The All-Star Game has come and gone, Manny Machado is off the trading block, and the second half of the MLB season is officially upon us. Though it looks like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros are likely to continue their reign atop baseball’s power rankings, we can still make some guesses as to how the rest of the season will finish up. Will we get a Game 163? Who’ll take the MVP crown? And … could it be, is that Matt Harvey’s music?! Here are the Ringer staff’s bold predictions for MLB’s second half.
Neither the Orioles Nor the Royals Will Have MLB’s Worst Second-Half Record
Ben Lindbergh: As baseball gathers its breath before the stretch run, the 27-68 Royals and the 28-69 Orioles sport sub-.290 winning percentages, joining the 2003 Tigers as the only teams in the past two decades to do that at the All-Star break. Only three previous teams in the post-war era—the Tigers, the 1962 Mets, and the 1952 Pirates—have finished a full season sub-.300. In short, the Royals and Orioles have been historically terrible, and they’re both nearly locks to downgrade before the trade deadline.
Even so, neither one will post the worst record between now and early October. It was just a few months ago that both clubs looked bad, but not abominable. Before the season started, FanGraphs projected three teams to post worse records than both the Royals and Orioles: the Marlins, the White Sox, and the Tigers, with the Reds, the Padres, and even the Braves projected to be worse than the Orioles alone. Even now, with the Royals’ and Orioles’ horrible first halves behind them, the projections still say that the White Sox and Marlins will be worse in the second half, tabbing the Tigers to tie Baltimore (and narrowly edge out Kansas City) for the third-worst second-half record. And while the Orioles and Royals are set to shed talent over the next two weeks, the other worst-team contenders are also expected to be sellers.
As unlikely as it may seem that any team could be worse than the Royals and Orioles for the rest of this season, we know that second-half projected winning percentage is a significantly more accurate predictor of team performance than first-half record. On the other hand, we also know that of The Ringer’s 19 previous second-half predictions, only three clearly came true, which means that betting on baseball to defy our expectations may be the safest forecast of all.
There Will Be a Play-in or Tiebreaker Game, and It Will Be Exciting
Zach Kram: Not since 2013, when the Rays beat the Rangers for the American League’s second wild-card spot, has baseball enjoyed a “Game 163”—but it’s come close. In each of the past four seasons, one team has finished just a game out of the second wild-card spot; in 2016, the Cardinals were one win away from forcing a three-way tie with the Mets and Giants. Also since 2013, one division race has been decided by a single game, and four more have been decided by just two. All it takes is a little nudge to push those margins to zero—and the excitement that only single-elimination baseball can provide.
Maybe the Yankees will catch the Red Sox to force a tie atop the AL East, or maybe the A’s will chase down the Mariners for a wild-card play-in game. Maybe the chaos that’s taken over the NL won’t abate at all, and the 10 teams within five games of a playoff spot at the All-Star break will all continue to lump together through the stretch run. Will the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals finish in a three-way NL East tie while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks share the Western crown and the Rockies, Giants, Brewers, and Cardinals all tie for wild-card consideration? No, it won’t be that messy (probably, and unfortunately). But a three-way tie isn’t impossible, and at this point, we’re downright due for a two-way split. The wild-card games are dramatic every year; nobody would mind the addition of another high-stakes game to the October calendar.
Edwin Díaz Will Break the Single-Season Saves Record
Michael Baumann: OK! Here’s the math: The Mariners play in a lot of close games; 38 of their 97 contests so far this year have been decided by a single run, and Díaz is a big reason the Mariners have won 26 of those 38. Seattle’s bullpen has had 54 save opportunities this year, the most in baseball. And while manager Scott Servais has worked Díaz hard, throwing him in almost exactly half of Seattle’s games this year, he’s resisted the temptation to extend Díaz into a multi-inning reliever; 45 of those 48 appearances have lasted just one inning.
So we’ve got one of the best closers in the game, pitching a lot, in as traditional a closer’s role as you’ll find, for a club that generates more save opportunities than any other team in baseball. Díaz has 36 saves in 39 chances over 97 games. That’s a shade over a 60-save pace, just shy of Francisco Rodriguez’s single-season record of 62. But he can make up that ground. As the pennant race heats up, Díaz is only going to pitch more. Maybe he won’t blow any saves down the stretch. Maybe the Mariners will take part in the Game 163 Zach Kram predicted, and he’ll pick up the save there. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good, old-fashioned counting-stat chase. This year, Díaz is our best opportunity.
The Yankees Will Break the Single-Season Home Run Record
Sean Yoo: More than two decades ago, the Seattle Mariners hit 264 home runs in a single season. Since then, only the 2005 Texas Rangers, who were four homers shy of tying the record, have come close to that mark. This decade, the two best attempts have come from the 2010 Blue Jays, who knocked 257 dingers, and the 2016 Baltimore Orioles, with 253. The number set by the ’97 Mariners still holds as one of the great unbreakable records in the major leagues, though that may change in the second half of this season.
As of the start of the All-Star break, the New York Yankees are sitting at 161 home runs, 27 more than the next-highest team (the Red Sox). Should the Yankees keep up their current pace of about 1.7 home runs per game, they would finish the season with 275 home runs, which would surpass the Mariners record by 11 dingers.
The Yankees’ furious pace could slow in the second half if the team encounters a cold streak. But as an optimistic Yankee fan, I’m looking at Giancarlo Stanton’s slow start and Greg Bird’s early-season injuries as signs that production could even increase, and that we will see the Yankees break the single-season home run record.
Matt Harvey Will Pitch in the World Series
Ben Glicksman: The Mets traded Matt Harvey to the Reds on May 8, marking the end of an era of Mets fandom that was initially defined by a dominant debut, a bloody nose, Dark Knight headlines, and no way!, and that came to be defined by Cinco de Mayo, thoracic outlet syndrome, and a problem with not knowing how often to pee. Harvey’s rise and fall in New York seems ripped from a Greek tragedy, the tale of a top-10 pick who captured a city’s imagination before being demoted to the bullpen and shipped out of town. You knew the Mets-Harvey relationship was in a bad place when he started offering up quotes like this: “On a scale of 1 to 10, obviously I’m at a 10 with being pissed off.”
But—but!—while you may have been watching Max Muncy or Mookie Betts or the more exciting MLB team in Ohio, Harvey has been, well, good. Since arriving in Cincinnati, he’s gone 5-3 with a 3.64 ERA and 49 strikeouts to 15 walks. He’s been even better over his past five outings, during which he went 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 23 punchouts against five free passes. His velocity has ticked up to 97, and given that he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, he’s emerged as a popular focal point of trade rumors. Will the Reds deal him to the Nationals? The Giants? The … Yankees?
Look, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I don’t want to scream “HARVEY BACK!!!” and ignore how his recent resurgence is linked to a small sample size. I don’t want to make grand proclamations about October, about how whichever team trades for Harvey will have destiny on its side, about how come the Fall Classic, Harvey will rise once again.
Except I’ve seen this movie before. And there’s only one way this can end.
Mookie Betts Will Win MVP
Jack McCluskey: It’s hard to overstate how great Mookie Betts has been in 2018.
The 25-year-old outfielder is in a three-way tie for the lead in FanGraphs WAR with José Ramírez and Mike Trout, despite having played 16 fewer games than Ramírez and 19 fewer games than Trout. He leads the majors in wRC+ (202), batting average (.356), slugging (.691), and OPS (1.139).
With 23 homers and 18 steals, he’s easily on pace for his third straight 20-20 season (he just missed a 20-20 season in 2015, with 18 homers and 21 steals). He has more walks (46) than he does strikeouts (42), and he’s one of the most entertaining players to watch live, making great catches and ending 13-pitch battles with a grand slam … and then nearly falling down on his way to first because he’s so pumped up.
He’s finished second and sixth respectively in MVP voting the past two seasons, and, if he keeps up his offensive barrage the rest of the year and the Red Sox maintain a record-setting pace, Betts should finish first in 2018. Sorry, Mike, I know you’re having another historic season yourself, but this year the M in MVP stands for Mookie.