It was a memorable All-Star Weekend, but the MLB calendar waits for no one — in just one more day, the second half will resume, a 2.5-month sprint to the finish in which teams jockey for playoff positioning or retool for the future. And with just about every team (with apologies to Oakland) still in the mix and one of the best players in baseball history potentially on the trading block, this stretch run figures to be one of the wildest ever.
How will it all shake out? Here are seven bold predictions for MLB’s second half.
Seven bold predictions for MLB’s second half
Shohei Ohtani gets traded
Let’s just get right to it. Yes, all reports indicate that owner Arte Moreno doesn’t want to be the guy who trades the best player in the history of the sport — that’s just posturing, though, because really, what else is he supposed to say right now?
Here are the facts: The Angels are 45-46, losers of nine of their last 10 and five games back of the third and final Wild Card spot. They’ll be without Mike Trout and most of their starting infield (Anthony Rendon, Zach Neto, Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela, the latter of whom is out for the season) for the foreseeable future. Their schedule coming out of the break features series against the Astros, Yankees, Blue Jays and Braves. Every time Ohtani is asked about his free agency, he reiterates his desire to play for a winner.
The writing is on the wall here, is what we’re saying. It would be a minor miracle for L.A. to claw back into meaningful contention over the next two weeks, at which point Moreno and the front office will be faced with a choice: Trade the best player in baseball history, or lose the best player in baseball history for nothing. When the chips are down and the clock is ticking, the bet here is that they pull the trigger and send shockwaves through the sport.
The Yankees make a big trade ... and miss the playoffs
I guess we should qualify “big” here, because there aren’t too many difference-makers that figure to be available at the deadline — especially difference-makers at the plate. But Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner brothers appear to be finally feeling a bit of heat after a dismal month and a half, and they seem to recognize that this lineup — even if Aaron Judge comes back healthy — is in desperate need of a shot in the arm.
So let’s say the Yankees do indeed dip into their farm system and swing a trade, likely for an outfielder like the Cubs’ Cody Bellinger or the Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill. Where does that leave them? Still a hitter or two short on offense — is a Judge/Bellinger/Gleyber Torres/Giancarlo Stanton/Anthony Rizzo heart of the orde really moving the needle? — with a rotation that consists of Gerrit Cole, injury concerns (Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes) and question marks (Luis Severino, Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt). New York’s pitching will keep it reasonably competitive, but the battle for an AL Wild Card spot is going to be fierce, and this team simply doesn’t have the talent to match up with Baltimore, Houston or Toronto. They’re 13-19 since Judge went down, and not even the reigning MVP can turn that into a winning team.
The Mets have a quiet deadline ... and make the playoffs
Owner Steve Cohen left open the possibility of selling if things didn’t turn around, but who is New York moving exactly? Max Scherzer, who’d have to waive his no-trade clause? Tommy Pham? There aren’t many potential deals to even be had, and look at the Mets’ schedule coming out of the break, which includes the White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees, Nationals and Royals. This team is going to still be at least on the fringes of the NL Wild Card race, which makes it exceedingly unlikely that they’ll make a drastic move in either direction at the trade deadline.
Instead, look for New York to make a minor move here or there, adding relief depth or another outfielder but, for the most part, standing pat — and grabbing a Wild Card spot anyway. This team has a top-10 offense on the season, and I still believe in the potential of Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga at the top of the rotation. They have a better run differential and record against .500 or better teams than the Marlins, and if they can cobble together a fourth and fifth starter from Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson, a returning Jose Quintana and others, there’s no reason why they can’t catch at least Miami.
The Baltimore Orioles acquire Lucas Giolito and catch the Rays
The O’s now find themselves just two games back — and tied in the loss column — of the Rays in the AL East, riding a five-game winning streak and averaging six runs a game in the month of July. Offensively, this team has as much talent as anyone, with Cedric Mullins, Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman spearheading things and Ryan Mountcastle set to return from injury. Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano are as good a 1-2 punch in the late innings as you’ll find. The only thing holding this team back from being a true inner-circle contender is their starting pitching, and we have good news on that front: 1) John Means should return from Tommy John at some point in August and 2) they have one of the most talented farm systems in baseball with which to swing a trade.
Tampa’s rotation is running on fumes, with Shane McClanahan and Zach Eflin just about the only sure things as Tyler Glasnow can’t stay healthy and top prospect Taj Bradley can’t find consistency in the Majors just yet. If Baltimore swings someone like Colton Cowser, Jordan Westburg or Connor Norby in a trade for Lucas Giolito or Shane Bieber, the O’s become AL East favorites.
The Phillies get back to the NLCS
Don’t look now, but last year’s NL champs are starting to wake up. Philly has had snake-bitten seasons from their two aces (Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola), injuries up and down the lineup and exactly one hitter — Nick Castellanos — who’s been consistently above average. And yet, here they are, right in the thick of the Wild Card race at 48-41. Wheeler-Nola-Taijuan Walker-Ranger Suarez is a solid four in the rotation, and if Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber can ever get hot at once, we’ll be looking back and wondering what took the Phillies this long.
I’m not going so far as to pick them over the Braves to come out of the NL — these are bold, not crazy — but if the Phillies’ lineup clicks into place, the rest of the league is full of question marks. The Dodgers and Reds have uncertain rotations. The Brewers had an uncertain lineup. The Marlins have been making close-game magic all year, and eventually that well figures to run dry. The D-backs have never been here before. Why not Philly?
The Cardinals trade Paul Goldschmidt
For as much consternation as there’s been in St. Louis about whether the underachieving Cardinals should sell at the deadline, none of that talk is focusing on Goldschmidt — at least not yet. But really, you can talk yourself into why trading the reigning NL MVP might make sense.
The Cardinals don’t appear to be going much of anywhere in the short term, not without major changes to an aging and mediocre starting rotation. Goldschmidt, meanwhile, is a free agent after next season, at which point he’ll be 37. Player and team are on different timelines right now: What are the odds that St. Louis makes another postseason run before Goldy’s contract is up? Instead of running out the clock and hoping things turn around, why not move him now, when he’s still crushing the ball and comes with over a year of team control? Tink Hence is great, but he’s still at least a year away, and there’s not much pitching depth on the farm behind him — a Goldschmidt trade still leaves plenty of promising position players while helping to address a position of need, rebuilding while still keeping the team competitive.
The Reds win the NL Central
Okay, maybe this one isn’t so bold now, considering that Cincy enters the second half a game up on Milwaukee in the division. But questions remain in the minds of the more skeptical among us about how real this Reds team really is, so let me put those at ease with a simple answer: very much so.
This lineup is deep and dangerous, and should remain so for the stretch run. TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley have been under-the-radar performers for years now. Will Benson was regarded as a top prospect once upon a time for a reason. Spencer Steer, Jonathan India, Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz comprise one of the best young infields in baseball. If you’re expecting Cincy to stop scoring runs in bunches, you’re going to be waiting a while.
Yes, the rotation is, in a word, unserious. But Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are getting healthy quick, Graham Ashcraft appears to have figured something out of late, and more importantly, the Minors are still stocked with talent with which to make a trade for Giolito, Bieber, Jordan Montgomery or any other arm the front office desires. Greene/Lodolo/Ashcraft/Bieber/Andrew Abbott plus that lineup should be more than good enough to hold off the Brewers.