The All-Star game may be a week away, but every team in baseball has crossed the 81-game mark, meaning the second-half of the 2017 season has already started.
In early April, I made seventeen predictions for how this season will play out. They look OK, for the most part. At least four of the teams I pegged as sure playoff contenders–the Nationals, Dodgers, Astros, and Indians–have a grip on their respective divisions. Some of my more specific predictions, like Colorado emerging as a surprise team and the Cubs regressing after an 103-win season, are holding up as well.
However, I severely overlooked the Yankees, picking them to finish 4th in the AL East. I also made two egregious mistakes by picking the Mets and Giants, last year’s Wild Card teams, to reclaim those spots again this year. They’ve been the two most disappointing teams in baseball.
On a related note, my World Series prediction may still be in play, but I’m not feeling confident about it anymore. Before the season began I liked the Indians and Cubs to meet in a rematch of last year’s Fall Classic, with Cleveland exacting revenge.
I haven’t seen enough to change my AL pick. Despite a sluggish start and a mysterious decline from their once terrific defense, the Indians remain one of the strongest teams in baseball. Their pitching staff continues to lead the way, as Cleveland’s starters rank 5th in Fielding Independent Pitching while their bullpen has the lowest ERA in baseball. And even though their offense hasn’t improved much even after adding Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians still rank in the top ten in slugging percentage.
I no longer think Cleveland is going to win the World Series, though. And I don’t think the Cubs, who rank outside the top 10 in batting, pitching, and fielding WAR, will be the ones to beat them.
My new World Series pick: Dodgers over Indians. I already explained why I’m sticking with Cleveland, so here’s why I like LA.
First, the Dodgers are not just in the top ten, but the top five in the three major categories–batting, pitching, and fielding–in terms of wins above replacement. They have no weakness. LA’s main strength, though, is clearly their pitching, which ranks first in the majors in ERA and is led by arguably the game’s best starter, Clayton Kershaw (12-2, 2.32 ERA), and reliever, Kenley Jansen (0.79 ERA, lowest in baseball). That’s a deadly combination.
Let’s look next at their position players. The Dodgers are one of only two teams in baseball (the Yankees are the other) with five players who have WAR’s over 2.0: Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Yasmani Grandal. Turner and Bellinger, in particular, have been outstanding, as the former is currently hitting .382 while the latter has remarkably hit 24 home runs since being called up from the minors in May. But these guys aren’t just known for their bats: the Dodgers also rank 4th in defense, according to Fangraphs. A lot of that has to do with Seager and Grandal, as each rank in the top 30 among position players defensively.
There’s one final reason why I’m backing the Dodgers. The NL is relatively weak. Many people think Los Angeles’ main competition is Washington, but that’s not true. The Nationals have an achilles heel: their bullpen, which ranks dead last in ERA. They cannot win the World Series unless they acquire a stud reliever at the deadline, and even that may not be enough for them to overtake a much deeper Dodgers team. Moreover, the aforementioned Cubs are nowhere near as dominant as they were last year. That leaves Arizona, the team I believe is the biggest threat to upset the Dodgers mainly because their starting staff is just as good as LA’s. And yet, the Diamondbacks aren’t even a sure bet to advance past the Wild Card game, assuming they find themselves in that situation.
Without a doubt, Los Angeles is the undisputed favorite in the NL, and I’m picking them to beat whichever team comes out of the AL. The Dodgers are deep, dominant, and after many disappointing playoff exits over the past few years, they’ll finally break through to win it all.
Other predictions for the season’s second-half…
- AL East: Boston. Mookie Betts will lead the ‘Sox in the second-half, and it will be just enough to top the Yankees.
- NL Central: Milwaukee. Surprise, surprise. No Chicago. Every major metric says the Cubs are what they are: a .500 club. There’s talk that Theo Epstein will make a major splash close to the trade deadline, but I think that will only add to their desperation. The Brewers may not be as good on paper, but they have a nice little 3.5 game bulge, as of July 4th…and baseball’s a funny game sometimes.
- AL Wild Card’s: New York and Tampa Bay
- NL Wild Card’s: Arizona and Colorado
- AL MVP: Aaron Judge. The Yankees’ rookie is too far ahead of the field, even if he cools off a little in the second half.
- NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt. It’s easy to see Goldschmidt (.316 average, 1st in RBI’s, 2nd in WAR) receiving most of the credit for Arizona’s sudden turn-around. He’s deserving.
- AL Cy Young: Chris Sale. His strikeout numbers are historic and, like Judge, he has a huge leg-up on the rest of his competitors entering July.
- NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw. When in doubt, side with one of the greatest lefties of all-time. Scherzer’s ERA is unlikely to stay below two all season, and Kershaw is unlikely to stop winning.
- ALCS: Indians over Yankees
- NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals