The All-Star Break doesn't neatly cleave the season in twain, even though the games before it are often referred to as "the first half." Roughly 60 percent of the season is in the books, give or take a few games for rainouts. By this point some teams are properly pessimistic to the point of panic, wishing the season would end already so they can go about their rebuilds, while for those who are in contention, things are just starting to get interesting.
The season's outcomes may seem predictable at this point, but there are still plenty of opportunities for chaos and surprises. The first half makes it marginally easier to predict what will happen down the stretch, and while midseason predictions may be more valid than the preseason ones, there still aren't any definitive answers, just hunches and gut feelings.
Still, most of us -- myself included, or else I wouldn't be writing this -- can't help but attempt to predict what will happen in the "second half." Feel free to bookmark this page to ridicule when absolutely none of these predictions pan out.
Raul Ibanez won't last, but Chris Davis will
This may be his last season in the league, but 41-year-old Raul Ibanez is currently hitting better than he did in his younger years. Ibanez has 24 home runs, good for fourth in the American League. That's more than he's had in some full seasons. Most players don't age well, but suddenly Ibanez is playing like Barry Bonds and Ted Williams did in their twilight years. It would be great if it lasted -- he's on pace for over 40 home runs, despite a career high of just 34 -- and it would certainly couple well with his success last season as Alex Rodriguez's playoff-pinch hitter, but sadly, there's no reason to believe that this sudden surge of power is anything more than a fluke.
Unlike Ibanez, however, Chris Davis isn't running on luck. Thanks to an improved approach at the plate, Davis has shattered the ceiling on his upside. Davis currently leads the majors in home runs, slugging, and total bases; In May, Davis hit .364/.442/.768, averaging a home run every 11 plate appearances. Though Rick Reilly and others have speculated that Davis may be taking steroids, the real boost has come from improved pitch selection. Davis no longer struggles against breaking balls, and his focus has been on solid contact rather than pulling the ball. The changes have made him one of the best hitters in the game, and that's likely to continue.
Manny Machado will break the doubles record
In 1931, Earl Webb hit 67 doubles and was crowned the two-bagger king. Several modern-era players like Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado, Nomar Garciaparra, and Brian Roberts started hot enough that it seemed likely they might dethrone him, but none of them broke 60 and the record has remained intact.
This will be the season that Webb's reign ends, and Manny Machado will take over as the title holder. It's going to take a special talent to break that record, but Machado is a perfect storm of the traits necessary to bust the long-standing record. He currently has 39 doubles, which puts him on pace for a total in the high 60s. As long as Machado is healthy he'll play a lot of games as the starter at third for the Orioles. Machado has made solid contact all season, and the number of line drives he hits gives him a boost where doubles are concerned. He's fast, but not too fast, which means that he can get into second standing up but won't chance heading to third for a triple. Machado breaks Webb's record this season; of all the predictions I'm making, I feel the most confident about this one.
Manny Machado (Jim McIsaacs )
Despite being preseason favorites for the World Series, the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays won't make the playoffs. Neither team will finish above .500.
Before the season started, I made this same pessimistic prediction about the Blue Jays. It was an unpopular stance. The Jays have been even worse than I expected; their chances of making the playoffs this season have mostly disappeared.
Once again, injuries have killed their roster. The absences of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie have been detrimental to the offense, and Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Josh Johnson, and Sergio Santos have been greatly missed when off the mound, even if they've often been ineffective when on it -- when your replacement is Ramon Ortiz of Chien-Ming Wang, it means never having to say "I'm sorry." The Jays have allowed an average of 4.68 runs per game, second-highest in the league. While they've shown signs of life -- like an 11-game winning streak in June -- it won't be enough in the highly competitive AL East. Not only is there little hope they can erase their current 11.5-game deficit has created, but it doesn't seem likely they'll finish the season above .500.
It's riskier to count the Nationals out, but they trail the Braves by six games in the NL East, and the frontrunners have one of the easiest schedules in the second half of the season. The Nats have had one of the worst offenses in the majors (14th in OPS+ in the league, with an embarrassingly bad on-base percentage of just .301). There's a chance that they get stronger with an outfield that is finally healthy and deadline moves for better utility help (acquiring Scott Hairston was a step in that direction) and an extra starting pitcher, but it's probably going to be another heartbreaking end for the folks in the District.
A team will finish with fewer than 400 walks
While taking a walk has often been mocked as the mantra of Moneyball disciples, the value of getting on base via the free pass has been embraced by most organizations. Still, there are a few current lineups that are dominated by impatient hitters; we could see history this season: A team taking fewer than 400 walks in the season.
That may not seem too monumental, but it's a feat that's rare. Since 1964, it's only happened 25 times in a 162-game season, and only four times in the past 10 years; the 2005 Tigers, 2006 Cubs, 2007 Mariners, and 2009 Giants were the hackers of record.
This season, the Brewers have just 218 walks, and there are five other teams with less than 240 walks, so while it's going to be close, at least one of the five could finish with fewer than 400. While this prediction may not be as exciting as others, it could at least fuel offseason conversation about how a lack of free passes is selfish and irresponsible, just like too much bunting.
Andrew McCutchen (USA TODAY Sports )
The Pirates don't fade this time: They make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
It's been a long, tedious wait for the Pirates, but their time has come: They will make the playoffs this year. Unlike previous seasons, Andrew McCutchen hasn't been their lone offensive talent. Pedro Alvarez has 24 home runs and was invited to participate in the Home Run Derby and Starling Marte is slugging .462 and has 28 stolen bases. While the hitting has been solid, it's the pitching that's been the difference-maker. Pirates pitchers have allowed just 3.34 runs per game, the least in the league, and the rotation and bullpen have both been solid. In his first full season in the rotation, Jeff Locke has been tremendous with a 2.15 ERA, and the Pirates look awfully smart for grabbing Francisco Liriano, who is having his best season since 2006, on a one-year, $1 million deal. In the bullpen, Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli have been unstoppable; Grilli has just one blown save this season.
It's easy to lack faith in a roster of veterans and unknown talent all reaching their upside simultaneously, but given their .602 winning percentage in the first half (a 98-win pace), their highest since 1991, it's going to take a lot to derail this team. It was hard to see the Pirates coming, but they currently have the second best record in the majors. While the Cardinals will give them a tough fight in the NL Central, if they keep playing this well, they'll at least snag a wild card.
No Triple Crown for Miguel, but consecutive MVPs
Chris Davis's power stroke could be what prevents Miguel Cabrera from a Triple Crown again this season, but there's a great chance that he becomes the first third baseman to win consecutive MVP awards since Mike Schmidt did it in 1980 and 81.
There's hardly an explanation needed as to why Cabrera is the best player in baseball, and it's harder to do if you can't use expletives as descriptor words for emphasis. Instead of me rambling on and on about the things he excels at, take a look at his Baseball Reference page and see all of the bold numbers that indicate he was the best in a particular metric. This season, there are eight bold numbers, which is the most I remember seeing since my last look at Pedro Martinez's page.
Cabrera is showing zero signs of decline, and has an OPS+ is 200, which is inhuman and unfair. No one will come close to matching Cabrera's production this season, and he'll win the MVP for consecutive years. Hell, he may even win it again next year. And the year after that. And the one after that, too.