We’ve passed the trade deadline, and by now I’m ready to make fun of myself for my start of the season predictions (totally missed on the Rays and Rangers). I also didn’t do any awards predictions in the preseason article, and now that we’re about two-thirds of the way through the season the picture is a lot clearer. To view what I thought the MLB would look like this year in my start of the season predictions, click here. I will once again be doing a division race breakdown, naming Wild Card teams, and offering a World Series prediction, now with individual awards thrown in as well. I’ll be comparing where I think teams are going to end up now compared to their start of the year prediction.
1. New York Yankees (preseason: 1)
I got a lot right in my Yankees prediction. That being said, they were popular opinions and I can’t take too much credit for them. I said Gary Sanchez was likely to have a bounceback season, and he’s hit 25 home runs so far (18 in 2018), his OPS+ is up 20 points and his WAR is up from 1.2 last year to 2.1 so far in 2019. I had predicted they’d get more production out of first base, likely from an increase in playing time for Luke Voit, who had played very well at the end of last season, hitting .333 with 14 homers in just 39 games, so it wasn’t surprising they’d want to play him more. I didn’t see DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela making this much of a difference, I didn’t talk about their incredible bullpen, and I wouldn’t have thought they could be in such a good situation right now given the injuries to Stanton, Judge, Andújar, and others. If they get fully healthy (Severino, Betances, multiple time All-Stars, haven’t pitched yet in 2019, and Stanton could be back in August), they might be World Series favorites.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (preseason: 4)
I really wanted to stick with Boston second and say they’d make the playoffs, but after comparing their schedules I just can’t. Tampa’s remaining schedule is a lot easier than Boston’s, and they’re already ahead of the Red Sox. I bet against the Rays glut of small sample successes doing well, and was kind of right. Willy Adames hasn’t been the same hitter he was last year, but his defense has improved and his WAR just went higher than it was last year (when he only played 85 games). I didn’t think Mike Zunino was going to end up being a good addition, and he had an OPS+ of 46 before being benched in favor of, of all people, Travis d’Arnaud, who the Mets couldn’t wait to get rid of, who now enjoys a .840 OPS bolstered by 13 home runs in 58 games. The fact that reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell has the highest ERA of any pitcher with at least 35 innings on the team is insane and shows how deep their staff is that they don’t need him to be great, which few would have believed going into the year.
3. Boston Red Sox (preseason: 2)
While I did pick the Yankees to win the division, I still thought the Red Sox would be one of the best teams in the AL at the start of the year. Starting with their confusingly bad month of April, that hasn’t been the case. Despite surprising performances from hitters like Christian Vásquez (105 OPS+, career OPS+ of 69 entering the year) and Brock Holt (.346/.411/.463 slash line since returning from injury on May 27), along with Rafael Devers taking a big step forward in his development and Xander Bogaerts continuing to reach new heights, the pitching has really held them back. They only have two pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched with an ERA below 4 (Brandon Workman, Marcus Walden both out of the bullpen), Rick Porcello has been a mess with an ERA over 5 and a WAR value under 1, and their fifth spot in the rotation has been so unsteady they traded for Andrew Cashner from the Orioles to try to fix it. They still have a lot of talent, but I don’t think they can get it done in 2019.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (preseason: 3)
A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness have riddled the Blue Jays’ pitching staff all year. Matt Shoemaker was pitching the best he had since winning AL Pitcher of the Month back in August 2014, with a 1.57 ERA over his first five starts, when he tore his ACL and ended his season in mid-May. Ryan Borucki, who showed plenty of promise in his rookie year in 2018 with a 3.87 ERA in 17 starts, has yet to pitch this year due to injury. Clay Buccholz, who I called an underrated signing in my preseason article after his return to star form down the stretch with Arizona last year, was ineffective in his 5 starts before suffering a major strain in his shoulder which has kept him out ever since. On the hitting side, I was all wrong about this team. I talked about Kendrys Morales, who was traded later on the same day that I published the article (the day before opening day), I talked about Kevin Pillar who got traded on April 2nd, and didn’t mention Eric Sogard or Lourdes Gurriel Jr, the two best hitters in Toronto in the first half, before they traded Sogard to the Rays and Gurriel got hurt. Whoops.
5. Baltimore Orioles (preseason: 5)
We all knew it was going to be another rough season in Baltimore. But it hasn’t been all bad for the Orioles. Andrew Cashner pitched well enough for Boston to give them 2 lottery tickets on 17-year-olds currently in a Venezuelan rookie league in Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero. John Means, as a 26-year-old relatively unheralded rookie has an ERA of 3.36, was Baltimore’s lone All-Star, and is in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Trey Mancini has taken another step in his progression as a hitter, as his power and walks are up, resulting in him being on pace for career highs in OBP and slugging. The outfield defense is still a problem, though, and he’ll likely move to first base or DH by the time they’re good again. Two young players who got called up in early June, Anthony Santander and Chance Sisco, have also hit well, with Santander showing the power he once hinted at when he hit 20 homers and 42 doubles in high-A ball with Cleveland back in 2016 along with good defense in the outfield corners, while Sisco reached base in each of his first 22 starts. His defense behind the plate isn’t great, but if he can hit like this it will be well worth it. The Orioles have a long way to go, as that’s about all the positives you can find, but their rebuild is starting to take shape.
1. Minnesota Twins (preseason: 2)
I predicted that the Twins would make the playoffs in my preseason predictions, and that pick has proved to be a good one, but even I underestimated them. José Berríos, just 25, is looking like the ace pitcher people thought he had a chance to be when he climbed the prospect rankings before becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2017. Jake Odorizzi is joining him as a front-end starting pitcher, and Gibson, Pérez, and Pineda fill out a solid starting rotation. Jorge Polanco has busted out, already at career highs in home runs, extra-base hits, runs scored, and hits, as he’s heading for career highs in all three of the hitting slash line stats in his first season as an All-Star. He, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, and Nelson Cruz lead an offense that’s seemed to have everything go right. Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton, when healthy, have finally been the players they need them to be, with Sanó’s power stroke taking off and Buxton finding a way to use his speed to get himself extra bases to provide offensive value to go with his fantastic defense in center field. They’ll be acquiring relief help at the deadline to help their push to secure the division and for a playoff run.
2. Cleveland Indians (preseason: 1)
For a while there, Cleveland looked like they were in big trouble. They got hot at the right time, though, going 18-6, to get themselves back in position for a Wild Card spot and competing with the Twins for the division title. Their pitching staff is good enough to keep them there, even after trading away arguably their best pitcher in Trevor Bauer to get more help for the offense that’s been holding them back from being great in the form of Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. All-Stars Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor have kept them afloat, but they needed another impact bat. Their outfield looked like the biggest issue, but Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow held them up decently well before adding Puig to the outfield and brought in the weaker fielding Reyes to play DH with Santana playing first base more regularly, and José Ramírez looks like he’s returning to form, which would be another offensive addition coming from within. Right now, it looks like 4 teams are fighting for the two AL Wild Card spots (Indians, Rays, Red Sox, A’s). That should be an entertaining race down the stretch.
3. Chicago White Sox (preseason: 3)
The White Sox aren’t good yet, but they are starting to develop some of the players that are going to be the stars on their next great team. Lucas Giolito recovered from a rough 2018 season in which he had a 6.13 ERA and a -1.3 WAR to earn an All-Star appearance and being a fringe Cy Young candidate with a 3.42 ERA through 23 starts so far. Yoán Moncada, also just 24 and one of the headline prospects brought back in the Chris Sale trade, has gone from about a league-average hitter his first two years after being a top-5 prospect to seeing his average jump from .234 in his career entering 2019 to right around .300 this year, and he has already posted a career-high in home runs, posting an OPS+ of 133 thus far. Tim Anderson, despite cooling off after his monster month of April, was still hitting .317 with an OPS+ of 119 before going down with a high-ankle sprain on June 25, and he’s picked up where he left off since coming back. They’ve also received good contributions from newcomers James McCann, whom the Tigers didn’t even make an offer to this offseason after hitting just .220 with 8 home runs in 118 games as their catcher last year, who’s now hit .283 with 12 home runs in 87 games already, and Alex Colomé, who they received in exchange for catcher Omar Narváez, in a deal that’s worked out well for both teams as Colomé has done very well as Chicago’s closer and Narváez has hit well for Seattle while clearing room for McCann’s breakout with the Sox.
4. Kansas City Royals (preseason: 5)
The Royals have been bad, as expected, the Tigers just found a way to be worse. I was right in predicting Whit Merrifield to be their lone All-Star, even as he has played primarily in the outfield as opposed to second base for the first time in his career but it hasn’t affected his offense as he’s leading the American League in hits once again while hitting for more power than he did in 2018. Hunter Dozier has been a pleasant surprise as well, as his offense took a big leap in his age-27 season, though his defense at third base remains a concern. The Royals were able to take advantage of a market desperate for pitchers to trade Homer Bailey and Jake Diekman, a starter and reliever who both combined a mediocre performance this year with up and down stretches in the past, for three prospects including speedy middle infielder Kevin Merrell, who now ranks as KC’s #18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
5. Detroit Tigers (preseason: 4)
In my preseason article, I said the Tigers wouldn’t throw out players who would look overwhelmed at the major league level. Then a former All-Star did. Josh Harrison was just terrible before going down with an injury, hitting .176 with just one home run for an OPS+ of 28 (for comparison, out of 70 pitchers with at least 20 PA’s in 2019, 12 had an OPS+ of at least 28). He was released once he came off the injured list. As a team, their catchers’ sOPS+ (works the same as OPS+, comparing their catchers to league average) is 45, and it was even worse before they called up Jake Rogers. It took 9 starts for Ryan Carpenter and his 9.30 ERA to get sent back down to the minor leagues. Even good things have gone bad, as Matt Boyd went from a 2.85 ERA through May (12 starts) to a 4.16 ERA now (5.56 ERA since the start of June, 12 starts). These issues have led to questions about this team challenging for the most losses in modern MLB history (120, ’62 Mets), though a bit of a “bounce-back,” with a 5-9 record since July 28th, has them moving away from that conversation.
1. Astros (preseason: 1)
The Astros lost 3 of their top 8 producers, according to WAR, from 2018 (Morton, Keuchel, Gonzalez). No problem. Enter Wade Miley, Michael Brantley, and Robinson Chirinos, and this team is clicking on all cylinders in spite of having 3 consistent, healthy starters after Brad Peacock got hurt. This is a lineup without a real weakness, as they don’t have a regular hitter with an OPS+ below 90, and the unbelievable debut of Yordan Álvarez so far has made AJ Hinch’s job that much harder in picking who’s going to be left on the bench every day. Then they went out and got a future Hall-of-Famer in Zach Greinke and Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez to secure their rotation, and Joe Biagini to add to their bullpen. They’re World Series frontrunners with that kind of a deadline summary. They gave up a lot to get Greinke, but kept their top two prospects in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, and the near future still looks very promising in Houston.
2. Oakland Athletics (preseason: 3)
The A’s have had an interesting year, with Mike Fiers having been their best pitcher including his second career no-hitter on May 7th against the Reds, Khris Davis suffering multiple power outages, going homerless over a 20-game stretch from April 14th to May 12th, then a longer 29-game streak of not hitting a home run from June 19th-July 28th and has just 17 home runs total after having over 40 in each of his first three years in Oakland. But a pitching rotation with Chris Bassitt and Brett Anderson following Fiers, now along with deadline acquisitions Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark and good team defense anchored by reigning AL Platinum Glove winner Matt Chapman, who finished 7th AL MVP voting and could finish even higher this year, have the A’s in a similar spot to a year ago where they’re competing for a Wild Card playoff birth, with offensive help coming from breakout seasons from Ramón Laureano and Marcus Semien supporting Chapman and steady first baseman Matt Olson. The bullpen has been a strength so far for Oakland, with Liam Hendricks earning his first All-Star appearance, with Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter and Wei-Chung Wang making up for the fact that Blake Treinen has been about a league-average pitcher after an incredible 2018 season that saw him post a 0.78 ERA over 80 1/3 innings. The stretch run will be interesting in the bay.
3. Los Angeles Angels (preseason: 2)
To say it was a quiet deadline for the Angels would be a massive understatement. The Angels’ biggest move was adding Max Stassi, a backup catcher from the Astros. The loss of Tyler Skaggs, in addition to the tragedy of someone that young losing their life, further exposed a starting rotation that’s been a mess. The bullpen has been good, with Hansel Robles having excelled ever since being claimed off waivers from the Mets last June, Cam Bedrosian being reliable for them mostly in a late-inning role now after being used 7 times as an opener earlier in the year, and guys like Ty Buttrey, Noé Ramirez, and Taylor Cole also making contributions. But it’s hard for a bullpen to make an impact when they’re not given a lead, and the offense hasn’t helped much with that. Sure, Trout’s been great, and since Ohtani got healthy he’s been hitting well, but Andrelton Simmons hasn’t hit as well as the past two years and has missed some time. Justin Upton hasn’t hit well since returning from his injury. Zack Cozart and Justin Bour failed to perform, and Tommy La Stella had done very well but is possibly done for the year with a broken leg. It’ll be interesting to see what the Angels do this offseason with Kole Calhoun’s $14 million team option (1 mil buyout) with their top two prospects both being outfielders who could make the majors as soon as next year.
4. Texas Rangers (preseason: 5)
This team was fun while it lasted. For a while, the Rangers were arguably the most surprising team in the MLB. Then, Joey Gallo and Hunter Pence both got injured, and a team that was heavily relying on two starting pitchers in Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, both of whom made it through a deadline where they were rumored as trade candidates without leaving Texas, and the Rangers have slid back to .500. An 8-game losing streak just after the All-Star break sped up that descent, which coincided with a 9-game absence of Willie Calhoun, who’s taken a lot of the left field duty since Gallo went down, and has performed nicely so far. Danny Santana has been another offensive bright spot, as he’s hit like he did in his rookie year in Minnesota but with more power, after it appeared for a while that he might not be able to be a productive major leaguer. They made a few moves at the trade deadline, sending reliever Chris Martin to the Braves for pitching prospect Kolby Allard, and picking up often (and currently) injured reliever Nate Jones from the White Sox along with international bonus slot money to wrap up signing Bayron Lora, the #3 international prospect right now according to MLB Pipeline in exchange for two low-level pitching prospects.
5. Seattle Mariners (preseason: 4)
The Mariners were fun to watch in getting out to a 13-2 start, but since then have crashed back to earth and continued trading away pieces for prospects. They sent out Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación earlier in the year, then made a few deadline deals to further bolster the minor leagues. They sent away Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland to the Nationals and got their 15th and 21st ranked prospects, respectively, in Taylor Guilbeau and Aaron Fletcher, two relief pitchers whose stocks have been on the rise this year. They also picked up some lower-level prospects between that trade and sending Mike Leake to Arizona. I nailed Omar Narváez and Domingo Santana as being underrated acquisitions in my preseason article, though Santana has looked lost in the outfield after he had been improving defensively in Milwaukee. Mallex Smith has had a rough time after coming over from Tampa Bay this offseason, and Yusei Kikuchi hasn’t done as well as they hoped after being the most sought-after Japanese player this past offseason. The pitching staff was supposed to get help from Justus Sheffield, who entered the year as the #31 ranked prospect, but he has struggled in triple-A and is no longer ranked in the top 100 prospects, falling from first to ninth within Seattle’s organization. Their rebuild is just getting started, as they haven’t hit rock bottom yet.
1. Atlanta Braves (preseason: 3)
I picked this team to finish third in the division because of concerns about the pitching staff, many of which were proven right. Mike Foltynewich was awful after returning from the injury that made him miss nearly all of April, and got sent down in late June, just after they signed Dallas Keuchel to help their staff. Julio Teheran has been pitching like he did in his two All-Star seasons, and Mike Soroka has been incredible in his rookie season. We knew he was capable of great things, hence his being ranked as the #20 overall prospect coming into the year, but you don’t expect rookies to come in and dominate the way he has, as he very well might receive Cy Young consideration and still not win Rookie of the Year. That’s how loaded this NL rookie class is. Their biggest weakness left was the bullpen, and they got Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon at the trade deadline to address that. Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and Ronald Acuña Jr have powered a lineup without any major weakness, as they have no one with at least 250 plate appearances and an OPS+ lower than 95. This team looks ready to compete in October.
2. Washington Nationals (preseason: 2)
I picked this team to go to the World Series as a Wild Card in my preseason article, and while I don’t think I’d pick that now, it doesn’t look like a bad guess. The starting pitching would have to carry them through October, but with the combination of talent and experience they have in Max Scherzer (3.73 ERA in 13 career postseason starts), Stephen Strasburg (only 3 postseason starts, but just one earned run allowed), and Anibal Sánchez (3.12 ERA in 7 postseason starts) to go with the talent of two-time All-Star Patrick Corbin, who has never pitched in the postseason, they just might be able to do it. The offense lives and dies with Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old Juan Soto, who are the only two hitters you feel confident will produce on this roster, though Howie Kendrick is having an unbelievable resurgence at 35 years old, now serving in a utility infield role as he hasn’t been a starting second baseman since 2015. Adding Daniel Hudson and Roenis Elías should help them bridge the gap between their starters and closer Sean Doolittle better than earlier in the year, where their awful bullpen has cost them several games.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (preseason: 1)
I picked the Phillies to win this division in the preseason thinking they were going to hit better than they have to this point. JT Realmuto, while he has the highest WAR on the team, has an OPS+ of 97 after his OPS+ was 111 his total time with the Marlins and 128 last year. Bryce Harper didn’t get paid $330 million to hit .250/.372/.472 with 22 homers so far for the Phillies. Rhys Hoskins has easily been the best hitter on the team so far, and his switch to first base full-time has helped his defense to not totally kill his value, as he was an awful left fielder. The acquisition of Corey Dickerson should help with their left field spot that keeps seeing players get hurt, with Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce both having gone down with injuries this year. Other pickups Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas offer the Phillies a lot of options to mix around in their starting rotation, where Aaron Nola has been the only big positive, and you could say even he has been a bit disappointing after the incredible year he had last season. Jake Arrieta has continued his slow slide back to mediocrity after his magical 2015 season, and Zach Eflin looked like he was taking a big step in his development with a 2.83 ERA in mid-June but in 6 starts between June 24th and July 27th he gave up 36 runs (31 earned) in just 26 2/3 innings, a 10.46 ERA in that span to put his season ERA up to 4.63, leading the Phillies to put him in the bullpen. Philly is still in the Wild Card race, and consistent starting pitching coupled with a hot stretch from some of their hitters could vault them into the postseason.
4. New York Mets (preseason: 4)
Well, the Mets decided to try to win this year, and early returns are promising. A 12-5 stretch including win streaks of 4 and 6 games between the All-Star break and the trade deadline convinced the Mets they should still try to make the postseason this year, and they traded for Marcus Stroman, who was believed to be possibly the best starting pitcher on the market until the Greinke trade happened. They’ve kept up the hot stretch, going 9-2 so far in August to put themselves into the Wild Card race. They did send Jason Vargas to the Phillies, but Stroman was going to take his spot in the rotation anyway. Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler haven’t been at their best this year, but this rotation, that also includes reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, is one of the best in baseball. The lineup has been full of surprises, from just how well rookie slugger Pete Alonso has been, to Robinson Canó’s unforeseen struggles, to Jeff McNeil and his .334 batting average that has him among the league leaders. A full commitment to winning in 2019 probably would have entailed trading for someone to play center field, as Juan Lagares has been completely unable to hit the ball this year, with a slash line of .180/.254/.257 (OPS+ of 39), and at age 30 has lost a step or two since he won his Gold Glove award back in 2014. As exciting as this run has been for the Mets, I think they’ll return to normalcy and not be able to make the playoffs in a crowded Wild Card picture.
5. Miami Marlins (preseason: 5)
The Derek Jeter regime was talked about as showing improvement in making trades this deadline, turning Sergio Romo and an unheralded pitching prospect into Lewin Diaz, the #16 prospect in the Twins system as a power-hitting first baseman who now ranks #13 in Miami’s prospect rankings, using the unexpectedly strong start of Zac Gallen to get Jazz Chisholm, the #59 overall prospect as a potential 5-tool shortstop, from the Diamondbacks, and sending pitchers Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards to the Rays for opener Ryne Stanek and #42 overall prospect Jesus Sanchez. Garrett Cooper has been a pleasant surprise, among an otherwise poor offense, playing both first base and right field and hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 26 walks in just 80 games, earning an OPS+ of 111. Their only other regular hitter with an OPS+ above 100 is Brian Anderson, a primary third baseman who’s also seen time in right field, whose average has come down from a year ago when he finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year race, but has increased his power hitting with 20 home runs so far compared to 11 last season. Young pitchers like Sandy Alcantara, their lone All-Star this year, and Jordan Yamamoto, who gave up just 6 earned runs in his first 6 starts but has been hit a bit more since then, are building blocks for the future of this team that hopefully can put the rock bottom part of the rebuild in the past as early as next season.
1. Chicago Cubs (preseason: 1)
I picked the Cubs in the preseason, and they’re currently in the lead, so I’ll stick with that pick in one of the closest divisions in baseball. I said they should expect more out of Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and Willson Contreras than they got out of them in 2018. Bryant has done that, with his slugging back up to the level he’s capable of when healthy, Contreras has done that as well, putting up the best hitting numbers in his career so far, and Darvish… well, he has done better than last year, just not as good as the Cubs had hoped he would be when they signed him to a 6-year, $126 million contract two offseasons ago. Getting Cole Hammels back from injury soon should be another boost to their already solid pitching rotation, and they took some gambles adding Derek Holland and Derek Wiek at the trade deadline to their bullpen, betting that they would pitch better in Chicago than they had been doing with their previous clubs. They also acquired Tony Kemp, who will fill a Ben Zobrist-type role in playing all over the field as well as being used regularly as a pinch-hitter when he doesn’t start, and Nick Castellanos, who has mashed left-handed pitching throughout his career and has played great in his debut with Chicago so far. And you can’t talk about the Cubs too much without mentioning Anthony Rizzo, who’s once again mashing the ball to the tune of a 132 OPS+ and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. The Cubs are heading for another October of battling to get back to the World Series.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (preseason: 2)
The Brewers didn’t do much at the trade deadline, but neither did the Cardinals and I see a bigger difference-maker on the Brewers than any St Louis has. Surely Christian Yelich couldn’t repeat his 2018 performance… until he did. But Lorenzo Cain was another player unlikely to play as well as he did in 2018, and he came crashing down. While regression was certainly possible for Cain, he’s having arguably the worst offensive season of his career, although his defense is still improbably good for a center fielder that’s now 33. The year after going from a backup to an All-Star, Jesús Aguilar wasn’t hitting until July, and the Brewers sent him to Tampa Bay for a young pitcher. Travis Shaw’s hitting was also an issue, and Milwaukee got something nice out of that by calling up Keston Hiura, who’s been mashing to the tune of a .955 OPS in 55 games, and moving Mike Moustakas back to third base. Eric Thames now has his starting job back at first base and is hitting nearly as well as he did in 2017. Drew Pomeranz was probably their biggest addition, but they got a few arms to take a bit of pressure and innings off of relievers like Alex Claudio and Junior Guerra in getting the game from the starters to Josh Hader. If Yelich drags this team to the postseason, he might just get a second consecutive MVP award, which Cody Bellinger is the other leading candidate for right now.
3. St Louis Cardinals (preseason: 3)
Another team involved in the crazy NL Wild Card race, they weren’t very involved at the trade deadline, with their biggest move being the trade that sent Jed Gyorko to the Dodgers. The only current major leaguer they acquired is Adalberto Mejía, who they claimed off waivers from the Angels. St Louis has a fantastic bullpen, something most other contenders were worried about fixing at the trade deadline, but that’s their only major positive. The starting rotation has been fine, thanks to no one being particularly bad, but Jack Flaherty has the best ERA+ of the group at 113. That’s about as good as he was last year (115 ERA+), but the Cardinals were hoping he would take another step towards becoming an ace this year as he’s just 23. Miles Mikolas has also been unable to reclaim the magic that he had last year when, in his return from Japan, he posted a 2.83 ERA, was named an All-Star and received some Cy Young votes. Offensively, Paul Goldschmidt hasn’t been as good as they expected when they traded for him this offseason, as his contact hasn’t been as good as it’s been previously in his career. He’s still hitting for pretty good power, but his current OPS+ of 112 would easily be a career low. Marcell Ozuna has hit better than a year ago when healthy in spite of his lower batting average, Dexter Fowler has bounced back as well, though he’s still well short of his production from 2012-2017, and Paul DeJong is continuing to take strides in becoming a star, earning his first All-Star appearance this year. Longtime Cardinals Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter have really struggled at the plate this year, and their struggles, as well as a lack of bench hitting, have prevented this offense from really being much above average.
4. Cincinnati Reds (preseason: 4)
Baseball-Reference’s playoff predictor still gives the Reds a 16.6% chance of making the playoffs. That’s better odds than the Giants, Red Sox, or Rangers, who are all near or above .500 right now. I don’t think they’re going to be able to claw their way back into the postseason race, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be excited about Cincinnati for next year. In their deadline trades, they sent away Scooter Gennett, Yasiel Puig, and Tanner Roark, all free agents this offseason. The prospects they received for Gennett and Roark won’t have much impact, but Trevor Bauer is definitely another major piece in an already strong rotation. Luis Castillo is going to receive Cy Young votes in his age-26 season this year, and he’s under team control until 2024. Sonny Gray has made it look like Yankee Stadium really was his problem last year, even though Cincy’s ballpark isn’t exactly pitcher-friendly. Anthony DeSclafani has gotten closer to his pre-2017 elbow injury numbers in 2019 after a lost season last year. All of them are going to be with the Reds next year at least. On offense, Joey Votto has disappeared, after having a down year for his standards last year he’s regressed to be about a league-average hitter this year, but Eugenio Suárez continues to make the trade of himself for Alfredo Simon look like an absolute joke, as he’s going to hit over 30 homers again, although his average is down a bit this year. Derek Dietrich has emerged as a power bat, and rookie Nick Senzel, while he’s certainly still adjusting not only to major league pitching but also center field, has shown flashes of what made him the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft and such a highly regarded prospect.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (preseason: 5)
Apparently, I’m sticking entirely to my preseason predictions for the tightest division in baseball. The Pirates were feeling optimistic when they were flirting with .500 at the All-Star break (44-45), but have collapsed at the start of the second half, as they lost their first 4 before later suffering a 9-game skid as part of a 2-15 stretch coming out of the All-Star break. That made them clear sellers at the deadline so they sent away… Jordan Lyles, a starter with a 5.36 ERA that netted them a 25-year-old pitcher currently in double-A, and Corey Dickerson, whom they got a PTBNL and international bonus slot money for. Their farm system isn’t very good right now, with 3 players in the top 100 and none in the top 25, and Felipe Vázquez was the highest sought-after relief pitcher on the market. I understand he’s great and under team control for a long time, but that’s how they could have gotten a franchise-altering talent for him. To tell the Dodgers (reportedly) to give them Gavin Lux or no deal was a mistake. And what in the world are they still doing with Francisco Liriano? They signed him to a one-year deal this offseason and moved him to the bullpen, where he’s done very well. At age 35, he couldn’t have had a lot of value, but anything is better than just letting him go this offseason having done nothing for the future of your franchise. This roster is screaming rebuild, with factors including having only one pitcher with more than 60 innings pitched this year with an ERA+ above 95 (Steven Brault), and the front office wouldn’t commit to it when the table was set for them to do so. I guess their hope is for Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds to carry this team into the future.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (preseason: 1)
Welcome to another year of the Dodgers winning the NL West. No, they’re not the 90’s/early 2000’s Braves, at least not yet, but they’re the longest standing dynasty in the MLB right now. No, they didn’t get any big names at the trade deadline, but look how getting Yu Darvish (2017) and Manny Machado (2018) worked out. Both years, they lost the World Series, and the player went somewhere else in free agency. They didn’t have to give up the entire farm for them, but especially for Machado, they dealt significant pieces. This year, they again held on to their best prospects, and Hyun-Jin Ryu’s neck strain, while it may hurt his chances of winning the Cy Young award, could help the Dodgers to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Their lineup has been carried by MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, who has been otherworldly both at the plate and in the field, with significant contributions from Max Muncy and Justin Turner who have both not quite replicated their performance from last year but have hit well regardless. Catcher was the one spot the Dodgers were still struggling with until Will Smith got called up and started mashing, with 6 doubles and 6 homers in his first 17 games of his MLB career. If Ryu, Stripling, and Hill are all able to be healthy in time for the postseason, which at least Ryu and Stripling are expected to do, their pitching staff goes from strong to scary.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (preseason: 4)
The Diamondbacks went 82-80 last year, then saw Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and AJ Pollock all leave, along with a lesser name in Clay Buchholz who was seventh on the team with 3.0 WAR a year ago. So it wasn’t expected for them to be right around .500 again, but Carson Kelly has been a nice addition behind the plate, and Luke Weaver, the other piece they got back for Goldschmidt, was pitching very well before his injury, and that’s gone a long way to bolster this squad. The emergence at first base for Christian Walker, now that he’s finally out from behind an All-Star, from Chris Davis in Baltimore to Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, and he’s shown good power and understanding for hitting with 21 doubles and 20 homers so far. Their trade deadline situation was interesting, as they elected not to tear down or make a big push, but to use their assets to the best of their ability both among current major leaguers and prospects. That included Zack Greinke, who loved pitching in the National League and was the front runner for his second Silver Slugger award, being sent to the Astros for a haul of 4 prospects, 3 that rank in the top 30 in Arizona’s system now, including Seth Beer, currently #100 overall. It also meant sending Jazz Chisholm, who had been their #1 prospect and #59 overall, to the Marlins for Zac Gallen, who was a fairly well-regarded prospect who has impressed in his time in the MLB so far, and currently ranks as the D-backs’ #5 prospect, which he’ll soon graduate out of as he’ll exceed his rookie limits. Their other significant move was acquiring Mike Leake from the Mariners, whom they only had to give up Jose Caballero, a 22-year-old infielder currently in high-A ball who wasn’t on their top 30 list.
3. San Francisco Giants (preseason: 5)
Going into July, the Giants were expected to sell off all their best players at the deadline and start a real rebuild. You know what happened next, with San Francisco getting hot, getting their record up to around .500 and on the fringes of Wild Card contention, and decided to keep Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, and others and not totally tank. They still did deal away some players from their bullpen, which was their biggest strength, sending out Drew Pomeranz, Sam Dyson, and Mark Melancon, getting three prospects back for Dyson from the Twins, though none rank on their top 30 prospects, getting Mauricio Dubon, who ranks as their #8 prospect from the Brewers for Pomeranz (and Ray Black, a 29-year-old reliever who’s spent most of the year in triple-A), and they got two players, including Tristan Beck, who now ranks as their 18th-best prospect, from the Braves for Melancon. They also acquired Scooter Gennett from the Reds in the hopes that he’ll help their lineup, which has been decent at best this year and has received basically no production from Joe Panik at second base. Props to them for trying, because even though I don’t think they’ll be able to make the playoffs, they are outperforming what their expectations were coming into the year.
4. San Diego Padres (preseason: 3)
It was a mostly quiet deadline for the Padres, whose biggest move was being a part of the trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds and Yasiel Puig to the Indians, as they sent Franmil Reyes, the power-hitting but weak-fielding outfielder, Logan Allen, the #98 overall prospect left-handed pitcher, and a low-tier prospect to the Indians and received Taylor Trammel, the #30 overall prospect, from the Reds. Among their major leaguers, Fernando Tatis Jr went from the preseason #2 overall prospect to a budding superstar, from mashing at the plate to the tune of a .320 batting average with 22 homers already, to making eye-popping plays at shortstop and running the bases with dare-devilish aggressiveness. They sent away one big hitter at the corner outfield but held on to one in Hunter Renfroe, who’s already hit 31 homers this year. And while Tatis has shined the most, he isn’t the only rookie impressing in San Diego. Though he’s cooled a bit from his great start, Chris Paddack has kept his name in the Rookie of the Year conversation, although it looks like a two-man race right now between Tatis and Pete Alonso of the Mets. Francisco Mejía has also been an upgrade at catcher from Austin Hedges, as his defensive value wasn’t worth putting up with his struggles at the plate, earning the rookie Mejía the call-up and the starting job. With Luis Urías now in the majors, along with their #10 prospect in reliever Michael Baez, we’re starting to see what the promising future of this team will look like.
5. Colorado Rockies (preseason: 2)
My goodness, what happened in Colorado? More specifically, what happened to Kyle Freeland? He went from receiving a few Rookie of the Year votes, to receiving somewhat significant Cy Young consideration to… awful in 2019. He had a 7.13 ERA by the end of May when he got sent down to triple-A, somehow was worse there, was called back up at the All-Star break and has been only slightly better, with his ERA ticking down to 7.06. This coming just one year after he joined Ubaldo Jimenez (2010) as the only Rockies pitchers to throw at least 120 innings with an ERA below 3. German Márquez, who set the Rockies record for strikeouts in a season last year, also hasn’t been quite as effective as he was a year ago, either on the mound or at the plate, where he won the pitcher Silver Slugger award. Scott Oberg is still great in their bullpen, and Jake McGee is having his best season as a Rockie, but other than them the bullpen has been rough, with the loss of Adam Ottavino obviously hurting there. Unsurprisingly, throwing a 33-year-old shortstop in Coors’ expansive center field didn’t go well, as Ian Desmond has really struggled, and David Dahl was only slightly better but at least his hitting was better than Desmond’s. Nolan Arenado’s run of 4 consecutive Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards looks like it will end this year, as Rendon of the Nationals and Bryant of the Cubs look like the top contenders for Silver Slugger, though Arenado does still look like the front-runner for a seventh consecutive Gold Glove award. Charlie Blackmon’s hitting is back up after a relative down year in 2018, but Trevor Story’s OPS is down a touch from a year ago when the league has been hitting better, resulting in a decrease from 125 to 112 in OPS+, though his defense at shortstop has also been great. Ultimately, though, this feels like just another Rockies team that scores a lot of runs, but other teams come in and outscore them.
East: New York Yankees; Central: Minnesota Twins; West: Houston Astros
Cleveland Indians; Tampa Bay Rays
East: Atlanta Braves; Central: Chicago Cubs; West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Washington Nationals; Milwaukee Brewers
I’m gonna ride with 8 of my 10 preseason picks to make the playoffs, though the Twins and Indians flipped spots from my preseason article to now, as the Rays get in instead of the Red Sox and the Braves take the Phillies spot. What a disappointing year this will be for Philly if they don’t make the playoffs after the offseason they had. Not that it wouldn’t be disappointing for Boston as well, not being able to make the playoffs a year after winning the World Series. There haven’t been a whole lot of surprising contenders, depending on how you felt about Minnesota and Tampa Bay before the season, but among the possible playoff teams, a few World Series contenders have emerged. So let’s get to a World Series prediction.
Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers
Sorry, Dodger fans. I’ve got your team not only losing their third consecutive World Series but to the same team that beat them in 2017. Going into the trade deadline, I thought the Yankees might still be the favorites in the AL. The Zack Greinke trade changed that, and the Astros’ other additions have performed well so far in Houston. The Yankees have done a great job of getting production out of people you’ve never heard of before, and that’s great for getting wins in the regular season. But in the playoffs, when it just comes down to who can win 4 games first, I’ll take Houston, with their superior pitching staff and similarly threatening lineup. With the Dodgers, they’ve looked like easily the best team in the National League, but their pitching staff is so loaded with injury concerns that I just don’t feel confident picking them to win it all. I could absolutely see the Dodgers or Yankees winning the World Series, and a few other teams have a chance if things break their way, but I feel most confident in the Houston Astros.
AL: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
In the American League, for several seasons now, the MVP conversation has revolved around Trout. If you could get a good story about someone else having a great season on another team, you went with them, but we all know Mike Trout is the best player. This year, there aren’t any players close enough (right now) to take the MVP award away from him. He leads the AL in WAR, home runs, walks, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and extra-base hits. He also plays above-average defense in center field, which only factors into WAR for the stats mentioned above. DJ LeMahieu and Alex Bregman are probably in line to be the other finalists, with players like Semien and Chapman on the A’s, Polanco on the Twins, Verlander on the Astros, and Betts on the Red Sox also likely to get votes.
NL: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
When it’s close, go with the player on the better team. Christian Yelich has been incredible, again, but barring another late-season surge, his Brewers are fighting for a Wild Card spot, while Bellinger’s Dodgers are running away with their division and the top seed in the NL playoffs. Also, Bellinger’s defense has been better than Yelich’s, so while Yelich has hit slightly better thus far, I think Bellinger will be recognized with the MVP award because he has a higher WAR, is on the better team, and Yelich won it last year. Other potential finalists include Ronald Acuña Jr of the Braves, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Javy Báez of the Cubs, and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers. Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks and Max Scherzer of the Nationals also are deserving of some votes.
Cy Young Award
AL: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Mike Minor and Lance Lynn both have higher WAR totals, but Verlander leads the AL in ERA, innings pitched, and wins. Here’s betting he finally picks up that second Cy Young award that has been so elusive to him, as he’s finished second in AL Cy Young voting 3 times since winning his first. He’s already hit 200 strikeouts for the ninth time in his career, and he’ll lock up his spot in the Hall of Fame (and likely ensure he goes in with a blank cap and not a Tiger hat) by winning a Cy Young in Houston. Other finalists could include Minor or Lynn, as well as current Astro Gerrit Cole and former Astro (now in Tampa Bay) Charlie Morton.
NL: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
This is going to be possibly the closest award race this season. Scherzer and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers are engaged in a great Cy Young battle as Ryu’s incredible 1.53 ERA and 11-2 record battle Scherzer’s NL-leading 189 strikeouts and 2.08 FIP (also leads the NL). Scherzer currently has a slightly higher WAR, and with Ryu being injured and having a massive injury history the Dodgers will likely be careful with him down the stretch, allowing Scherzer to simply out-volume him for the award. Other candidates include Luis Castillo of the Reds, reigning NL Cy Young champ Jacob deGrom, and Braves rookie Mike Soroka. Zack Greinke may have been in the conversation for third finalist before getting shipped to an AL team at the deadline, but that won’t happen now.
Rookie of the Year
AL: Yordan Álvarez, Houston Astros
Apologies to Brandon Lowe of the Rays and John Means of the Orioles who’ve been doing it for the whole season, but Álvarez has been unbelievable at the plate so far, hitting 17 homers in his first 45 career games and setting a new MLB record with 51 RBI in that span to start a career, with a 3-homer, 7 RBI game on August 10th to cap that off. He debuted on June 9th and won AL Rookie of the month in June and July. If the season ended today, it would be a tough call, as he’s only played 45 games, but by the end of the year he will have played in over 80 (probably), enough to be a little over half a season and if he stays anywhere near his current level at the plate he’ll win it, even as a DH. Vlad Guerrero Jr was the preseason favorite, and he’s shown signs of potential superstardom but hasn’t been consistent enough to get the top spot. Lowe or Means could still win, but Means has flown under the radar playing for an awful Baltimore team, and when Álvarez’s production matches or exceeds that of Lowe in spite of playing 30 fewer games, he’ll get the advantage.
NL: Fernando Tatis Jr, San Diego Padres
The AL ROTY race isn’t exactly filled with stars right now, but the NL race is crazy because of how many talented rookies there are. Tatis has been an electric, can’t-miss spectacle when he’s been on the field, impacting games in a variety of ways with his all-around skills. Pete Alonso of the Mets has also been fun to watch but the man they call Polar Bear has done it primarily through power-hitting, which it’s exciting to watch a rookie with a chance to hit 50 homers, but when he’s not hitting homers, he isn’t making nearly as much of an impact. Mike Soroka has been incredible on the mound for the Braves, and will likely receive some Cy Young award votes. Soroka and Alonso were both All-Stars, while the only AL rookie All-Star was Brandon Lowe, who was injured and didn’t play in the game. That’s not where the talent ends, though. Outfielders Bryan Reynolds, Alex Verdugo, and Victor Robles of the Pirates, Dodgers, and Nationals, respectively, have been having great rookie seasons as well. Reynolds’ contact hitting has put him among the leaders in the NL in batting average and OBP, Verdugo has 5-tool talent and has shown he can be an all-around player in a stacked Dodgers outfield, and Robles’ speed and defense in center field have made a big difference in Washington. It’s a loaded NL rookie class, but Tatis has been the best of them when he’s on the field and assuming he stays healthy the rest of the year he should come away with the award.
Manager of the Year
AL: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
The Manager of the Year award is basically all about surprising success, and a first-year manager guiding his team to the playoffs after inheriting much of the same roster that went 78-84 a year ago would be a good success story and likely earn Baldelli the MOTY award. Kevin Cash of the Rays will likely receive votes again, Terry Francona of the Indians might get some, and Bob Melvin could be a factor if the A’s can get into the postseason again. Someone might vote for Aaron Boone with the Yankees or AJ Hinch with the Astros for being the best teams in the AL, but everyone expected the Yankees and Astros to be in this spot, so they won’t receive too much consideration, even with the work Boone had to do with second-and third-string players when several of their stars got hurt.
NL: Dave Martinez, Washington Nationals
A second-year manager of a team that lost one of their homegrown stars in free agency and still improved has to be a front-runner for MOTY. This could also be a year in which the Manager of the Year comes from a non-playoff team, such as Torey Lovullo of the Diamondbacks as they’ve greatly exceeded expectations after losing three of their best players this past offseason, and traded away their ace at the deadline, and are still hanging around the fringes of the Wild Card race. Mickey Callaway of the Mets was someone many fans wanted to be fired before they went on their crazy run that has them right back in the middle of playoff contention, and while I don’t think he’ll win the award because of the blame he was getting for their early-season struggles, I could see some voters going that direction because of the mid-season turnaround. Dave Roberts could see the same thing that Aaron Boone and AJ Hinch get in the AL, with leading the best team in his league results in a few votes, but not serious contention as everyone knew the Dodgers had a loaded roster heading into the year.
So there you have it. An overview of how the rest of the MLB season will go down, and who will be taking home the major individual awards. Will these be right? Probably some, but definitely not all, especially with how crazy the NL playoff race is right now. Other people have other opinions on how things will shake out, and there are certainly some from people who know more than me who are closer to right. But I don’t think these predictions are things to bet against, either, as they’re based largely on facts and numbers with just a bit of gut feel thrown in for separating the close battles. But baseball is wild, and that’s what makes it fun. I’m looking forward to what should be an exciting stretch run, and can’t wait for the fall for playoff baseball.