 record.
The Atlanta Braves will finish with the biggest division lead margin but lose in the first round of the playoffs.
The Braves are the luckiest team in the MLB, not because of something that goes during play but because of who they get to play. The Braves are in quite possibly the most disappointing division in baseball in the AL East and are reaping the benefits. The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies are both underachieving this season while the Mets and Miami Marlins have lineups that would struggle to dominate the minor leagues. Currently six teams have under .500 records against the NL East; three of them reside in the division (Mets, Nationals, and Marlins). The Braves currently sport a 21-14 record against the NL East and 33-27 against everyone else.
The Braves have a team capable of pulling away from the lesser performing teams in their division but don’t stack up well in a playoff series. They have a boom-or-bust lineup with too many streaky hitters. Three of their everyday starters in the lineup are hitting .233 or worse. Add in the fact they are in the NL and the pitchers hit you can make that four out of nine players with underwhelming averages.
They also are suffering through a lot of injuries. Their bullpen has been and will be without two of their better arms in Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Their lineup is suffering through injuries to the point that the starting outfield in the last game before the break was Jose Costanza, Reed Johnson and Joey Terdoslavich with Tyler Pastornicky and Paul Janish used as pinch hitters. That I believe is more of a blip in the radar than a trend starting, so the Braves will have enough to win their division by the largest margin in the majors but will have their playoff stay be short lived.
Of the current division leaders, at least half will not be leading their respective divisions by the time the season ends.
Currently the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks lead their respective divisions. There is no need to remember that because come playoff time at least half of those teams will no longer sit atop their division.
The Braves are the one team that will be the same at the end of the season. The Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals have the next best chance, but it would not be surprising to see each of them fall into the wild card. If the Tigers don’t fix that bullpen they will be in trouble and the Cardinals have to deal with two of the top five teams in baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in their own division; if either team resided in any other division they would be virtual locks to win it.
The Red Sox, Athletics and Diamondbacks are the three teams most likely to lose their spots. They have surprised everyone through the first half thus far as no one expected much out of any of them but their time at the top is running out. Of this group the Athletics have the best chance to hold on; they have the best overall team of the bunch and the only reason they are listed in the most likely section is because they have the Texas Rangers breathing down their necks, not the Cleveland Indians like the Tigers or else they would be flip-flopped.
The Red Sox need some help in the bullpen. They added Matt Thornton before the break but will need more help back there as they are already on their third closer of the season. They also reside in the toughest division in baseball in the AL East as every team, even the last place Blue Jays, can have a case made that they will win the division. The Diamondbacks are in the virtual opposite division from the AL East as the NL West is quite possibly the worst division not only in baseball but of all sports. The pitching staff is inconsistent as the bullpen is a leaky faucet waiting to burst. The offense has been a pleasant surprise led by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt but they are not good enough to carry an underperforming staff for a while season; it was surprising they even did it for half a season. The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming on hard and I expect them to be the winners of the NL West and a team that no one wants to play come the postseason; they have a pitching staff as deep as anyone’s in the majors and a lineup with enough star and name power worthy of the Hollywood limelight they reside in.