MLB

MLB second-half bold predictions: Big trades, 30/30 for Julio Rodríguez, all of AL East over .500, more

The 2022 MLB All-Star Game is in the books and the second half of the regular season is upon us. The trade deadline is 13 days away and over the next 12 weeks pennants races and awards races will be decided. Some teams will make a surprise run to the postseason and others will collapse, and have to watch October from home.

A wise man once said you can’t predict baseball, but I’m going to try anyway. Here are five bold predictions for the second half of the 2022 regular season.

1. The AL East will have five winning teams

The Orioles are finally — finally! — no longer a complete pushover. After a rebuild that took far too long, the O’s are on the road back to being a contender, with their recent 10-game winning streak putting them over .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2017. The Baltimore faithful have waited a long time for this and they’re loving it.

When the Orioles beat the Cubs last Wednesday to improve to 45-44, it marked the first time all five teams in a division were over .500 that late in the season since the AL East did it on July 15, 2012. The 2005 NL East and 2000 AL West did it multiple days as well. Those are the only instances of every team in a division being over .500 on the same day in the Divisional Era (since 1995). 

Here are the current AL East standings:

  1. Yankees: 64-28
  2. Rays: 51-41 (13 GB)
  3. Blue Jays: 50-43 (14.5 GB)
  4. Red Sox: 48-45 (16.5 GB)
  5. Orioles: 46-46 (18 GB)

Last season the AL East became the first division ever with four 91-win teams and this season I am boldly predicting the AL East will become the first division ever with five winning teams. Note I said “winning” teams. For our bold prediction purposes a .500 record isn’t good enough. All five AL East clubs will have more wins than losses. 

Only twice in history has every team in a single division been .500 or better:

Ah yes, the good old days when Chicago and Minnesota (and Atlanta and Cincinnati) were “west.” Anyway, the Yankees are sitting pretty and should cruise to a winning record. They only need to go 18-52 (that’s a 42-win pace) from here out to finish with 82 wins. Here’s what the other four AL East clubs need to do the rest of the way to finish with a winning record:

  • Orioles: 36-34 (.514)
  • Red Sox: 34-35 (.497)
  • Blue Jays: 32-37 (.464)
  • Rays: 31-39 (.443)

Doable? Absolutely, though keep in mind the division will cannibalize itself a bit because these teams will play each other so much these next 12 weeks. Winning records will be built on beating teams in other divisions, and against the other five divisions the five AL East teams are a combined 162-106 (.604) this year. That’s a 98-win pace. Geez.

2. Contreras to the Rays; Castillo to the Braves

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and Reds righty Luis Castillo are two of the biggest names on the market. Contreras is almost certainly a goner. He’s a free agent-to-be and the Cubs traded away almost every remaining member of their 2016 World Series core at last year’s deadline. Castillo won’t be a free agent until after 2023 and is less certain to be traded, but he is very much in demand.

For this bold prediction, we have both players on the move. First, I’m going to say Contreras goes to the Rays. Last year’s Nelson Cruz trade showed us the Rays a) are willing to trade prospects for a veteran rental, and b) want to do more than be known as the smartest team in the sport. They want to hang a banner for something more than a wild-card berth or division title. As good as they’ve been the last few years, Tampa still hasn’t won the ultimate prize, and the Rays’ window is as open as it’s going to get.

A year ago the Rays averaged 5.29 runs per game, second most in baseball. This year’s they’ve averaged only 4.22 runs per game, 19th most in baseball. Their catchers are hitting a weak .195/.215/.340 through 92 games and starting backstop Mike Zunino is out long-term with thoracic outlet syndrome. With all due respect to Francisco Mejía and Christian Bethancourt (and René Pinto), catcher is an obvious position to upgrade.

Contreras rates as a poor framing and the Rays prioritize framing, but he’s a good blocker and a great thrower, and the best hitting full-time catcher in the sport. He represents a significant catching upgrade for a team in a tight wild-card race. There are seven teams within 3.5 games of the three American League wild-card spots. The Rays have more prospects than future roster spots and turning a few into Contreras is the kind of move that could put them over the top in the postseason race.

And second, I’ll say Castillo goes to the defending World Series champs. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is always aggressive at the deadline when his team is in the race, and he figures to have a little motivation this season with Atlanta trying to become baseball’s first repeat champion since the 1998-2000 Yankees. This is the time to go all-in and Anthopoulos knows that.

Trading for a pitcher of Castillo’s caliber is never a bad idea, especially since he’s not a rental (he’ll become a free agent after 2023), but the stars align particularly well for this year’s Braves. Consider:

  • Neither Charlie Morton (4.45 ERA in 18 starts) nor Ian Anderson (4.79 ERA in 18 stars) is having an especially strong season. There has even been rumblings Anderson could be sent to Triple-A to reset.
  • Rookie Spencer Strider has thrown 74 1/3 innings and is closing in his previous career high (94 in 2021). The Braves will need to take their foot off the gas a bit in the second half, and maybe even move Strider back to the bullpen.
  • Atlanta has a ton of quality pitching prospects in Triple-A (Bryce Elder, Kyle Muller, etc.) and thus has the depth to make a consolidation trade (i.e. turning multiple good prospects into one great big leaguer).

The Reds are cutting payroll and I wonder whether the Braves would take on the remainder of Mike Minor’s $10 million salary (and the $1 million buyout of next year’s option) to lower the prospect cost for Castillo. Minor has an ugly 6.21 ERA, but he has a history with Atlanta and his numbers the first time through the lineup are solid, suggesting he could be a useful reliever. Just a thought.

Anyway, the point is Contreras and Castillo will be on the move at the trade deadline. To the Rays and Braves, respectively and specifically. It has been boldly predicted.

3. Rodríguez will go 30/30 as a rookie

Mariners wunderkind Julio Rodríguez put on some show at the Home Run Derby, didn’t he? Alas, he did not win — Juan Soto was Justin Morneau to Julio’s Josh Hamilton — but it was Rodríguez’s introduction to the national stage. Three months into his big-league career, he is one of the game’s best players and brightest stars. Get this kid on billboards, MLB.

Earlier this month Rodríguez became the fastest player ever to 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases which, admittedly, are pretty arbitrary milestones. Do we care all that much when a guy hits his 15th career homer? Nah, not really. We do care when a player goes 30/30 though. That’s a tremendous accomplishment for any player, especially a rookie.

For this bold prediction, I’ll say Rodríguez goes 30/30 this year, which would make him only the second rookie ever to accomplish the feat. The great Mike Trout did it in 2012 (30 homers and 49 steals). Only 10 other rookies have managed to go 20/20:

Randy Arozarena

2021 Rays  

20

20

Andrew Benintendi

2017 Red Sox

20

20

Chris Young

2007 Diamondbacks

32

27

Carlos Beltrán

1999 Royals

22

27

Nomar Garciaparra

1997 Red Sox

30

22

Marty Cordova

1995 Twins

24

20

Ellis Burks

1987 Red Sox

20

27

Devon White

1987 Angels

24

32

Mitchell Page

1977 Athletics

21

42

Tommie Agee

1966 White Sox

22

44

Rodríguez has 16 home runs through 93 team games, putting him on pace to go deep 28 times. That is a bit deceptive though. Rodríguez needed a few weeks to find his footing at the MLB level. He hit only .205/.284/.260 in April and slugged just one home run in his first 33 career games. This game is hard and Rodríguez needed some time to adjust. It happens.

In his last 58 games Rodríguez has authored a .293/.355/.560 batting line with 15 home runs. That’s a 42-homer pace, and if he keeps it up the rest of this season, Rodríguez will finish with 34 home runs. So he has some wiggle room. Rodríguez can slow down a bit (it’s a long season and fatigue could be a factor at some point) and still get to 30/30. I’m boldly predicting it happens.

4. Tatis leads MLB in home runs …

… from the day he is activated through the end of the season. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. suffered a broke wrist in a motorcycle accident over the winter and had surgery in March, and he just started swinging a bat last week. He is still weeks away from returning to the field, but Tatis is at least swinging a bat now. He’s progressing with his rehab work.

The Padres have done well enough without Tatis (52-42 and in the second wild-card spot) but at some point they need this guy back and in the lineup. Scoring runs has been a challenge at times. And it can be easy to forget how good Tatis is when healthy. This guy hit .292/.364/.611 with a National League-leading 42 home runs in 130 games last year. He is a megastar.

I don’t know when exactly Tatis will return, but I am boldly predicting that whenever he does, he will lead baseball in home runs from that day through the end of the season. There’s going to be a lot of rust to shake off and wrist injuries are known to sap power for a while even after the player is cleared medically, so the odds are against Tatis. But that’s what makes this prediction bold, right?

As a baseball fan who enjoys watching Tatis play, I am hopeful he returns in the middle of August. Let’s call it Aug. 15 for argument’s sake. The Padres will still have 45 games to play and using last year’s home run pace, Tatis would finish with 15 home runs in those 45 games. Assuming he plays all 45, of course. Let’s call it 13 homers to account for off-days. That’s a big total in 40-ish games.

5. There will be a mathematical tiebreaker

And the people will hate it. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement MLB and the MLBPA did away with Game 163 tiebreakers, and agreed to settle all ties mathematically. Every single tie will broken mathematically, even in situations where one team will make the postseason and the other will not. Here is the tiebreaker procedure:

  1. Best head-to-head record.
  2. Best record within division.
  3. Best record outside division.
  4. Best record in last 81 games within division.
  5. Best record in last 82 games within division, plus one until the tie is broken.

Game 163 tiebreakers went away because MLB doesn’t want to push the World Series back into mid November to accommodate the new best-of-three Wild Card Series. They’re squeezing the Wild Card Series into the existing postseason schedule, and that leaves no time for Game 163 tiebreakers. Too bad. There have been some all-time classic Game 163s. The Bucky Dent game in 1978, 12 innings of Twins vs. Tigers chaos in 2009, etc. Long live Game 163s. I will miss them.

So which unfortunate postseason spot will be first ever decided by a mathematical tiebreaker? It’s entirely possible it will be a lower-stakes race, like one team edging out another for a division title, and the tiebreaker loser still making the postseason as the first wild-card team and thus still having home field advantage in the Wild Card Series. Where’s the fun in that though?

For our final bold prediction, I’ll say the Cardinals and Phillies tie for the third and final National League wild-card spot, and the Phillies will go to the postseason while the Cardinals stay home because Philadelphia has already won the season series 4-3. That race will have essentially been decided by St. Louis blowing a three-run lead at Citizens Bank Park on July 1 (even though Nolan Arenado hit for the cycle that night).

In the old days the Phillies and Cardinals would have played a Game 163 to decide that final wild-card spot. Now the nerds and their “math” decide the race. The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011, so our bold prediction calls for the National League’s longest postseason drought to end when a postseason spot that didn’t exist until this year is decided by a mathematical tiebreaker. Stupid? Yeah, kinda, but the Phillies will take it. Just get in and you have a chance to win the World Series.



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