Baseball's second half begins this weekend, kicking off a thrilling two-and-a-half-month stretch run. Entering play Friday, 19 of the 30 teams are within six games of a playoff spot, and none of the six division leaders finished first last season.
With the trade deadline two weeks away and compelling pennant races ahead, it's time for some bold predictions.
The Giants win the NL West, forcing the Dodgers and Padres into a one-game playoff. With the health of the Dodgers’ and Padres’ pitching in question, the door is open for San Francisco to end Los Angeles’s run of division titles.
The Giants will win the NL West. The Dodgers and Padres are still more talented teams, but San Francisco has banked 57 wins, putting it two games ahead of Los Angeles and six ahead of San Diego coming out of the break. And 20 of the Giants’ final 73 games come against those two teams, meaning San Francisco can likely control its destiny all the way down the stretch.
The Angels make the playoffs. Yes, their odds are low right now (15.6%, per FanGraphs) but with Mike Trout on track to return soon, the potential for some new pitching to be added at the deadline, and the chances of a late fade from some other wild-card contenders. ... it's not as bold a prediction as it might seem! Just think about some of the teams currently ahead of the Angels. Cleveland's anemic offense seems unlikely to land a playoff berth (and this front office seems equally unlikely to consider any upgrades at the trade deadline). The Yankees remain a bit of a puzzling mess. The Mariners' luck in one-run and extra-inning games is statistically improbable to continue. Is there much stiffer competition from the Rays, A's and Blue Jays? Of course. But with the right lucky breaks, it doesn't seem completely out of the question for the Angels to overtake two of those three, and then we'll all be rewarded with Shohei Ohtani in October.
I have little confidence the Mets will hold on to win the NL East after failing to fully take advantage of MLB's second-easiest schedule thus far. While I don't expect them to produce the second-fewest runs in the sport as they did in the first half, there's probably some negative regression coming for Taijuan Walker, Marcus Stroman and, yes, even Jacob deGrom. Behind that trio, New York's rotation depth has been ravaged by injuries, and a disaster scenario could unfold if deGrom goes down, too. If I had to choose a team to overtake them, it'd be the Phillies, who have played the league's third-toughest schedule and possess a glaring weakness in their bullpen that's easier to upgrade than the greater potential pitfalls facing the Mets.
Is it bold to say the Yankees will win the AL East? Maybe not when the first half ended, but now, in light of the team's current COVID-19 outbreak, it probably is. And you know what? The Yankees will win the AL East, anyway. The window is closing for the former Baby Bombers core to win a title, and I have to believe Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner know this. Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez, Jordan Montgomery, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green are all free agents after next season. Luis Severino (remember him?) is signed through 2023, but the Yankees have a $15 million club option and $2.75 million buyout for his final year. By that point, Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit will be due hefty raises via arbitration, and they'll still have massive deals on the books to Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole.
This all means the time is now for the Yankees to go all in, and with a trade or two, they're the most talented team in the division. Their trade deadline needs:
- Left-handed hitter to provide some balance to this mostly righty lineup. Joey Gallo makes the most sense.
- Relief pitcher, due to the bullpen volatility over the past month. The Cubs are selling, and adding Craig Kimbrel would help the bullpen and ease some of the load off the starting rotation, which lacks depth beyond Cole.
- Starting pitcher, though they should get reinforcements when Severino and Corey Kluber return from the Injured List.
The Blue Jays will win the AL East. The race for the division is a tight one, with four teams still in contention. Toronto has the offensive firepower to run down the Red Sox, and Boston's pitching has looked shaky over the past couple of months. The Blue Jays don't exactly have the most feared pitching staff, either, but they've performed better than their record indicates, ranking as one of the unluckiest teams based on their run differential. If they can add an arm and have some positive regression, it wouldn't shock me to see Toronto overtake the Red Sox and Rays when all is said and done, led by a Triple Crown run from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.