Our long annual nightmare is over. The All-Star break is officially behind us.
The Home Run Derby came and went. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won the whole thing with a prodigious performance and I won’t hear any differently. (Pedants will insist Pete Alonso took home the crown.) Meanwhile, the American League continued its dominance over the National League in the Midsummer Classic, securing a seventh straight win – and improving to 19-3-1 over the last 23 years – with a 4-3 victory Tuesday night at Progressive Field. Got it? Good. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
With the midseason shenanigans out of the way and meaningful baseball set to resume, here are five bold predictions for the unofficial second half of the 2019 season.
Cleveland pries AL Central away from Twins
For all the scorn directed at the Indians’ front office for their cost-cutting offseason, Cleveland acquitted itself pretty well in the first half. The club went 50-38 despite injuries to Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger, and with Jose Ramirez floundering at the plate. The Indians have been en fuego of late, winning at a preposterous .710 clip since the beginning of June to sit within 5 1/2 games of division-leading Minnesota, who they’ll play another 13 times down the stretch.
The Twins, meanwhile, have come back down to earth a bit following their torrid start, putting up an 18-15 record over the last six weeks. It’s not unreasonable to expect at least a few of their many out-of-nowhere studs to regress further in the second half (I’m looking at you, Mitch Garver and Luis Arraez.) A 5 1/2-game cushion is nothing to sneeze at, but the Indians are proving that their lacklustre lineup isn’t a hindrance, and they only stand to get better now that Clevinger, who missed more than two months, has rejoined the rotation.
With more than a dozen games left against the team they’re chasing, the Indians have plenty of control over their fate, and it wouldn’t be a shocker to see them usurp the Twins en route to a fourth straight division title.
Pete Alonso breaks rookie HR record
Alonso was so confident in his abilities heading into the Home Run Derby that he enlisted his cousin, an operations manager at an Ohio car wash, to pitch to him. “Just get it anywhere near the dish and I’ll take care of it,” Alonso told him ahead of the event. His hubris, it turns out, was justified, and that line very much encapsulates Alonso’s rookie campaign.
He’s already set the Mets’ rookie record for homers three months into the season, and his preposterous dinger-smashing pace makes Aaron Judge’s major-league rookie record of 52 a realistic target. The oversimplified math says so! Alonso, after all, homered every 10.83 at-bats during the first half, making him the fifth-most prolific slugger in the bigs.
The Mets have another 72 games left. If he plays in all of them – he only missed one in the first half – and continues to average 3.65 at-bats per contest, he’ll get another 262 opportunities to clear the fences. And if he continues doing yard work at his current rate, he’ll clobber another 24 round-trippers, giving him 54 for the season.
Reds climb out of basement, win NL Central
Though the Reds adjourned for the All-Star break mired in fifth place in the National League Central, their current position belies how respectable they’ve been this year. Their plus-27 run differential is second best in the division, and they trail the division-leading Chicago Cubs (plus-55) by a mere 4 1/2 games.
Nobody would confuse them for a great team – the Reds’ offense, for one, is atrocious, sitting fourth last in the majors with an 82 wRC+ – but it’s increasingly apparent that a less-than-great club is going to win the NL Central. As such, Cincinnati’s staff – anchored by breakout star Luis Castillo and a rejuvenated Sonny Gray – may be good enough to propel the club to its first division title since 2012. The Reds are allowing just 3.92 runs per game this season, the third-lowest mark in the majors, and rank in the top five in park-adjusted ERA (84 ERA-), park-adjusted FIP (89 FIP-), and expected weighted on-base average (.298).
Dodgers acquire MadBum from Giants
The Dodgers don’t have any needs, per se. They boast the best winning percentage (.652) and run differential (plus-129) in the majors, and have already effectively guaranteed themselves a seventh straight division title. But when you’ve not won a championship in more than three decades – with fruitless trips to the World Series in back-to-back seasons – you leave nothing to chance, especially when you’ve got an endless bankroll and a farm system loaded with talent.
As unlikely as it sounds, watch the Dodgers go out and pry longtime nemesis Madison Bumgarner away from the archrival San Francisco Giants, who desperately need an infusion of prospect capital. As dominant as the Dodgers’ rotation has been, there’s no such thing as too much quality starting pitching. Bumgarner could, at least for now, fill the vacancy created by Rich Hill’s flexor tendon strain. When Hill returns, the club could move Kenta Maeda to the bullpen, just like they did last year to considerable success.
Bumgarner, who owns a 4.03 ERA (105 ERA+) with a 1.20 WHIP this season, isn’t the ace he once was, but he’d still be a boon to any postseason rotation. In addition, the Dodgers reportedly weren’t among the clubs included on his eight-team no-trade list.
Orioles set dubious record with 121 losses
It hardly seems possible that the Orioles could be worse down the stretch than they were during the first half, as they have the worst record (27-62) and run differential (minus-165) in the majors. But, well, it is. Three weeks from now at the trade deadline, they could be without Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar, their two best players this year, and Andrew Cashner, one of their two good starters (along with unlikely All-Star John Means). Rest assured, they’ll be worse.
Could a trade-deadline purge – if you can even call it a purge – actually put Baltimore in a position to wrest the single-season loss record away from the 1962 New York Mets, who famously went 40-120? It certainly won’t be easy. The Orioles would have to be unspeakably horrendous the rest of the way, finishing no better than 14-59 (.192) over their final 73 games. But consider, well, literally everything about this team. It’s possible.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.