Summer is finally here and that means baseball is at its’ midway point.
The first half of the season provided us with plenty action and drama, but the most exciting aspect has been the long-ball.
Crippling. Devastating. Back-breaking. Those are words that could be used to describe a home run.
Indeed, the home run has been revived folks. Players are going yard early and often much to the detriment of pitchers. MLB hitters are on pace to hit 6,668 homers this year, which would crush the current record of 6,105 as it was set back in 2017.
In addition to home runs, there are playoff and award races worth paying attention to as the season heats up.
With that being said, here are some predictions for the second half of the MLB season:
1. Boston’s Struggles Continue
Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez were the straws that stirred the drink for the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series last year. Betts won MVP while Martinez was nearly a triple crown champ. Chris Sale was throwing thunderbolts from the mound to the tune of a 2.11 ERA and a 12-4 record.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The Boston trio has struggled this season and are the reason the Red Sox are floundering rather than pummeling teams like they did a year ago.
Betts batting average is down to .272 after hitting .364 a year ago. Martinez hit 43 homer runs and had 130 runs batted in (RBI) in 2018. This season he is projected to finish with 32 homers and just 86 RBI.
Meanwhile, for Sale, his fall from grace has been a nosedive. He’s struggled with his velocity on his fastball, which he uses to setup other pitches. Sale’s command on the mound isn’t where it was a year ago either. As a result, what you see is a guy with a 4.04 ERA and already eight losses.
While Betts and Martinez struggles hurt the Sox, Sale’s lackluster performance is much more difficult to overcome.
If Sale and the 17th-ranked Sox pitching staff don’t pick it up, Boston will miss the postseason.
Prediction: No Playoffs for Boston
2. Rookie Record
New York has an exciting rookie that is on the fast track to being the MLB’s next big thing.
No not the Yankees, the Mets.
Pete Alonso is an All-Star despite being a rookie, and that’s not even the most exciting part about this young player. The bigger story is his hot start to the year as he has 30 homers and 68 RBI.
Alonso is currently on pace to break Aaron Judge’s rookie record in home runs which was set at 52.
The Mets’ rookie sensation is projected to finish with 54. So, while the Mets may not be lighting it up on the field, Alonso sure is providing something for fans to be excited about when they visit Citi Field.
Prediction: Alonso will break the record
3. Wild Card Race
For the first time in a long time, there is a cluster in both leagues regarding the Wild Card race. Focusing on records or traditional statistics won’t tell the full story of each team.
The American League (AL) is pretty cut and dry with nearly ten teams competing for the two spots. Let’s take a look at each teams’ notable characteristics to illuminate the situation.
- Boston Red Sox: can score, struggle pitching
- Chicago White Sox: can’t score, struggle pitching
- Cleveland Indians: good pitching, struggle scoring
- Los Angeles Angels: struggle pitching, struggle scoring
- Oakland Athletics: heavily HR-oriented, good pitching
- Tampa Bay Rays: elite pitching, struggle scoring
- Texas Rangers: can score, struggle pitching
The Angels and White Sox are out of the race with too many issues. The Red Sox have pitching concerns they need to address, but team owner John Henry doesn’t plan on adding much to his payroll. The same could be said for the surprisingly good Rangers although they might be more active than the BoSox.
That leaves the Rays, Indians, and Athletics.
The Rays are top three in the AL in ERA, strikeouts, and opponents’ batting average. Not to mention, offensively, they hit .254. Though they don’t generate a lot of runs, they leave hitters dazed in the box and that is why their run differential is the highest among these three teams.
Tampa Bay will make the postseason.
As for the other spot, the Indians and A’s are both top five in ERA. However, given the struggles of the Indians to score or even get on base with a dismal .244 batting average, it’s hard to overlook those long-ball specialists in Oakland.
Prediction: Rays and Athletics
If you thought there were a lot of teams in the AL Wild Card race, just look at the National League (NL) Standings as every team except for the Miami Marlins is in the hunt.
For the sake of time, let’s focus on the top eight bidders with their notable characteristics:
- Arizona Diamondbacks: well-balanced team on both sides
- Colorado Rockies: can score, terrible pitching
- Milwaukee Brewers: heavily HR-oriented, bad pitching
- Philadelphia Phillies: okay offense, bad pitching
- Pittsburgh Pirates: great in-field hitting team, bad pitching and defense
- San Diego Padres: heavily HR-oriented, bad pitching
- St. Louis Cardinals: good pitching, struggles hitting and scoring
- Washington Nationals: good starters, bad relievers, struggles scoring
First, the Padres, Pirates, and Phillies have big bats that can influence a game, but pitching struggles inhibit them in the end. Next, the Cardinals have a strong set of throwers, but offensively they couldn’t hit the ball if it were on a tee. Lastly, the Rockies can score with the best of them, but give up points like a bottom-feeding squad.
Those four teams will need to adjust their teams before the trade deadline, but as of now it’s hard to see them getting in.
The Brewers are the team that is the most concerning because they have struggled pitching as of late. Their ERA is at 4.61 and Christian Yelich’s back injury is nothing to be ignored. With all of these lingering issues, it’s hard to see the Brewers winning this race.
The D-backs and Nationals are as consistent as they come on both sides of the diamond with middling bats and sound pitching staffs. They should both get in.
Prediction: D-backs and Nationals
4. MVP Race
Starting in the AL, Eddie Rosario is leading the hot Minnesota Twins with 20 homers and 60 RBI. The Yankees have three guys in Gary Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, and D.J. LeMahieu as qualified candidates. Yet, there is a pitcher that should win MVP.
At age 36, Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander continues to amaze. He is having a historic season like Jacob deGrom did in 2018. deGrom was in the running to win NL MVP, but the New York Mets’ struggles cost him.
Here are how Verlander’s numbers look currently in comparison to deGrom’s 2018 stats:
Stat: 2019 Justin Verlander (2018 Jacob deGrom)
- Opponents’ BA: .168 (.196)
- WHIP: .81 (.91)
- ERA: 2.98 (1.70)
- Strikeouts per game: 8.05 (8.40)
- Hits allowed per game: 4.00 (4.75)
deGrom finished fifth in NL MVP voting and was the only player to receive a first-place vote other than the winner Yelich. Rewarding guys that play everyday is important when it comes to the MVP, but it’s hard to ignore a historically great season by a pitcher.
Verlander gets the nod here in the AL.
Speaking of Yelich, the reigning NL MVP recipient is looking to become the first player since Albert Pujols (2008 and 2009) to win the award in consecutive seasons.
Yelich is hitting .329 with 31 homers and 67 RBI. If he continues at this rate, he will have new career-highs in home runs, RBI, stolen bases, on-base and slugging percentages, and maybe even his batting average.
But don’t go crowning Yelly just yet.
Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers is putting on a show himself with 30 homers, 71 RBI, and a batting average of .336. His steep increase in productivity might be the reason the Dodgers reverse their fortunes in the last two seasons and finally win a World Series.
As stated before, Yelich’s back injury is concerning even if it doesn’t sideline him. His power is now compromised. As long as Bellinger stays healthy, the award is now his for the taking.
Prediction: AL – Justin Verlander, NL – Cody Bellinger
5. World Series Rematch
If you’re easily enamored by the regular season, you’d think the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are on a collision course to meet in the World Series.
Only half of that equation is true.
There isn’t a single team in the NL that can matchup with the Dodgers as they can win high-scoring affairs and buckle down with elite pitching in the low-scoring contests. They are the most experienced team in the NL after losing in two straight World Series and they are on a mission.
Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros and the Yankees are the favorites to represent their league in the World Series. Both teams should provide us with a great playoff matchup like they did in 2017 in the ALCS as Houston won and went on to win the World Series.
Both teams are good offensively in different ways. Houston uses base-hitting to apply pressure while New York is focused on delivering haymakers with home runs.
The glaring difference between these two teams is with pitching and defensively.
The Astros ERA is at 3.86 while the Yankees currently post 4.15. The other advantage Houston has is in fielding as New York ranks 26th in errors with 65.
Guys like Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres, and Gary Sanchez have over 11 errors already. Against an elite base-hitting team like Houston, those infield mishaps are like a good jab in boxing as over time they start to hurt.
The Yankees are getting healthy and will likely be active around the trade deadline, but the Astros have one too many advantages currently. For that reason, Houston will be in the World Series.
Prediction: Astros versus Dodgers
Wrap it Up
With the MLB season heading into the dark days of summer, games winning games will be critical to making a playoff run.
Adding players will make or break a team at the deadline while the elite teams simply go into cruise control until the playoffs roll around.
Also, the MVP race in both leagues will come down to a photo finish.
So, as the summer heats up, so too should the action on the field.