What a first-half MLB fans just got to witness. Shohei Ohtani blossomed into a modern-day Babe Ruth, second-generation superstars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. have firmly entrenched themselves as the two new faces of the sport, and pitchers now must undergo a TSA like check when they leave the mound. As play gets set to resume this weekend, let's dive into twenty bold predictions for the second half.
The Halos haven't qualified for the postseason since 2014 and have historically criminally underperformed while employing the best player on the planet in Mike Trout. Seemingly every year experts fruitlessly pick the Angels to snap their drought, and this team has admittedly been stuck in 4th place in their own division for most of '21. So why would I ever think things might change in the next two and a half months? Well for starters LA has stayed afloat much better than could've been expected when Trout went down with a calf injury in May. That's in large part due to the two-way performance of Ohtani who is the runaway favorite to win AL MVP, but the Angels have gotten boosts from other places too. First baseman Jared Walsh has developed into a dangerous left-handed power hitter in his own right, and veterans Jose Iglesias and David Fletcher have done a nice job on both sides of the ball. The Halos starting pitching has been abysmal, but even minor improvement there coupled with the return of Trout could help propel this team into the 2nd wild card.
The biggest fish the Mets reeled in in their first off-season under new ownership was obviously Lindor, who had spent his entire career until that point playing an all-star level shortstop in Cleveland. His first few months in New York have had their challenges, but let's not be so quick to give up on the switch-hitter. The Mets schedule has been almost comically stop and start. Their opening series in Washington had to be postponed when the Nationals experienced a mini COVID outbreak, and uncanny bad luck with the weather has already forced the Mets to play 10 doubleheaders. Through it all, they've remained in first place in the NL East for over two months, and if they're able to play a more regular schedule down the stretch, look for their new addition to take off.
Given the current standings, this might be the boldest prediction on here. We knew heading into 2021 that the Dodgers and Padres were both going to be very good in the NL West, but nobody could have predicted Gabe Kapler's Giants owning the best record on the senior circuit for most of the first half. Buoyed by the return of Buster Posey who opted out last year and a renaissance season from longtime shortstop Brandon Crawford, San Fran has drastically outperformed expectations. But can it last? The Giants' second-half schedule is daunting. They haven't even played the leaders of the NL Central or NL East yet (Milwaukee and New York respectively), and have 13 collective games against those teams left. In addition to 10 each against the Dodgers and Padres. With the tough slate and a little overall regression, San Francisco will likely come back to the pack a little down the stretch. The question is if someone like Cincinnati, Atlanta, or Washington will be able to get hot and capitalize on that.
Ronald Acuna Jr. made one hell of a push for it two years ago, but the exclusive 40/40 club still houses only four names, and nobody has accomplished the feat since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. But that may change in just a few short months. Tatis already is over 20 in both homers and steals, and while stolen bases are more likely to be the holdup, this is assuredly a goal of his. Look for Tatis to run even more in the second half, particularly if we get into September and the 40/40 proposition is still very much on the table.
This one is not necessarily likely, but it is on the table which is just incredible. The Reds slugger has become the most prolific doubles hitter in baseball in recent years, and just two years ago piled up 58 two-baggers. He again leads baseball in the statistic at the all-star break and while he would need to pick up his already dominant pace, let's not write this possibility off.
Seattle lefty Hector Santiago became the first hurler disciplined under the new sticky substance rules, but make no mistake about it. He won't be the last. Santiago's contention that the substance was simply a combination of sweat and rosin (both of which are quite obviously legal) was a believable one, and to me, this whole issue is on the league. Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff simply have to come up with a more universal line in the sand and not leave this up to individual umpires to objectively determine what is sticky and what isn't, or make on-the-fly determinations as to what a potentially sticky substance actually is. Otherwise, an already contentious upcoming CBA negotiation could turn downright ugly.
Saying deGrom will take home his 3rd Cy Young award in a few months would not represent much of a hot take. The season the Mets' ace has put together to date is simply historic, and he's got plenty of room for error down the stretch to still win that award. But a starting pitcher winning MVP? It's only happened twice since 1992. Fernando Tatis Jr. will obviously get plenty of love from the voters, but if deGrom actually finishes with an ERA around 1.00 and continues to swing the bat the way he has, in my opinion, it's his award to lose.
This goes against everything President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski believes in, and it's certainly far from what he envisioned when he took this job ahead of the 2021 season. But the Phillies need to be honest with themselves about their situation. Season-long inconsistency has kept their playoff hopes barely treading water all year, and it's difficult to envision their reality changing between now and the end of July. Philadelphia's system is also incredibly barren of top-end talent, and trading from the Major League team could help replenish that. Look for names like Andrew McCutchen, Archie Bradley, Jean Segura, Hector Neris, Didi Gregorius, and maybe others to find their names mentioned as we get closer to the deadline.
Detroit's Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown in 2012, but before that, it hadn't been done since 1967. Well, Toronto's budding superstar has as good a chance to accomplish the feat in '21 as just about everyone in recent memory. Guerrero Jr. currently tops the league in both average and RBI, and trails only the aforementioned Ohtani in homers. If he can continue his dominant season down the stretch and Ohtani comes back to the field even just a little, this is going to be an exciting storyline to watch down the stretch.
The White Sox have been coming for a couple of years now, but 2021 is the season they've fully arrived. After a disappointing first-round exit in the unique '20 postseason, the White Sox look poised to make a deep run this time around. Chicago finished the first half with a huge lead in the AL Central, and they're bunched tightly together with Boston, Houston, and Tampa Bay in search of the top seed in the league. When October rolls around though, this team has a balanced line-up anchored by reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, and a strong rotation with veterans Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, and Carlos Rodon in addition to young ace Lucas Giolito.
Talk about a disappointment. The Twins entered '21 knowing the White Sox had probably passed them on paper, but this is still a team that had won the AL Central crown in each of the last two seasons. Minnesota felt at worst they would be firmly in the mix for a wild card berth down the stretch, but that is just not going to be the case. The Twins are buried hopelessly in not only their division, but the American League as a whole, and they will assuredly be sellers in the next couple of weeks. Look for big-ticket names like Jose Berrios, Nelson Cruz, Taylor Rogers, and maybe even Josh Donaldson to change uniforms. Their departures will lead to Minnesota sinking even below Kansas City and finishing last in the Central for the first time since 2016.
This admittedly might be wishful thinking, but it is not at all out of the realm of possibility. The Dodgers trail the Giants in the NL West at the break, but as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't expect that to continue for long. If Los Angeles ultimately finishes with the top record in the NL they would play the winner of the wild card game, which would pin the other two division winners against each other in the first round. (Right now that would be Milwaukee and New York). With a little luck and a dramatic NLCS, fans could get to see what would be one of the most anticipated and hyped pitching match-ups in an elimination game ever. Kershaw owns three NL Cy Young awards, while deGrom is well on his way to his 3rd right now. Buckle up.
This possibility was unthinkable just a few months ago, but if legendary Bombers owner George Steinbrenner were still alive it may have already happened. Life comes at you fast huh? The Yankees are well behind both Boston and Tampa Bay in the AL East, and they've toggled back and forth with Toronto bouncing between 3rd and 4th for several weeks. They hit the all-star break barely over .500 and struggling to stay afloat in the wild card race. Without a dramatic turnaround between now and the end of July could the Yankees actually sell? And should they ultimately miss the postseason--while the crosstown Mets steal more and more headlines--changes are coming in the Bronx.
The 2018 NL MVP has had an exceedingly frustrating first few months of 2021. The 29-year-old has struggled to generate any real power and has not produced even close to the way he and the Brewers expect him to. Multiple trips to the IL due to a back issue have really hampered his ability to get anything going, and it's fair to wonder how much his back is still bothering him. Despite his struggles, the Brewers hold a commanding lead in the NL Central, and if Yelich can get hot this team will be a force to reckoned with down the stretch and into October.
The 2021 season was expected to be a year of transition for a veteran Cubs team, but their outlook wasn't supposed to change so dramatically within a few weeks. In late June the Cubs were neck and neck with the Brewers for the NL Central lead, but an 11 game losing streak seemingly put to bed most of their postseason aspirations. Now they're at the break and have been passed by Cincinnati and tied by St. Louis. With the potential to be firmly in 4th place within just a few days Chicago has to sell, and all of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez are free agents at years' end. Willson Contreras and Craig Kimbrel could also bring back a quality return, and a role player like Joc Pederson could net a solid piece. But my hunch is that while the Cubs should have a full-fire sale, they won't trade away as many guys as they should.
There's not a more exciting team in the Major Leagues than San Diego, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone to argue that point with you. Fernando Tatis Jr. has blossomed into the premier superstar in the league, but he's far from alone. The Padres lineup features fellow stars Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in supporting roles, while guys like Wil Myers and Trent Grisham are enjoying wonderful under-the-radar campaigns. The Friars rotation will be tough to beat in a short series with Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove. But they have to get to a short series first. Right now the Padres appear ticketed towards a wild card game appearance, and while they may win a ton of contests, I'm going out on a limb and picking them to lose that game to Luis Castillo and Cincinnati.
The Reds got off to a disappointing start in 2021, in large part due to unexpected struggles from their pitching staff. In eight starts since the calendar turned to June though, ace right-hander Luis Castillo has completely turned his season around and is once again pitching like an upper-echelon starter. Veterans Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle have thrown well in the middle of this rotation, but for the Reds to win they need Castillo and fellow righty Sonny Gray to be a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top. This team will score runs, and if the pitching can hold up their end of the bargain, the Reds will ride a second-half surge into a wild card berth.
The rest of the league would hate this, but there are several big-name veterans on the Houston roster who would view this sort of success as a form of vindication. The Astros have played wonderfully in the season's first half, and if not for the Dodgers lopsided 22-1 win over Arizona last Saturday, Houston would own the best-run differential in the Major Leagues. Even without Justin Verlander, the Astros starting staff has survived thanks to strong performances from all of Zack Grienke, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Jake Odorizzi, and Framber Valdez. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have also both been swinging the bat with one hell of a chip on their shoulders. The American League as a whole appears incredibly evenly matched at the top, and the postseason should be incredibly exciting. Look for Houston to be right in the middle of it all.
This may not constitute the boldest of predictions considering how good Tampa Bay has been for much of the last half dozen years. And they are indeed the reigning American League champions. But after losing both Blake Snell and Charlie Morton from their rotation, most people expected the Rays to take a step back. After all, this was supposed to be the Yankees division to lose. The Red Sox are the team that has been the biggest surprise, as they've grabbed hold of first place in the East and held it for essentially the entire first half. But as the final two and a half months begin to unfold, look for the Rays to slowly establish themselves as the premier team in this division and for the Red Sox to hang on to a playoff spot but have to do battle in the win or go home wild-card game.
The Diamondbacks were not supposed to be very good in 2021, but they weren't supposed to be historically bad. Arizona currently owns a winning percentage under .300, and every day it seems like new embarrassing highlights keep worming their way into their campaign. The Diamondbacks have been comically terrible on the road, and should they end up trading away most of their useful pieces before the end of July, things will only get worse. Can they threaten the 1962 Mets for the most losses in MLB history (120)? That remains to be seen, but it's still a pretty fair bet that the first overall pick in the 2022 draft will be joining the Arizona organization.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.