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50 Predictions for MLB's Second Half

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2016

50 Predictions for MLB's Second Half

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    With the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, the baseball world now turns its attention to the second half of the season and the upcoming trade deadline.

    While we have a good idea of whether each team will be a buyer or seller at the deadline, there is still a lot of baseball to be played, and a lot will change between now and then.

    Before the second half starts, here are 50 predictions for the second half of the season. I've made one prediction for each team, picked all 10 playoff teams, named the winners of each major award and projected how I think the playoffs will play out.

Atlanta Braves: Ben Sheets Will Make an Impact, Shore Up Braves Rotation

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    The Braves entered the season with a level of pitching depth that rivaled any team in baseball, but injuries to Brandon Beachy and Arodys Vizcaino, youthful struggles from Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran and the early-season demotion of Jair Jurrjens left the rotation reeling.

    That led the team to sign former Brewers All-Star Ben Sheets to a minor-league deal on July 1, and after two starts in Double-A, the team is set to call him up to start on Sunday.

    He was sharp in his second start, going six innings and allowing one unearned run, and he posted a solid 10:1 K:BB ratio over 10.1 innings in the two starts.

    After sitting out the 2009 season, he went 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA over 20 starts with the A's in 2010, but he has not pitched in the majors since July 19, 2010, as shoulder injuries have hampered him throughout his career.

    He doesn't need to be the ace he was back in his Brewers days to make an impact for the Braves, and if he can stick in the rotation and give them a dozen or so strong starts with a sub-4.00 ERA, it would go a long way towards shoring up the Atlanta rotation.

Miami Marlins: Josh Johnson Will Reestablish Himself as One of Game's Best

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    Josh Johnson broke into the league back in 2005, and he enjoyed scattered success until 2009, when he managed to stay healthy over 33 starts and went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA.

    He followed that up with an ERA title in 2010, when he went 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA and finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting.

    However, he was limited to just 28 starts that year, and injuries again plagued him last season, as he made just nine starts.

    After a rough start to the 2012 season, he has gone 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA and nine quality starts in his last 11 turns in the rotation.

    I expect him to build off of that momentum and rank among the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, as he should significantly trim his current 4.06 ERA.

New York Mets: Ike Davis Will Be a Force in the Middle of the Lineup

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    A first-round pick by the Mets in 2008, Ike Davis took over as the team's everyday first baseman by 2010, and he hit .264 with 19 HR and 71 RBI to finish seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting.

    That was followed by a terrific start to the 2011 season, as he hit .302 with seven HR and 25 RBI through 36 games, but an ankle injury sidelined him and eventually wound up ending his season.

    The Mets hoped he would pick up right where he left off this season, but through the end of May, the 25-year-old was hitting just .170 with five HR, 21 RBI and a .524 OPS.

    The team stuck with him rather than demoting him, hoping he could play himself out of the early-season funk. He has done that, slowly turning things around and hitting .264 with six HR, 24 RBI and a .926 OPS in the month of June.

    With the Mets in contention, expect Davis to step his game up in the second half and put up the type of numbers people expected him to, as a 25 HR, 100 RBI season is not out of the realm of possibility.

Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown Will Struggle Mightily in Everyday Role

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    The Phillies have struggled mightily this season and are currently in last place in the NL East with a 37-50 record. Injuries to a number of their star players have been largely to blame, and the team could be headed for a rebuild.

    Aside from oft-rumored Cole Hamels, outfielders Juan Pierre and Shane Victorino could both be on the move before the deadline, and that could open the door for top prospect Domonic Brown to see everyday playing time.

    Brown entered 2011 as the No. 4 prospect in baseball, but he was unable to seize the starting left-field job out of spring training when a broken hamate bone shelved him during the preseason.

    This season, the 24-year-old has hit .266/.314/.416 with four HR and 22 RBI through 173 at-bats in Triple-A. Various injuries have limited him this season, but once healthy, he will likely make regular appearances if either of those guys are moved.

    It's looking more and more like he's a flop, and in extended at-bats in the second half, I think the team will see that he will not be the answer they hoped he would be long-term.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg Won't Be Shut Down, Will Be Skipped

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    The Nationals have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season, and given the talented roster they have, their success is no fluke.

    Their biggest asset is the dominant pitching staff, led by phenom Stephen Strasburg, who has gone 9-4 with a 2.82 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 99 innings pitched. He's returned to his dominant form following Tommy John surgery last season, but the team remains careful with their young ace.

    The organization has indicated that it will shut the 23-year-old down this season after 160-to-170 innings of work, and they have held firm on that stance since the beginning of the season.

    At six innings per start, that would be roughly 10 more starts before his season is over, and the big question is, will the Nationals hold to that if they are still in first place come September?

    My guess is, yes and no. It won't be as simple as him making 10 more starts and being done for the season. The Nationals will get creative in finding ways to extend his season, giving him off days and shuffling their rotation whenever possible to get him an extra day off.

    At the end of the day, I think he'll pitch somewhere around 180 innings this season and remain in the rotation through season's end. If, at that time, they are in the postseason, I think all bets are off and they look to ride him to a title.

NL East Champions: Washington Nationals

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    The Nationals have the most complete roster in the National League, as they have the best pitching staff in the league and a solid offense, with room to improve once Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse finally get going at full speed.

    They don't have a ton of depth, so they could fall off badly if injury strikes, but they are my pick to take the NL East as of right now.


    Predicted NL East Standings

    1. Washington Nationals
    2. Atlanta Braves
    3. New York Mets
    4. Miami Marlins
    5. Philadelphia Phillies

NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

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    The Braves have played well this season despite less-than-stellar seasons from Brian McCann, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and others in the first half of the year.

    If those guys can get going and the team makes a play for a starting pitcher, as many expect them to, they could seriously push the Nationals for the division title. Even as is, they are a playoff-caliber team, and I think they'll earn a wild-card spot.


    Predicted NL Wild Card Standings

    1. Atlanta Braves
    2. Los Angeles Dodgers
    3. Cincinnati Reds
    4. New York Mets 
    5. Pittsburgh Pirates 

Chicago Cubs: Josh Vitters Will Finally Arrive, Prove to Be Future at Third Base

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    Selected third overall in the 2007 draft, Josh Vitters has moved slowly through the Cubs' farm system and has largely fallen out of the top-prospect picture as a result of injuries and slow development.

    He had his best season as a pro last year, hitting .283 with 14 HR and 81 RBI and followed that up with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

    Still only 22 years old, Vitters is in his first season at Triple-A this year and hitting .302/.356/.509 with 13 HR and 48 RBI. He should be in line to make his big-league debut in the second half as a result.

    The Cubs took a shot on the Rockies' Ian Stewart at the hot corner this offseason, but he struggled before a wrist injury landed him on the DL. In his place, Luis Valbuena has performed admirably, but he is little more than a stop-gap option.

    The team would love nothing more than for Vitters to claim the job this season and moving forward, and he finally looks like he is in a position to do just that.

Cincinnati Reds: Scott Rolen Will Be Benched

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    The Reds have a solid team from top to bottom, and one of the few holes they have at the moment is at third base, where veteran Scott Rolen looks as though he's reached the end of the line.

    After missing time due to injury, he's hit just .178 with three HR and 16 RBI over 129 at-bats, and while his defense remains solid and he's a positive veteran influence, his days of starting could be coming to a close for a team looking to contend.

    While he was hurt, Todd Frazier (.278 BA, 9 HR, 29 RBI) filled in admirably, and with a .345 on-base percentage, he could prove to be a much better option than Drew Stubbs hitting in the No. 2 spot ahead of Joey Votto.

Houston Astros: George Springer Will Play His Way into 2013 Everyday Job

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    With the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, the Astros selected George Springer, perhaps the most big-league-ready hitter in the entire draft.

    He opened the season ranked as baseball's No. 59 prospect, according to Baseball America, and so far this year at High Single-A, he has hit .321 with 17 HR, 63 RBI and 20 SB.

    The 22-year-old will no doubt be bumped up to Double-A early on in the second half, and if he plays well, there is no reason to think he won't get a shot with the big-league team down the stretch. 

    Jordan Schafer has done little to inspire confidence that he is the answer in center field, and if Springer plays like he can down the stretch, he'll enter 2013 with an everyday job.

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke Will Be Traded, Wily Peralta Will Fill His Spot

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    The Brewers have fallen flat after losing Prince Fielder in the offseason, and while they are just eight games out of first place with a 40-45 record, they'll likely be sellers at the deadline.

    Free-agent-to-be Zack Greinke is their biggest trade chip, and it looks more and more like they will opt to move him this July.

    They gave up a good amount to get him in hopes of making a postseason run last year, and while they may not get as much as you think, given the fact that he is little more than a rental player, he'll still bring a solid return.

    If he is moved, Brewers top prospect Wily Peralta could slide into his rotation spot. He's struggled a bit this year in Triple-A, with a 5-8 record and 5.10 ERA, but the 23-year-old has plenty of upside and the Brewers would love to see if he is ready to be a big-league contributor.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Team Will Sell the Farm for Justin Upton

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    The Diamondbacks pulled off a bit of a surprise when they announced that they would be willing to trade right fielder Justin Upton for the right offer.

    The 24-year-old is having a down season, hitting just .273 with seven HR and 37 RBI, but his value remains incredibly high.

    Signed through 2015, he would be far from a rental player, but instead, a significant building block for whoever is willing to pay the price to acquire him.

    The Pirates have already expressed interest in Upton, and they certainly have a need to add offense and the farm system to pull off such a deal.

    A package centered around Starling Marte and Jameson Taillon would likely get the deal done and could be enough to push the Pirates over the top and into the postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig Will Shift to Second Base

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    With Lance Berkman on the mend, there will soon be a logjam in the Cardinals' lineup, and it is hard to imagine the team moving Allen Craig (.313 BA, 13 HR, 44 RBI in 46 G) back to a reserve role.

    Craig has played all over the field during his career, spending time at all three outfield positions, first base, second base and third base.

    Assuming no one else is injured, the outfield is set with Matt Holliday, John Jay and Carlos Beltran. David Freese and Lance Berkman are locked in at third and first, respectively.

    However, second base could be a way for the team to keep Craig's bat in the lineup. Skip Schumaker (.304 BA) has hit well, and Daniel Descalso is a plus defender, but if it meant keeping his bat in the lineup, it would be worth trying Craig there full time.

    He's played just nine games at the position during his career, but he's without an error in 17 chances. If he could just hold his own in the field, he'd lock down the position.

NL Central Champions: St. Louis Cardinals

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    While the Cardinals have been hit hard by injuries in the first half, they are just 2.5 games back in the NL Central, and both Lance Berkman and Jaime Garcia should be back sometime soon.

    The team will likely still look to add a back-of-the-rotation starter, but with their dangerous lineup and postseason experience, they are the favorites, in my mind, to heat up down the stretch and win the division.


    Predicted NL Central Standings

    1. St. Louis Cardinals
    2. Cincinnati Reds 
    3. Pittsburgh Pirates
    4. Milwaukee Brewers
    5. Houston Astros
    6. Chicago Cubs

Arizona Diamondbacks: Trevor Bauer/Tyler Skaggs Will Combine for 12-Plus Wins

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    Entering the season, the Diamondbacks had two of the best pitching prospects in the entire league, as Trevor Bauer was the No. 9 overall prospect and Tyler Skaggs the No. 13 prospect, according to Baseball America.

    Bauer, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, was viewed as more or less a finished product coming out of college. After an 11-1 record with a 2.23 ERA in 16 minor-league starts, he earned a call-up. He's gone 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA through three starts with the big-league club thus far.

    Skaggs, acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren deal, is still just 20 years old, yet he opened the year in Double-A. In 15 starts between Double-A and Triple-A, he has gone 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA, and he should earn a call-up sometime in the second half.

    With the Diamondbacks sitting around .500, my guess is that Skaggs will be called up shortly after the second half starts, and the duo will be a part of the rotation for much of the remainder of the season. My guess is that they'll both pitch well and give a glimpse of what the future holds, combining for at least a dozen second-half wins.

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki Will Return Before Season's End

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    The Rockies have had a tough year, and it was only made worse when they lost the face of their franchise, Troy Tulowitzki, to an unidentified groin injury.

    It was finally revealed that he had a nerve issue in his leg, and he could now miss the rest of the season, as the injury will require surgery.

    His recovery should set him up for a potential return sometime in September, and while the Rockies won't have much to play for by then, Tulowitzki coming back and proving that he is recovered at the end of the season would go a long way towards putting the fanbase's minds at ease moving forward.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Team Will Trade for 3B Chase Headley

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    The Dodgers will benefit greatly from the return of star outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the second half, as they have struggled to the tune of a 5-15 record over their last 20 games.

    The return of those two will help the lineup, but the team still has a glaring hole at third base that should be their No. 1 priority at the deadline.

    Juan Uribe (.194 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBI) has been absolutely useless, and a bevy of other players have seen sporadic time. One option that could make sense is Padres third baseman Chase Headley.

    The Dodgers are currently among seven teams who have expressed interest in the 28-year-old, who is under team control for the next two seasons. With the Padres open to dealing within the division, the Dodgers should be front-runners for his services.

San Diego Padres: Cameron Maybin Will Turn Things Around in the Second Half

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    After a breakout year last year in which he hit .264 with nine HR, 40 RBI and 40 SB in his first season with the Padres, the team signed Cameron Maybin to a five-year, $25 million extension.

    The team viewed him as an emerging face of the franchise, but he has hit just .212 with four HR, 24 RBI and 16 SB so far this season.

    That said, he is 11-for-36 over his last nine games leading up to the All-Star break and has finally begun to get things in order.

    That could be the first steps towards him getting back on track, as the 25-year-old still has plenty of upside.

San Francisco Giants: Melky Cabrera Will Be Extended Before Season's End

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    The Giants pulled off the trade of the offseason when they shipped starter Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera.

    Coming off of a career year in which he hit .305 with 18 HR, 87 RBI and 20 SB in his only season with the Royals, the team decided to sell high on him and sent him to San Francisco in an effort to bolster their pitching rotation.

    He's been even better this season, though, hitting .353 BA with 8 HR, 44 RBI and 10 SB, as he was voted to start the All-Star Game and took home MVP honors after hitting a two-run home run.

    A free agent at season's end, Cabrera has expressed interest in returning to the Giants after this season. Given how well he is playing, the team could look to extend him sooner rather than later.

NL West Champions: San Francisco Giants

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    The Giants have benefited from a significantly improved offense this season, as the return of Buster Posey and acquisition of a new outfield in Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco have made a significant difference.

    Their pitching is fantastic, even with Tim Lincecum struggling, and if he can turn things around, they could emerge as the best team in the National League. Without him, the trio of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong should still be enough to get the Giants to the postseason.


    Predicted NL West Standings

    1. San Francisco Giants
    2. Los Angeles Dodgers
    3. Arizona Diamondbacks
    4. San Diego Padres
    5. Colorado Rockies 

NL Wild Card: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Dodgers entered the break with a 47-40 record, despite a 5-15 slide to close out the first half of the season, as they had to get by with their two biggest offensive threats in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp both on the DL.

    The pitching has been great, and the team could look to pick up an arm at the deadline to add some depth. Once their offense is back at full strength, they have the pieces to make a legitimate run at the postseason. While I think they are still a little ways from legitimate title contention, you never know what will happen if you can make it into the playoffs.


    Predicted NL Wild Card Standings

    1. Atlanta Braves
    2. Los Angeles Dodgers
    3. Cincinnati Reds
    4. New York Mets 
    5. Pittsburgh Pirates 

Baltimore Orioles: Dylan Bundy Will Make MLB Debut in 2012

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    The Orioles have slid a bit after a tremendous start, but they remain in the hunt for a playoff spot thanks to a terrific young core of players.

    Their biggest hole has been in the starting rotation, where they have had no semblance of consistency outside of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen.

    If the team can remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, don't be surprise if top prospect Dylan Bundy gets a call-up down the stretch this season.

    He absolutely dominated Single-A in not allowing a run through eight starts, and he has been impressive since being called up to High-A as well. 

    My guess is that he'll be moved to Double-A sometime near the end of July, and if he continues to perform at a high level, he could provide the Orioles a boost down the stretch.

Boston Red Sox: Daniel Bard Will Return to Bullpen in Second Half and Thrive

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    Over 2010 and 2011 combined, Daniel Bard was perhaps the best setup man in all of baseball, as he made a combined 143 appearances and posted a 2.62 ERA and 9.1 K/9.

    The team opted to move him to the rotation this season and he struggled mightily, with a 5-6 record and 5.24 ERA over 11 appearances (10 starts).

    He's since been demoted to Triple-A, where he has made 13 appearances (one start) and posted an 8.16 ERA over 14.1 innings of work. 

    Despite those struggles, the 27-year-old will likely get a shot at making a big-league impact sometime early in the second half. Back in the bullpen and given a fresh start, he should be able to return to the form that made him a major contributor for the Red Sox.

New York Yankees: Team Will Trade for SP Wandy Rodriguez

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    It is no secret that the Yankees need starting pitching right now, as Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia are on the DL and Michael Pineda was lost before the season began.

    The team is said to prefer Cubs starter Matt Garza, but seeing as how he is under contract through next season, his asking price could be as high as anyone on the market. And the Cubs will likely prefer pitching prospects in return, something the Yankees are short on.

    They haven't shown much interest in Ryan Dempster or Cole Hamels, but they have been linked to Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez in the past and could go after him again.

    I expect them to add a starter one way or another, and while he may not be their first choice, I think that starter will wind up being Rodriguez.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria Will Not Return in 2012

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    There may be no player whose team could less afford to lose him than Evan Longoria of the Rays, as he is not only the biggest source of offensive firepower in a weak lineup, but is the team's emotional leader as well.

    However, that is exactly what happened, and the team has been without its star third baseman since May 1, as he's been sidelined with a partially torn hamstring.

    Originally expected to be out six-to-eight weeks, he suffered a setback in his rehab and had to shut things down, and manager Joe Maddon is now unsure when Longoria will be back.

    At this point, he'll be out until at least sometime in August, but I just have a hunch that he won't be able to shake this injury and will be out the remainder of the season.

Toronto Blue Jays: Team Will Trade for SP Matt Garza

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    The injury bug has hit the Blue Jays' starting rotation hard this season, as Drew Hutchinson and Kyle Drabek have been lost for the season and Brandon Morrow is also on the DL.

    The veteran duo of Carlos Villanueva and Aaron Laffey has filled the void for now, but for a team hoping to compete, they will likely look to upgrade their rotation at the deadline.

    They are one of several teams who have been linked to Cubs starter Matt Garza, and with one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, they could give the Cubs plenty of options as far as prospects to include in the trade package.

    Because of that, I think the Blue Jays have to be considered the favorites to land Garza at this point, as it is a move that helps them greatly and is appealing to the Cubs at the same time.

AL East Champions: New York Yankees

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    The Yankees' starting pitching has been a complete disaster this season, as they have had to deal with injuries and inconsistency throughout the first half. And yet, they entered the break with a the best record in baseball, at 52-33.

    Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, two of the best in the business, lead the offense, and if they can get CC Sabathia healthy and add another proven arm at the deadline, there is no reason they shouldn't remain atop the AL East at season's end.


    Predicted AL East Standings

    1. New York Yankees
    2. Baltimore Orioles
    3. Toronto Blue Jays
    4. Boston Red Sox
    5. Tampa Bay Rays 

Chicago White Sox: John Danks Will Be Biggest Addition at the Deadline

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    While other contenders clamor to add a big-name starting pitcher, the White Sox have an in-house arm on the mend who could wind up making a bigger impact than anyone on the trade market.

    John Danks struggled to a 3-4 record and 5.70 ERA through nine starts before a sore shoulder landed him on the DL, but it was clear from the start of the season that he was not right.

    Provided he is back soon and has gotten past his shoulder problems, he could make a huge impact, as there is a reason the team gave him a five-year, $65 million extension.

Cleveland Indians: Team Will Trade for Carlos Quentin

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    The Indians pulled off the blockbuster of the deadline last season when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for four prospects, including their top-two pitching prospects.

    That cleaned out their farm system a bit, but that does not mean they won't look to buy at the deadline this year, as they are currently just three games back in the AL Central.

    They have been linked to Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, and they could certainly stand to upgrade over Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan in left field, so the Indians are my pick to land Quentin.

Detroit Tigers: Team Will Trade for SP Ryan Dempster

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    The Tigers have been linked to Cubs starter Matt Garza already this offseason, and even dating back to this past winter, but in the end, I think it will be another Cubs starter that they acquire.

    ESPN writer David Schoenfield broke down the potential landing spots for Dempster back in June, and I agree with him in putting the Tigers as the favorites to acquire the right-hander.

    He'd help shore up the rotation, likely would not cost as much as Garza and could be enough to push the Tigers over the top in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals: Jeff Francoeur Will Be Odd Man out When Wil Myers Arrives

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    Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal prior to the 2011 season, Jeff Francoeur proved to be a pleasant surprise, as he hit .285 with 20 HR, 87 RBI and 22 SB.

    Those numbers, along with his positive veteran presence on a young Royals team, were enough for the team to bring him back on a two-year, $13.5 million extension.

    However, he's struggled this season, hitting just .251 with seven HR and 25 RBI, and he will likely be the odd man out once top prospect Wil Myers is called up.

    After a down season last year, Myers has destroyed minor-league pitching to the tune of a .327 BA, 27 HR, 72 RBI line through 318 at-bats, and it is only a matter of time before he gets the call-up.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer Will Win His Fourth Batting Title

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    After missing most of last season with an injury, Joe Mauer has returned healthy and productive this season. While his power is still not there, his average is back at an elite level, and he earned an All-Star berth for it.

    A .323 career hitter entering the season with three batting titles already under his belt, Mauer is my pick to lead the AL in average and take home his fourth batting title.

    He's currently hitting .326, good for fourth in the AL behind Mike Trout (.341), Austin Jackson (.332) and Paul Konerko (.329). If I had to pick one of those four to sustain their average, my money is on Mauer.

AL Central Champions: Detroit Tigers

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    The Tigers were a major disappointment in the first half, as they went 44-42 and currently sit 3.5 games out of first in the AL Central.

    Their pitching has been the cause of their underpeformance, as they lack a reliable starter behind Justin Verlander. However, if they can land a solid veteran starter on the market, Doug Fister can stay healthy and the young duo of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello can find some form of consistency, they have more talent than anyone in the AL Central.


    Predicted AL Central Standings

    1. Detroit Tigers
    2. Chicago White Sox
    3. Cleveland Indians
    4. Kansas City Royals
    5. Minnesota Twins 

AL Wild Card: Chicago White Sox

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    Most expected this to be a rebuilding season for the White Sox, but they have benefited from the significant improvement of guys like Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy.

    Their pitching is strong and will be even better once John Danks returns. Their offense is deep and has room for improvement at a number of spots. I don't think they'll be able to hold off the Tigers, but I do think they'll be good enough to make the playoffs.


    Predicted AL Wild Card Standings

    1. Los Angeles Angels
    2. Chicago White Sox
    3. Baltimore Orioles
    4. Toronto Blue Jays
    5. Cleveland Indians

Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols Will Reach .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI

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    Talk about an inauspicious start to his monster deal with the Angels. Albert Pujols was hitting a meager .194 with zero HR and five RBI on May 4, and his 10-year deal looked like a disaster.

    On May 6, he hit his first home run of the season, and since that game, he has hit .305 with 14 HR and 46 RBI over 58 games.

    That brings his season stat line to .268 BA, 14 HR and 51 RBI, so while he certainly has some work to do, a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI season is certainly within reach with a good second half. I think he'll start a new streak of such seasons this year.

Oakland Athletics: Rookie Jarrod Parker Will Win 12 Games with Sub 3.50 ERA

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    Despite an anemic offense once again, the A's went a solid 43-43 in the first half thanks to a pitching staff that ranked first in the AL with a collective 3.38 ERA.

    One of the bigger bright spots has been rookie Jarrod Parker, acquired from the Diamondbacks for All-Star Trevor Cahill, as he has gone 5-4 with a 2.86 ERA through his first 14 starts.

    If he continues to pitch the way he has, with a little better luck, he could very well be the A's wins leader this season. I think something along the lines of a 12-9, 3.25 ERA, 150 K season is certainly within reach.

Seattle Mariners: Danny Hultzen Will Receive Rookie of the Year Votes

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    The second overall pick in the 2011 draft, Danny Hultzen was a finished product coming out of the University of Virginia, and he has proved dominant in his first pro season.

    Through 16 starts between Double-A and Triple-A this year, he has a 9-4 record with a 1.75 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 87.1 innings of work.

    He'll no doubt be called up sometime shortly after the second half of the season starts, and while he has not chance of catching Mike Trout for AL Rookie of the Year honors, I think he will pitch well enough that he garners some lower-place votes despite playing only a fraction of the season.

Texas Rangers: Team Will Trade for Cole Hamels

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    Despite a terrific first half, the Rangers are not without their problems, and chief among them is a starting rotation that has been hit hard by injuries.

    Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz are currently on the DL, Derek Holland just recently returned and swingman Alexi Ogando is also hurt, as the Rangers' pitching depth has been tested. Their signing of Roy Oswalt seems much more significant now than it did at the time.

    For a team that has lost the last two World Series, the Rangers will undoubtedly take any chance they can to assure they will bring home the trophy this year, and that could mean making a play for Phillies ace Cole Hamels.

    The team has been named as favorites to land the left-hander if he is available, and a package centered around slugging prospect Mike Olt may be enough to make it happen.

AL West Champions: Texas Rangers

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    While the Angels have played brilliantly since calling up Mike Trout, I still don't see them catching the Rangers, as they are only going to get better as they start to get healthy.

    In fact, the Rangers have been named as favorites to land Cole Hamels, and if they can acquire anyone of impact, let alone someone of Hamels' stature, it would make them that much better.


    Predicted AL West Standings

    1. Texas Rangers
    2. Los Angeles Angels
    3. Oakland Athletics
    4. Seattle Mariners 

AL Wild Card: Los Angeles Angels

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    The Rangers are the best team in the AL by a good margin, but after them, the Angels and Yankees are almost interchangeable at No. 2.

    With a dominant trio of starting pitchers, an offense led by Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and a rounding-into-form Albert Pujols and a bullpen anchored by a closer who still has not given up a run in Ernesto Frieri, there is plenty to like about the Angels closing out the season and heading into October.


    Predicted AL Wild Card Standings

    1. Los Angeles Angels
    2. Chicago White Sox
    3. Baltimore Orioles
    4. Toronto Blue Jays
    5. Cleveland Indians 

NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper does not quite have the stats of Mike Trout, but he has made a significant impact for the Nationals nonetheless, and his .282/.354/.472, 8 HR, 25 RBI line is nothing to sneeze at.

    Given the Nationals' chances of being in contention for a playoff spot and the fact that Harper should only get better as he continues to adapt to life in the big leagues, he has to be the favorite to win the award at this point.


    Predicted NL Rookie of the Year Voting

    1. CF Bryce Harper, WAS
    2. SP Wade Miley, ARI
    3. 1B Anthony Rizzo, CHC 
    4. 3B Todd Frazier, CIN
    5. C Wilin Rosario, COL

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout

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    The fact that the Angels have the best record in baseball since the day they called up rookie Mike Trout alone is enough to show the type of impact he has had on the team.

    A look at his stat line of .341 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBI and 26 SB only further shows how good he has been this season, as he is not only the runaway AL Rookie of the Year selection, but a legitimate MVP candidate.


    Predicted AL Rookie of the Year Voting

    1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
    2. SP Jarrod Parker, OAK
    2. SP Yu Darvish, TEX
    3. 3B Will Middlebrooks, BOS 
    5. RP Ryan Cook, OAK 

NL Cy Young: Matt Cain

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    Not to take anything away from what R.A. Dickey has achieved so far this season, and it is a risky proposition to bet against the man, but I think his performance will come back to Earth a bit in the second half.

    All-Star Game starter Matt Cain, on the other hand, has proved that he is a true staff ace this season, and he already has a perfect game under his belt. With an improved offense behind him and a great first half to build off of, he is my pick to win the NL Cy Young.


    Predicted NL Cy Young Voting

    1. SP Matt Cain, SF
    2. SP Stephen Strasburg, WAS
    3. SP James McDonald, PIT
    4. SP R.A. Dickey, NYM
    5. SP Gio Gonzalez, WAS

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

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    Sure, he got knocked around in the All-Star Game, and his first-half numbers (9-5, 2.58 ERA) aren't quite as dominant as they were last year, but the fact of the matter is Verlander is still the best pitcher in the game right now.

    I fully expect the Tigers to make a significant run in the second half and capture the AL Central crown, and a big part of that push will be the continued dominance of their ace, as he looks to capture his second straight Cy Young award.


    Predicted AL Cy Young Voting

    1. SP Justin Verlander, DET
    2. SP Jered Weaver, LAA
    3. SP Chris Sale, CWS
    4. SP David Price, TB
    5. SP Matt Harrison, TEX 

NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen

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    Moved into a run-producing role last season, McCutchen hit .259 with 23 HR, 89 RBI and 23 SB and posted a 5.3 WAR in his third big-league season.

    As good as he was last year, he's taken a huge step forward this season and entered the break hitting .362/.414/.625 with 18 HR, 60 RBI and 14 SB, and he already has a 4.4 WAR.

    He also has the Pirates in first place in the NL Central and is the only everyday player hitting over .300, as he has carried the offensive load all year.

    If the Pirates can keep from collapsing this season and make a serious playoff push, there is no doubt that McCutchen would be their MVP. If he keeps up the pace of production he's currently at, he'd be the clear choice for NL MVP even if the Pirates fall just short of the postseason.


    Predicted NL MVP Voting

    1. CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
    2. 1B Joey Votto, CIN
    3. RF Carlos Beltran, STL 
    4. LF Melky Cabrera, SF
    5. LF Ryan Braun, MIL

AL MVP: Robinson Cano

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    While Mike Trout has been phenomenal in helping the Angels turn things around, and he is the real deal, I expect him to level off a bit in the second half, as it is hard to imagine him keeping up his current level of production.

    He'll still be a front-runner for the MVP, but my choice is Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who put together possibly the best first half of his career with a .313 BA, 20 HR, 51 RBI line.

    He's historically been a better hitter in the second half, as his batting average is 24 points higher after the break. If the Yankees can finish things up as one of the top teams in the AL and he can match or even improve his first-half numbers, he'd be the choice for MVP.


    Predicted AL MVP Voting

    1. 2B Robinson Cano, NYY
    2. LF Josh Hamilton, TEX
    3. 3B Miguel Cabrera, DET
    4. CF Mike Trout, LAA
    5. CF Curtis Granderson, NYY

NLCS Matchup: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

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    NLDS Result

    No. 1 San Francisco Giants over No. 4 Atlanta Braves (Won WC over L.A. Dodgers)

    The Giants' superior pitching will carry them to a victory over the Braves in the NLDS, as Chipper Jones closes out his Hall of Fame career with a first-round exit.


    NLDS Result

    No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals over No. 2 Washington Nationals

    The Nationals won't make it out of the first round of the playoffs, as their collective inexperience will catch up to them against a veteran Cardinals team. However, the experience they gained in 2012 will be invaluable, and the Nationals will be contenders for years to come.

ALCS Matchup: Los Angeles Angels vs. Texas Rangers

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    ALDS Result

    No. 4 Los Angeles Angels (Won WC over Chicago White Sox) over No. 1 New York Yankees

    Despite having what I feel will be the third-best record in the AL, the Angels will have to settle for the Wild Card and a meeting with the Yankees. However, I like the Angels in that matchup, as the trio of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren (provided he's healthy) and C.J. Wilson would be the difference against the Yankees, even if they do add an arm on the market.


    ALDS Result

    No. 2 Texas Rangers over No. 3 Detroit Tigers

    The Rangers will hold off a strong second half push from the Angels and win the NL West, and they'll meet the Tigers in a rematch of last season's ALCS. This series would be awesome, as it would be two high-powered offenses slugging it out. In the end, the Rangers' pitching depth and superior bullpen would make the difference.

World Series Matchup: San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers

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    NLCS Result

    No. 1 San Francisco Giants over No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals

    This would be a very evenly matched series, with the Giants holding a slight edge in pitching and the Cardinals having the better lineup. In the end, you always go with the pitching, although I think this is a series that would almost certainly go six or seven games.


    ALCS Result

    No. 2 Texas Rangers over No. 4 Los Angeles Angels

    The division rivals are 3-3 through two head-to-head series on the season, and they match up very well with one another. The health of the Rangers' pitching staff will obviously be a major factor, but if they have all hands on deck, I think they will pull it off, as that offense alone will keep them in games. 

World Series Winner: Texas Rangers

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    In a rematch of the 2010 World Series, it will be the Rangers who come out on top this time, as their roster is simply the best in baseball, top to bottom. With the experience of the past two years under their belt, this will finally be the year that they bring home a championship.

    It would be interesting to see what winning a title would mean in terms of re-signing Josh Hamilton, whether it would make the team hungry to win more and more willing to pay him, or somewhat content in having gotten their championship and more willing to let him walk.

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