The first half of the 2016 MLB season produced highlights spanning the spectrum: There was the good (the Indians’ 14-game winning streak), the bad (Yordano Ventura going after Manny Machado), and the totally inexplicable (this just can’t be a real swing, Ronald Torreyes). Several teams also put themselves in position to make late-summer runs, including a few that weren’t expected to be in contention back in April. With the All-Star break in the rearview mirror, and with less than three months remaining until the playoffs, The Ringer staff makes some bold second-half predictions.
The Giants’ #EvenYearMagic Will Continue
Mallory Rubin: When the Giants won the World Series in 2012, the dynasty whispers began: Two titles in three years — what an achievement! An elite catcher, an abundance of aces, and a seasoned manager — what a luxury! Fans willing to wear pandas on their heads — what commitment!
When Bruce Bochy’s boys claimed the crown again in 2014, hashtags replaced human speech: #OrangeOctober! #MadBum! #EvenYearMagic! What else was there to say? San Francisco had made winning the title every other season routine. The norm. A habit. A character count was the only way to cope with the madness.
When the Giants go all the way again this season, the narrative will shift to sorcery. How else to explain this pattern, this seeming inevitability? We spent the first half of the 2016 campaign talking about curses when we should’ve been talking about unbreakable vows, because make no mistake: #EvenYearMagic is about to rear its prophetic head. The Giants have the best winning percentage in baseball and a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the NL West. They have Madison Bumgarner, who stays busy rescuing bunnies and mashing homers when he isn’t contending for Cy Youngs. They have Brandon Crawford, whose WAR is now as robust as his hair.
Weep for the Cubs, who look like the best sports story in a century, but won’t even represent the National League in the Fall Classic. Pray for Clayton Kershaw, who, as a rule, seems all but certain to fail in the playoffs. Pity yourself and your fellow fan for believing that something else was ever possible, and then listen to the Eagles’ “The Sad Cafe,” and remind yourself of a very important lesson: “Things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all.”
The Red Sox Will Not Acquire an Ace at the Trade Deadline
Michael Baumann: Boston sits two games back of Baltimore in the American League East and, despite the winter acquisition of David Price and the emergence of Steven Wright, is still a starting pitcher or two short of a rotation you’d be comfortable tossing into a playoff series. The good news for the Red Sox is that new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has a history of going out and getting big-name pitchers, but while last year’s crop of starters available at the deadline included Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Price, there might not be a veteran ace to be rented this summer.
So rumors have started flying about the Red Sox finding a long-term solution, namely 25-year-old Gerrit Cole of the Pirates or 23-year-old José Fernandez of the Marlins. Both would cost a fortune in prospects, as Fernandez is under team control through 2018 and Cole through 2019, and both are young enough to warrant long-term contract extensions. Trading for either one, at almost any price, would be a coup for Boston.
The problem is saying “I want” isn’t enough to make something happen, and no matter what the Sox are willing to part with, there’s no trade to be had. The very qualities that make Cole and Fernandez attractive to Boston — they’re young, cost-controlled and very good — make them even more attractive to their current employers, both of which are trying to (1) contend this season, (2) contend in the seasons to come, and (3) promote an image of legitimacy after years of being run on the cheap. Never mind that both Pittsburgh and Miami have their own rotation depth issues beyond their aces.
Boston will probably make a trade for a starter, but that pitcher is far more likely to be someone like Oakland’s Rich Hill — Red Sox senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren was in Houston last Thursday to watch Hill pitch — than Cole or Fernandez. The Sox might want a young, cost-controlled ace, but so does everyone else.
Rich Hill Will Be the Winning Pitcher in the Decisive Game of the World Series
Sam Donsky: Have you even seen a movie before? I mean, ever? We already know how this ends. We can pretend we don’t — and these predictions are fun either way — but we do. We know: This ends with Rich Hill on top.
To be very clear, this is how the rest of the 2016 season will play out: Some team (the Orioles? Red Sox? Dodgers? Mets? Blue Jays? Royals? I won’t even say Cubs but Cubs) is going to bite the bullet and hand over a top-50 prospect for Rich Hill. Rich Hill is going to stay hot through the rest of the regular season. Rich Hill is going to steamroll through the playoffs. And then Rich Hill is going to pitch, and [Kevin Costner sensually opens his laptop] win, the deciding game of the World Series.
Don’t worry: Even though we know what happens, I still think parts of this season could be cool. It will be dramatic waiting to see which team Hill winds up on; the games that don’t involve Hill will still be unpredictable; and the World Series is fun no matter what. But otherwise, yeah: The screenplay is written. We’re scouting locations. I’m about to go blow half of my advance on a true-dimensions Joe Carter statue. This isn’t a baseball prediction; this is a movie prediction — and movies are predictable. RICH HILL WAS ON THE LONG ISLAND DUCKS LAST YEAR. He hasn’t made it this far just to lose.
Addison Russell Will Become a Second-Half Darling
Robert Mays: Addison Russell was born on Jan. 23, 1994. Every time he steps to the plate at Wrigley Field for his first at-bat, that date flashes on the videoboard in left field. Every time, it makes my hip ache.
Russell’s first-half slash line — .237/.329/.402 — is pretty meh, but when he’s got it going, the guy is just plain fun. With both the glove and the bat, he has delivered his share of holy-shit moments, and the best part is that it feels like he’s only getting started. Seven of his 11 homers have come in the last 31 days; over that stretch, he’s seemed to hit the ball harder than he had the rest of the year. Russell’s trip to the 2016 All-Star Game may not feel justified, but by October, he’ll have shown everyone why his next trip will be.
The Cubs Won’t Win the World Series
Ryan O’Hanlon: Here is one reason: There was an omen last winter, when this goat ate a Christmas tree. Then there was the breakout performance of Black Phillip, a goat played by Satan played by a goat, in the movie The Witch. Then this goat climbed on top of a donkey. Then these goats defied gravity to get some salt. Then this guy became a goat. Then these goats infested a tree. Then these researchers discovered that goats love pasta. To cap it all off, the goat emoji has come to signify unparalleled excellence. While the Chinese calendar might suggest otherwise, in 2016, the power of the goat cannot be stopped. Amidst all of this hircine dominance, the only thing more puzzling than talk of the end of the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is Kris Bryant’s hairline.
And here is another reason: Despite the Cubs being an “irresistible force” and possibly even a “perfect baseball team,” FanGraphs only gives them a 17 percent chance of winning it all. MLB’s postseason is silly. I’ll take the field.
The Pirates Will Lose the Wild-Card Game
Ben Glicksman: You know that famous Einstein quote about insanity? Well, it sums up the state of baseball in Pittsburgh. The Pirates posted 20 straight losing seasons from 1993–2012 behind guys like Francisco Córdova and Tike Redman and Jack Wilson and Humberto Cota; they decided to get good again just in time for MLB to implement a new postseason format that pits two wild-card winners in a one-game playoff. The Pirates have now hosted that game for three consecutive years. In the past two, they’ve been pummeled: shut out by Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta.
There are plenty of reasons to think this year’s Buccos might be different. Andrew McCutchen, despite his struggles, remains one of the coolest players in the game. Gregory Polanco is the best young outfielder who hasn’t yet become a star, and Josh Harrison continues to do stuff like this. The pitching staff has a wealth of exciting, fresh talent: Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl all made their major league debuts in the first half and could potentially play key roles down the stretch.
It doesn’t matter. The Pirates are going to finish 91–71. They are going to host Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in the NL wild-card game, and they are going to lose. The only question is whether Sean Rodriguez will go apeshit on another Gatorade cooler.
The Rangers Will Blow Their AL West Lead
Zach Kram: In the wild-card era before this year, 13 teams had led their division by 8.5 games or more when the calendar turned to July. All 13 went on to win their division, by an average margin of 14 games. Texas, which led the AL West by 10 games in late June and by 8.5 games on July 1, will break that perfect streak in 2016.
The Rangers’ American League–best record of 54–36 belies a host of problems with their roster. Their pitchers have the worst fielding-independent numbers in the AL, and their rotation is more than a Yu Darvish return away from mediocrity. On offense, Ian Desmond is the team’s only qualified hitter who rates above average by wRC+, and Prince Fielder is somehow still collecting daily at-bats despite ranking as the league’s worst player this season.
Texas has survived thus far because it is by far the luckiest team in baseball. But unless the Rangers plan to remain the best clutch-hitting team in decades, they’re bound to fall off in the second half — and Houston is preparing to pounce. Last year, the Rangers caught the fading Astros in September; this year, it will be Houston’s turn to Texas two-step past an in-state rival for the division crown.
José Altuve Will Make a Run at AL MVP
Jack McCluskey: Altuve is my favorite kind of player: a physically unassuming wonder of athleticism and skill. He’s listed at 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds, which might be accurate when he’s wearing spikes and has his pockets loaded down with packets of Big League Chew, but who cares what his measurables are when he does things like this?
For the second time in three years, the man they call “Gigante” is chasing the speedster’s Triple Crown, leading the AL in batting average (.341) and hits (119), and ranking second in stolen bases (23). Altuve already has produced 4.7 WAR (via Baseball-Reference), which would put him on pace for an eight-win season and a place in the MVP discussion alongside Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and Manny Machado. Plus, Altuve is arguably one of the best values in baseball — signed through 2019 for an economical $17 million (including team options for 2018 and 2019).
Can he become the first second baseman to win the award since Dustin Pedroia in 2008? If the Astros fix their playoff trajectory — and they’ve won 16 of their past 21 games — I predict that he can.
Michael Brantley Will Return to the Indians in a Big Way
Matt Borcas: While the majority of the baseball world took a breather this week for the All-Star break, Brantley embarked on a rehab tour of the Indians’ minor league system. The 2014 Silver Slugger Award winner has been on the disabled list since May 14 with right biceps tendinitis — the outfielder’s second stint on the DL this season — and if all goes well, he’ll return to the majors later this month.
But maybe return is the wrong word. Brantley will dominate once he gets back to the bigs. Although the Indians have been wildly successful in his absence, jumping out to a 6.5-game lead in the AL Central, Brantley’s return should solidify the Tribe’s lineup for the second half, essentially functioning as a one-sided deadline deal. My expectation: Brantley bats an absurd .353 with 21 homers and 52 RBIs the rest of the way, making his case as the greatest Cleveland athlete to wear no. 23. Is that too much to ask?
The Nationals Will Play Deep Into October
Claire McNear: Are D.C. sports cursed? If so, people don’t tend to lump the Nationals in with talk of Washington sports gloom. After all, for the heartbreak that came with being promised the world in 2015 and then not even making the playoffs, here they stand, at this year’s All-Star break, a whopping six games up in the NL East.
Sure, Bryce Harper is in a slump. But Daniel Murphy (who had a line of .412/.444/1.059 in a recent series against the Mets, his former team) is on a tear. Danny Espinosa has put up surprisingly solid numbers. Stephen Strasburg is 12–0 in 16 starts and enjoying the best season of his career. And manager Dusty Baker is a madman, yes, but he’s the right madman. If the Nats at times feel a little stuck together with glue, then, well: What World Series team isn’t?
Things didn’t work out for Washington when it was the chosen one. But in 2016, I’ll call it: This will be the year the District finally gets something to show Natitude about. Now, if only the team could find a decent mascot.
The Mets Will Continue to Be Unpredictable
Sam Schube: It’s been a weird first half for the Mets: They were ultra-deep in young pitching … until they weren’t. They were smacking the ball all over the yard … until they weren’t. They were pretty sure where they stood on José Reyes’s place in the league … until they weren’t. So the only surefire prediction I’m comfortable making about the Mets is this: They’ll do something — probably a bunch of things — that compel us to take any predictions and abandon them to the wind that swirls over by the 7 train. Maybe every pitcher’s elbow will fall off; maybe Brandon Nimmo will be this year’s Michael Conforto; maybe Michael Conforto will be last year’s Michael Conforto. Maybe Yoenis Céspedes will roast a whole hog in center field. It’s all up in the air. The only thing I’m comfortable predicting in the NL East? Ex-Met Daniel Murphy will make a late run at hitting .400.