The MLB season currently still sort of is on a break for All Star festivities, which makes this as good a time as many to check in on the status of my preseason predictions.
New York is 4.5 games behind Boston for the lead in this division. My opinion now is that the Red Sox will win the division and the Yankees will be the first wild card, but I expect this to be a good duel down the stretch.
The AL Central stinks. Cleveland, even with a slow start, will win it, and they just added two new relievers everyone seems to love. The Indians have the worst record of all current division leaders, but no one in the Central is catching them this year.
The defending champs have a nice five-game lead, but they haven’t been able to shake the Mariners (five games back) or Athletics (eight games back). I still expect the Astros to claim this division, but I think Seattle has the mettle to make it a moderately interesting race. Oakland, I suspect, will fade before long.
Wild Cards: Boston, Los Angeles/Anaheim
It looks like I’ve flip-flopped the Red Sox and Yankees. The Angels, meanwhile, appear to have hit one too many bumps in the road. They’re fourteen back of the Astros and nine games out of the second wild card position. Unfortunately for them and baseball fans everywhere, Shohei Ohtani’s health hasn’t held up, but good news out yesterday suggests he may be able to return to his SP/DH combo before season’s end.
This is the first year since I began making picks for FanGraphs that I did not pick the Tigers for a playoff spot and predictably they find themselves comfortably out of contention right now. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to keep watching them, though.
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
I picked Mike Trout last year because he’s always the safe and correct pick for this award and I try to get these things right once in a while, and, of course, he got hurt last year. This year, I didn’t pick him and he might be having his best year ever.
The thought in selecting Stanton was that he’s a player who’s capable of being in the MVP conversation, and the media voters who select the winner might like him better now that he plays in New York. Of course, I somehow forgot that he won the NL MVP last year, which undermines my theory a bit, and his 2018, while fine, isn’t quite as good as his 2017. I should’ve stuck with Trout, is the lesson here.
Cy Young: Justin Verlander
JV leads all pitchers in (DRA-based) WARP right now, but Chris Sale, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Luis Severino all are very much in this conversation. That’s a lot of names. I should’ve applied my theory that led me to pick Stanton for AL MVP to this race, because the media has been very ready to crown Severino for weeks. He leads this group (and, indeed, all of baseball) in pitcher wins, which continue to play an outsized role in Cy Young-voters’ minds, but I think the smart money is on the field here, and I’m comfortable sticking with Verlander.
Rookie of the Year: Gleyber Torres
Of all my picks, this is my favorite one, because I think I nailed it. While almost everybody went with Ohtani here, I zagged, and the Yankees’ second-baseman now looks like the shoo-in for AL RoY, especially after Ohtani’s injury-induced absence.
This division has been far more competitive than I anticipated based on the past few years, and the Phillies, which I had as a wild card, squeaked into first place right before the break after the early arriving Braves faltered a bit. The Nationals seem to be getting healthy at the right moment, so I’m not ready to abandon this selection, but I now expect this to be a fun race to October.
Thanks to a bad, late losing streak on the part of Milwaukee, which had been leading the league, the Cubs are in first by three games. I think this will be a decent fight as well, and I’d like to see the Brewers, which I had as my other wild card, hang around. I still think the Cubs will win it, though. I’m less convinced of the recently emergent theory that the Cardinals are going to sneak into the playoffs, although I am glad Yadier Molina finally is receiving some overdue media attention.
West: Los Angeles
The rich get richer, as the Dodgers add Manny Machado to replace the injured Corey Seager and again look to be NL favorites. Nothing’s guaranteed, of course, and their pitching corps, which always was a little thinner behind Clayton Kershaw than it looked or played, still could use reinforcing, especially in what technically qualifies as a down year for Kershaw.
Somehow lost in the conversation about the Dodgers’ resources and likelihood of future success is the fact that four of the teams in this division are within four games of the lead. The Diamondbacks (a half game out), Rockies (two games out), and Giants (four games out) all remain within striking distance. At least on paper, this is the most competitive divisional race in baseball, but I remin quite comfortable with my pick.
Wild Cards: Milwaukee, Philadelphia
As discussed above, the Brewers had been leading the Central for much of the season, and the Phillies currently lead the East. I still think both of these teams get in, but, with Atlanta, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado all still in the mix, it could be a tight finish.
MVP: Freddie Freeman
Freeman remains in good position here, and his team’s somewhat surprising early success has helped his cause. Nolan Arenado’s had a great first half as well, although, fairly or not, I think the writers will ding him for playing his home games a mile above the ocean. Depending on how the Nationals finish, Max Scherzer could be Freeman’s most serious challenger here.
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Like most other people from year to year, I keep flip-flopping this spot between Kershaw and Scherzer. The latter looks like he’ll be good for it this time around. Unfortunately, I picked the former. Aaron Nola presents an interesting case as well.
Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuña
Twice in as many years I have selected a member of the Braves, and I think I’m going to be right this time. Some injury issues have kept him from playing as much as he or I would have liked, but, assuming he can return and play out most of the rest of the season, I think he has this one in the bag.
At the midway point, I’d rate these fourteen full-season predictions as follows:
- Likely: 7
- Push: 5
- Unlikely: 2