12 Bold Predictions for MLB's Second-Half Pennant Races
The Atlanta Braves will win more games than any other team in 2013.
The Texas Rangers will miss the playoffs.
The Seattle Mariners will finish the season with as many wins as the New York Yankees.
Do I have your attention yet?
With roughly 60 percent of the 2013 season in the books, it's time for a dozen bold predictions on how the final two-plus months will play out.
These predictions may be bold, but they aren't completely stupid. You won't find any promises of the Houston Astros winning the World Series, but we're also going to shy away from boring, obvious predictions.
We'll get our toes wet with a few predictions that wouldn't win you a ton of money in Vegas before building our way up to the ones that will make you think I've lost my mind.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the All-Star break.
Cincinnati's Schedule Keeps It in the 2013 Playoffs
Thanks in large part to a dozen cream-puff games at the end of the season, Cincinnati barely hangs on to the second wild-card spot in the NL.
While Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington are beating each other up in the latter half of September, Cincinnati will get to coast into October by playing 12 of its final 18 games against the Astros, Cubs, Brewers and Mets.
Though they have lost 14 of their last 24 games and appear to be slipping a bit, they still hold a five-game lead in the race for the National League's second wild-card spot. Even if one of those five aforementioned teams makes a big second-half push, the Reds should be able to hold them off down the stretch.
As I stated in the intro, these first few predictions aren't overwhelmingly bold, but we need to gradually work our way up to some of the crazier ones.
Detroit Gets Home-Field Advantage in AL
Detroit finishes the season with the best record in the American League.
The Tigers are the favorites to win the AL pennant, according to Bovada, so we're still in the "barely bold" realm of predictions.
However, they're currently 4.5 games behind the Red Sox and tied for the fifth-best record in the American League, so it's hardly a foregone conclusion either.
Of their 43 remaining games against the AL Central, only seven are against the Cleveland Indians. Considering they'll be playing the dregs of the American League while the AL East is beating itself up, it shouldn't be too difficult for Detroit to run up the highest win total.
Tampa Bay Wins the AL East
Tampa Bay bypasses the Boston Red Sox to win the AL East title.
Quite simply, the Rays have a much better pitching staff than the Red Sox—especially with it sounding like Clay Buchholz is no closer to a return than he was a month ago.
Both teams are relatively loaded on offense, but the Rays are in the eternally enviable position of having more starting pitchers than they know what to do with. Once Alex Cobb's concussion cobwebs clear, the Rays could trade away Roberto Hernandez and still have seven strong options for starting pitchers.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are forced to hope that pitchers like Felix Doubront, Allen Webster and Alfredo Aceves can contribute in a big way down the stretch, despite the fact that each has previously pitched his way out of the starting rotation.
The Rays trail the Red Sox by 2.5 games today, but they'll finish the season at least three games ahead of Boston.
Neither Houston nor Miami Finishes with the Worst Record
Neither Houston nor Miami finishes the 2013 MLB season with the worst winning percentage.
If they're truly willing and able to sell off as much of the big league roster as they seem interested in doing, the Chicago White Sox are about to make the plunge from worst team in the division to worst team in all of baseball.
They have a 2.5-game cushion over the Marlins and a five-game gap before they're as futile as the Astros, but both Miami and Houston are already showing signs of improvement, while Chicago is theoretically just about to start its rebuilding journey.
They're already 18 games below .500 and might be less than two weeks away from replacing Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez with Blake Tekotte and Brent Morel.
Even if the White Sox don't completely bottom out, the Milwaukee Brewers are also in contention for the top draft pick in 2014.
As good as Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura have been, the pitching in Milwaukee has been awful and will be getting markedly worse if it moves Yovani Gallardo and/or Kyle Lohse at the trade deadline.
Cleveland Rides Hot September to Second Wild-Card Spot in AL
Trailing Baltimore at the beginning of the month, Cleveland puts together a 20-7 record in the month of September to make the playoffs.
Between now and August 25, the Indians play will 25 of their 35 games against teams that are currently at least five games below .500.
That will be enough to keep them within a stone's throw of Baltimore upon entering the final month of the season, where they will play their final 23 games of the season against teams currently at least six games below .500.
Save for a stretch of nine games against the Braves, Tigers and Orioles from the end of August into the beginning of September, the Indians have perhaps the easiest remaining schedule in the American League.
Meanwhile—as we'll get into later—the Orioles close out the season with a plethora of unfavorable opponents, opening the door for Cleveland to steal a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh Wins NL Central
Not only do the Pittsburgh Pirates finally get back to the playoffs, but they beat out the Cardinals and Reds for first place in the NL Central.
Pitching wins pennants, and the Pirates have arguably the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
Provided they do something at the trade deadline to upgrade their incredibly sad situation in right field, the offense should produce a good bit better than 3.8 runs per game. From there, it's just a matter of fending off the demons of yesteryear.
They have the physical talent to pull it off. The boldness of the prediction is in assuming that they also have the mental toughness to avoid doubting themselves.
Colorado Loses the NL West in Heartbreaking Fashion
Despite holding a three-game lead over both the Diamondbacks and Dodgers on September 13, the Rockies will choke away a playoff berth.
Saying that the 46-50 Colorado Rockies won't make the playoffs is hardly a bold statement. It's the explicit nature in which I expect them come up short that makes this a long shot.
After opening the second half of the season with 10 home games against the Cubs, Marlins and Brewers, their 4.5-game deficit in the NL West may be completely gone—inspiring them to become buyers at the trade deadline, presumably looking to upgrade their starting pitching.
The early momentum and new faces will be enough to keep them afloat in first place for a little more than a month.
That's when the meltdown begins.
The Rockies close the season with six games against the Diamondbacks, four games against the Cardinals, three games against the Dodgers and two games against the Red Sox.
I'm undecided on whether the Diamondbacks or Dodgers will actually win the NL West, but that murderer's row of 15 games will spell the end of Colorado's playoff hopes.
Texas Misses the Playoffs by Half-Dozen Games
The Rangers play 11 games under .500 for the rest of the season, finishing 82-80 and six games out of the playoffs.
2008: The Oakland A's were 51-44, six games behind the Angels in the AL West and 4.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the wild-card race. They would go on to finish the season with a record of 75-86, missing the playoffs by 19.5 games.
2008: The St. Louis Cardinals were 54-43 and led the NL wild-card race by a game. They finished the season 86-76 and missed the playoffs by four games.
2009: The Texas Rangers were eight games over .500 on July 17 but finished the season eight games out of the playoff picture.
2010: The Los Angeles Angels were 50-44 and battling the Rangers for first place in the AL west. By season's end, they were two games below .500 and 10 games out of the playoff picture.
2011: The San Francisco Giants were 14 games over .500 and held a 3.5-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West. They wound up finishing eight games behind the Diamondbacks and four games behind the Cardinals for the wild card.
2012: The Pittsburgh Pirates were 50-40, leading the NL wild-card race and trailing the Reds by just a game in the NL Central. They went on to miss the playoffs by nine games.
There's always one team that completely tanks in the second half of the season; it's just a matter of predicting the right one.
My money is on the Rangers, because they still have 33 games left against the Angels, Athletics and AL East.
Seattle Makes Some Second-Half Noise
The 43-52 Seattle Mariners finish the regular season with a .500 record.
Similar to, but opposite from, the previous slide, there's usually a team that digs itself a giant hole before the All-Star break but puts together a second half that inspires hope for the following season.
In 2011, the Dodgers were 13 games below .500 on July 22 but fought back to finish 82-79 by the end of the year.
In 2012, the Phillies were 12 games under .500 as late as August 3, but they managed to eke out an 81-81 final record.
The 43-51 defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants are probably the more logical choice to make a run toward—and beyond—mediocrity, but I like where the Mariners are headed as an organization, and they have a shot at turning things around sooner rather than later.
Both New York Teams Finish in Last Place
The New York Mets finish in last place in the NL East, and the New York Yankees finish in last place in the AL East.
In the NL East, it's not so much hatred for the Mets as it is marvel at the Marlins.
Since finishing the first two months of the season with a .255 winning percentage—which equates to 41 wins over the course of a full season—they're 21-17 and showing signs of being way ahead of schedule.
Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton are quickly evolving into one of the best pitcher/batter duos in the majors, and Jacob Turner and Marcell Ozuna aren't exactly scrubs either.
They're still at the bottom of the major league barrel in all major batting categories, but they have improved at an alarming rate and should be able to close the current seven-game gap between themselves and the Mets.
In the AL East, it's purely a lack of faith in the Yankees.
Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore will all remain at least on the outskirts of the playoff picture, so it's really just a matter of whether the Yankees can out-lose the Blue Jays.
In their current state, I believe they will, as their lineup is a total disaster. I'll reconsider this one if they grab an upgrade—or seven—at the trade deadline, but the Blue Jays are healthier and better positioned to finish the season above .500.
Ironically, Boston Eliminates Baltimore on the Season's Final Day
In an ironic twist of fate, Boston exacts revenge two years in the making by knocking Baltimore out of the playoff picture on the final day of the season.
The race between Baltimore and Cleveland for the final wild-card spot should be a close one.
I suspect the Orioles will enter the month of September with a lead of maybe five games over the Indians. Unfortunately, the O's will have to run through the gauntlet of AL East teams in their final 20 games of the season while Cleveland gets to frolic through the likes of Minnesota, Kansas City, Houston and Chicago.
The Orioles close out the season with a three-game series at home against the Red Sox, who will have already secured the first wild-card spot but will still be fighting for the AL East crown.
With memories of Robert Andino floating through the clubhouse, the Red Sox will throw everything they've got at the Orioles, leaving Chris Davis with nothing but golf balls to mash during the 2013 playoffs.
Atlanta Wins 101 Games, Takes NL East by 15 Games
Atlanta becomes the only team to win at least 100 games, winning the NL East by 15 games in the process.
Is it bold to predict a team to go 47-20 in the second half? You betcha. But it's not completely insane. I mean, have you seen the Braves' second-half schedule?
Let me break it down for you.
Games against teams with a winning percentage of .506 or better: 10 (three vs. Indians, seven vs. Cardinals).
Games against teams with a winning percentage of .452 or worse: 31 (10 vs. Marlins, nine vs. Mets, three each against Brewers, Cubs, Padres and White Sox).
They're already 13 games over .500 and haven't received anything close to optimal production from just about anyone in lineup outside of Evan Gattis and maybe Chris Johnson.
With the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward expected to improve, and with Brandon Beachy presumably making his way back into the pitching fold by the end of the month, the Braves have a shot at a 100-win season.