Matt Garza could be heading back to the AL East, and to a pennant race. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
In the business of writing about baseball, you’re expected to make predictions. Whether you arrive at your prognostications via NASA-caliber number-crunching, gut feeling, or entrail reading, history has shown that most of them will be wrong. For every pick that gives you a false sense of superiority for being right, another will be so spectacularly wrong you'll wish it was entered into the federal witness protection program if not buried under a parking lot.
What follows here are a handful of predictions for the second half (presented in roughly chronological order). Some are bold or even outlandish and some a bit more off the wall. The only guarantee I can make is that by season’s end, at least one of them will make me want to crawl under my desk, and serve as a cautionary tale.
1. Matt Garza will be traded to the Red Sox, who will win the AL East with his help
Garza is the best available starter on the market, and he's been on a roll lately, with a 1.24 ERA over his last six starts, all of at least 6 2/3 innings. While other teams such as the Rangers and Diamondbacks may be interested, the Sox will be convinced to pull the trigger by Garza's previous success in the AL East and by Clay Buchholz's slow progress in his return from neck and shoulder woes. It won't be painless (though my crystal ball is notoriously cloudy on the identity of traded prospects), but the move will pay off by helping the Sox return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is convinced he's got a contender on his hands, because the Phils are 48-48, have gone 24-14 within their division, and man, Delmon Young is really starting to come around. Despite that, their run differential (-56), lack of depth and thin minor league system suggests they won't be able to bear the losses of Ben Revere, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay. Even with those hurdles, Amaro will refuse to trade pending free agents Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, and he won't unload either Cliff Lee or Jonathan Papelbon, thus shrinking the July 31 trade market considerably. He'll unload Young on the Yankees, but the return will be minimal and won't help either team; the Phils will finish below .500 for the first time since 2000.
It won't be for lack of trying on MLB's part. With the union and the commissioner's office apparently in agreement that the latter isn't bound by the 50-100-lifetime scale for first, second and third positive tests, Bud Selig will overreach in his attempts to levy additional punishments to the two marquee players, the former for his successful appeal of a 2011 positive test, the latter for having failed the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, and both for allegedly lying to investigators about their connections to the Miami-area Biogenesis clinic. The union and the players' lawyers will mount appeals that will push any penalties into next season, and ultimately limit the damage to 50-game suspensions. Some of lesser-known players named in Biogenesis records will agree to suspensions and begin serving them before season's end, but at least one will manage to beat the rap, after which MLB will dismiss yet another arbitrator, setting up an ugly war when they propose stricter penalties for first-time offenders.
4. The Yankees will miss the playoffs
They're 51-44 at this writing, three games back in the wild-card race, but while they've hung surprisingly tough without Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for most of the season, the bet here is that they've peaked before the cavalry of returns and deadline acquisitions has arrived. With their offense scoring less than four runs per game, it's been their pitching that's kept them afloat, but their run differential is in the red (-2). A closer look shows that at least among their starters, only Hiroki Kuroda and fill-in Ivan Nova have been preventing runs at a better-than-average rate, while CC Sabathia has been maddeningly inconsistent and Andy Pettitte has looked his 41 years. For the first time since 2008, the Yankees will be on the outside looking in come October.
5. Ned Yost will be fired before the end of the season, but the Royals will somehow finish above .500
Dayton Moore's bold offseason moves to acquire pitchers Ervin Santana and James Shields have improved the Royals' run prevention considerably, though their offense is still languishing thanks to Yost's inability to keep Alcides Escobar (.246/.277/.328) out of the number two spot, as well as the lack of power shown by hitters such as Eric Hosmer, MIke Mosutakas, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, none of whom is slugging higher than .427. Yost will take the fall sometime next month, and interim hitting coach George Brett — on whose watch Hosmer has hit .311/.347/.530 since taking over — will reluctantly become interim manager George Brett. The move won't get the team into the playoffs, but it will be enough for it to make a late push to an 82-80 finish, its first winning season since 2003. Barbecue will rain down in Kansas City.
At 48-47, last year's darlings have underachieved considerably, but Washington has still got too much talent to stay down all year. It says here that the Nats will be one of the NL's strongest teams in the second half. The offense, which has averaged 4.42 runs per game in July, will continue to come around, but it will be on the strength of their pitching that they make it back to October. Strasburg, who was shut down last September as he approached his innings cap, will make up for lost time by dominating down the stretch, and Washington will nab one of the NL wild-card spots but won't surpass the Braves atop the NL East.
Currently hitting a searing .391/.422/.616 through his first 38 games, the Dodgers' rookie sensation will keep whatever disappointment he had over being left off the NL All-Star team under wraps, but he will get even. With his flair for the dramatic, he'll be a factor in the September 24-26 series between the Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco, collecting key hits that enable Los Angeles to clinch first place in enemy territory during the season's final week. Meanwhile, the defending world champions will finish below .500, in part because Hunter Pence returns to his home planet.
8. The Pirates will end their streak of futility and make the playoffs
They haven't finished above .500 or made the playoffs since 1992, but they currently hold a 56-37 record. Unlike the past two years when late-season collapses crushed their dreams of a winning season, this time it will be different thanks to the team's pitching depth and a well-stocked farm system that will let Pittsburgh deal as needed. It says here that Alex Rios will be the big corner bat they obtain.
9. Chris Davis won't reach 61 homers
Having already set a career high with 37 homers through the Orioles' first 96 games, Davis is on pace to finish with 62, which would conveniently push him past Roger Maris' former single-season record, one which Davis views as the standard to beat due to the PED connections of the men who surpassed him. Davis will cool off — yes, I'm making a bold prediction that the outlier will regress — and finish with a total in the mid-50s, but it will be enough to help the Orioles win a wild-card spot for the second straight year.
10. The rest of the postseason field, noted so that we can all laugh in October
The Tigers will pull away from the surprisingly strong Indians in the AL Central. The Rangers will edge the A's in the AL West, though the latter will join the Orioles in the wild-card game. The Braves will hold onto the NL East and the Cardinals to the NL Central, with both surmounting challenges by the wild-card-winning Nationals and Pirates. The Diamondbacks will be passed by the Dodgers in late September thanks to their porous bullpen and the erosion of their rotation depth.
The race to the bottom is a close one, with the Astros (33-61) just 2 1/2 games worse than the Marlins (35-58) at the All-Star break. Don't expect things to finish that way. The Marlins will need to shut 20-year-old rookie sensation Jose Fernandez down at some point, but it will be the trades of Greg Dobbs, Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco -- believe it or not, they're the best the organization can do at some positions right now -- that will really sink Miami. After the team loses 110 games, an angry mob will hand Loria and his prized art collection over to marauding pirates, though it will later be discovered that this was a setup to allow him to evade the Securities and Exchange Commission.
He'll open an art museum in Fiji.