25 Predictions for September Pennant Race Baseball
The MLB regular season may be quickly coming to an end, but there are still a ton of questions left to be answered in September.
Who will avoid the dreaded one-game playoff scenario by winning the AL East, AL West and NL Central?
Can Miguel Cabrera win another Triple Crown?
Aside from Charlie Manuel, are there any other managers who won't make it to the end of the season?
Will Clayton Kershaw set a modern-day ERA record?
We'll make some educated guesses at those questions and many more with these 25 predictions for the final month of baseball.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and Fangraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Thursday, August 29.
There Will Be Another No-Hitter
At least one more no-hitter will be pitched in 2013.
There are way too many pitchers having great seasons for there to only be two no-hitters.
Between September call-ups, injuries and failing teams full of players who lost hope in the season long ago, September no-hitters should be all the rage. I mean, look at the starting lineups that the Mets and Phillies threw up against each other this past Tuesday and tell me you couldn't see either of them getting no-hit in the next 30 days.
I have no idea if or where you can actually bet on something like "MLB pitcher to have next no-hitter," but I would split my money between Yu Darvish and Travis Wood. Darvish because a sky high K/9 means fewer encounters with BABIP, and Wood because his next two starts are at home against Miami and Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Significantly Impacts the NL Playoff Picture
More than any other team that is dead and buried, the Milwaukee Brewers will play a massive role in the final NL playoff picture.
Fifteen of Milwaukee's final 26 games are against four of the five NL teams currently in position to make the playoffs.
Sure, the Brewers could lose all 15 of those games and have no net impact on anyone—aside from the Dodgers, who don't get the opportunity to take advantage of them—but they have won six of their last 11 games against the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds.
If I know the randomness of small sample sizes and individual baseball games as well as I think I do, the Brewers will inevitably win at least one of those five three-game series and shake up the landscape of a race for home-field advantage in which first place is currently just three games ahead of fourth place.
Rookies Lead Cardinals to NL Central Title
Cardinals win NL Central behind not-so-veteran leadership.
Just about everyone has at least a couple of impact rookies or September call-ups, but the Cardinals are absolutely loaded with them.
Matt Adams, Pete Kozma, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong would all qualify for Rookie of the Year consideration and will all play a huge role down the stretch for St. Louis.
Take Randy Choate (37), Carlos Beltran (36) and Matt Holliday (33) out of the equation, and their entire roster is 31 or younger. The Cardinals might be putting together a stretch of seasons the likes of which we haven't seen since the Braves finished in first place in 14 consecutive seasons.
Cincinnati Misses the Playoffs
Despite being in position for a playoff spot for the vast majority of the season, the Cincinnati Reds will fail to make the playoffs.
The Reds have 13 games remaining against teams who are currently in position to make the playoffs.
Though they trail the Reds by six games and seven games, respectively, the Diamondbacks and Nationals have a combined total of 13 such games remaining. They also face each other over the final weekend of the season. I still haven't come to a conclusion on whether that helps or hurts their chances of overtaking the Reds, but I'm leaning toward the former of the two.
As we've touched on in the past and will touch on again in a few slides, my money is on the Diamondbacks to snake that playoff spot. They blew a golden head-to-head opportunity to gain ground on the Reds last week, losing three out of their four games in Cincinnati. But they're about to embark on a stretch of 10 games against the Giants and Blue Jays while the Reds play seven of their next 10 against the Cardinals and Dodgers.
Meanwhile, the Nationals are just two games into a 19-game stretch against the Phillies, Mets and Marlins.
By the start of play on September 9, I suspect at least one of those two teams will have climbed to within two games of the Reds. From there, it's anyone's game.
At Least 1 More Intriguing Waiver Acquisition
Even though players moved via waivers after August 31 cannot take part in the playoffs, there will be at least one more "high-profile" player involved in a trade or acquisition.
Someone with money to spend and a need to fill will look to take advantage of a team with a losing record hoping to shed some salary. I have two proposed possibilities that you'll likely disagree with, but there are any number of them out there waiting to be visited.
The first proposal is Howie Kendrick to the Cubs. On L.A.'s side of reasoning, it needs to start cutting costs somewhere if it's going to re-sign Mike Trout and/or Mark Trumbo this offseason, and the $19.55 million owed to Kendrick over the next two seasons is a great place to start.
For the Cubs, Darwin Barney is a terrible long-term option at second base, and they don't have anything else in the pipeline, unless top prospect Javier Baez is going to switch positions. Kendrick would give them some veteran leadership to build a young team around. Factor in the Cubs' deep farm system and the Angels' complete lack of prospects, and it's a pretty logical move.
(Of course, this all depends on Kendrick coming back from the disabled list.)
Another move I could possibly see transpiring is John Danks to the Nationals. If the White Sox don't foot any portion of the bill, it would be a $47.25 million commitment by the Nationals over the next three seasons, but would fill the expensive void left by Dan Haren's assumed departure after the season.
Though they couldn't actually use him in the playoffs, Danks might be the fifth starting pitcher they need to make a playoff push over the final month of the season.
Mets End Nationals' Season
Led by Juan Lagares and Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets inexplicably put the final nail in Washington's coffin.
I am a Nationals fan. It's in my bio and everything. And the 2013 Nationals are like the mob. I fear for my health when I'm around them, and no matter how many times I think I'm out, they just keep sucking me back in.
That's why, after getting my hopes up over the possible demise of Cincinnati and my absurd proposal of a John Danks acquisition, it's time for a much more pessimistic prediction.
With David Wright and Matt Harvey on the DL, and Marlon Byrd and John Buck now in Pittsburgh, Lagares and Murphy are literally the only players on the Mets roster with a WAR of 1.4 or better—and at 2.2 and 1.7, respectively, they just barely make the cut.
However, the last five months of disappointment in the nation's capital have merely been a precursor for the final September meltdown. Starting this weekend, the Nationals have seven games in the next 14 days against the athletes formerly known as the New York Mets.
Against all odds, the Mets will win at least five of those games, mercifully extinguishing what was left of Washington's playoff dreams.
Atlanta Wins 101 Games
Atlanta becomes the only team to win at least 100 games, winning the NL East by 15 games in the process.
I made the exact same bold prediction six weeks ago, and wanted to brag that at least something in that article might hold true.
At the time, that was the prediction that had everyone up in arms. Atlanta was only on pace for 92 wins and trailed the Cardinals by four games for best record in the majors.
But, oh ye of little faith, I knew that the Waffle House magic was just around the corner. Plus, you know, the team's second-half schedule has been laughable, at best.
It's currently on pace for 98 wins and doesn't play another game against a team better than 12 games below .500, save for a three-game series against the Nationals.
Marlins and Cubs Battle in Least Attended Game
The September 4 showdown between the Marlins and Cubs will set the 2013 record for lowest attendance.
For starters, these are the two worst teams in the National League. Why anyone would pay to see them play each other is beyond me.
In addition to being an aesthetically unwatchable game, the timing of the game makes it even more difficult to fathom a five-figure audience. We're talking about a Wednesday afternoon game two days after Labor Day between two awful teams playing each other for a third time in three days.
Given the option to see these teams play on either Labor Day or on the following evening, who in the world would take a half-day two days after Labor Day to go to a terrible baseball game?
I didn't check every team's individual attendance records, but it seems like the current record is being held by the April 16 game when Boston visited Cleveland. The attendance for that game was just 9,143.
Frankly, I would be surprised if the Marlins and Cubs draw an audience of 7,500. I look forward to tuning into that game on television, though, just to see how empty the stadium is. The only possible saving grace for this game is that Jose Fernandez is currently projected to start for the Marlins.
Clayton Kershaw's ERA Rises Above 2.00
Clayton Kershaw takes at least one beating—raising his 1.72 ERA north of 2.00—but still finishes the season with the lowest ERA in baseball.
More than any other prediction, I hope I'm wrong about this one. However, his remaining schedule is far from easy, and his margin of error is very slim.
Kershaw should make six more starts this season. At his current rate of 7.1 innings per start, that would get him to an innings count for the season of 248.0. In order to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA with that many innings pitched, the maximum number of earned runs he could give up for the season is 55.
He has already allowed 39 earned runs this season, so he has 16 earned runs to play with over the next 44 innings.
Projecting him to post an ERA worse than 3.27 in a month after five straight months at 2.65 or better might be a bit blasphemous, but his next two starts come in stadiums that rank in the top six for the season in runs scored (Coors Field and Great American Ball Park). He'll also be making one start at Chase Field in Arizona, which hasn't exactly been a pitcher's paradise over the years.
Great as Kershaw has been, no one is immune to a bad day. Cy Young candidates Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright combined to give up 17 earned runs over 5.0 innings pitched on Wednesday. It would only take one rough outing to put that sub-2.00 ERA in jeopardy.
Paul Goldschmidt Leads NL in Homers, Wins MVP
Paul Goldschmidt reclaims NL home run lead from Pedro Alvarez, hits at least 40 HR, leads Diamondbacks to the playoffs and wins NL MVP.
As mentioned elsewhere, the Diamondbacks have a very forgiving schedule to finish the season. They play 17 games against the bottom three teams in the NL West and another three each at home against Toronto and Washington.
If they pull it off and make the playoffs, how in the world does Goldschmidt not win the MVP? Andrew McCutchen has been great, but he has had a lot of help from Alvarez, Starling Marte, Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, etc.
Aside from Corbin, what other Diamondback has helped carry the team anywhere near as much as Goldschmidt? Aaron Hill and Martin Prado have heated up in the second half, but Goldschmidt will likely finish the season leading the team in every single meaningful batting category.
If he reaches that 40-home run plateau, that means he's going to hit at least 19 home runs in the second half of the season for a team that needed every single one of them to close a daunting gap in the standings.
No West Division Team Finishes Anywhere Near .500
Nine of the 10 teams in the AL West and NL West finish at least 16 games above or below .500.
If I were more confident in Arizona's upcoming hot streak, I would say all 10 teams fit the bill, but a 21-9 record might be asking a bit much.
The Dodgers, Rangers, Athletics and Astros are a foregone conclusion to qualify. I would also argue that—considering the difficulty of their remaining schedules—it's just a matter of time before the Angels, Mariners and Padres slip from 13 games below .500 to at least 16 games below .500.
That leaves us needing two out of three from the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies. Though they're currently just nine games below .500, I'm so confident in the demise of the Rockies that they're getting their own slide right after this one.
The defending champion Giants are already 15 games below .500 and have 17 games remaining against the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Yankees. Even if they didn't currently have Barry Zito and Yusmeiro Petit in their starting rotation, it's tough to see them playing above .500 the rest of the way.
Colorado Wins 8 More Games, Finishes Season 71-91
Facing a daunting schedule, the Rockies lose (at least) 19 of their remaining 27 games to finish 20 games below .500.
The nine series left on their schedule are: vs. Reds, vs. Dodgers, at Padres, at Giants, at Diamondbacks, vs. Cardinals, vs. Diamondbacks, vs. Red Sox and at Dodgers.
Do you really think they'll win any of those series? Maybe you're eyeing up the games against the Padres and Giants, but since June 17, the Rockies are 11-29 on the road. Every other game on the list is against a team at least several games above .500.
Even if and when Carlos Gonzalez returns from his finger injury, they shouldn't be favored in a single one of their remaining games.
Matt Harvey's UCL Injury Impacts September Call-Ups
Afraid to jeopardize their future, teams view Matt Harvey's torn UCL as a warning to start shutting down pitching prospects.
With the exception of Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran continuing to contribute for a playoff team, why risk it?
Abruptly end Jose Fernandez's season and perhaps a few disgruntled fans call you a coward for a few days. Let him keep pitching and suffer an injury that puts his 2014 season in jeopardy and those fans will be calling for your head for months.
The Mariners have called up Taijuan Walker to start against the Astros on Friday, but I don't suspect we'll see very many top pitching prospects getting stretched out any further this September. And don't be surprised if young guys like Jose Quintana, Wily Peralta, Jhoulys Chacin and perhaps even Chris Sale have their seasons prematurely ended as a precaution.
Oakland Wins AL West
Oakland overcomes its current 2.5-game deficit to win the AL West.
It's the Oakland Athletics! History doesn't always repeat itself, but they went 33-13 over the final 46 games of the 2012 season.
They haven't caught fire yet in the second half, but after this weekend's series against the Rays, each of their remaining 26 games are either against the Rangers or against teams who are at least 12 games below .500.
Stay tuned for my diagnosis on what this means for the Rangers, but this prediction is significantly more of an expectation of one team to surge rather than an expectation of another team to collapse.
Houston Fans Boycott Final Game
Fed up with both the organization and the on-field product, Astros fans attempt to boycott the final game of the season.
In an era in which anyone can buy tickets to any game via eBay or StubHub, I fear this may be my least successful prediction.
However, if a boycott of a professional game is ever going to take place, this is the perfect storm in which it could happen.
First off, the team is horrendous. The Astros aren't quite the 1962 Mets (42-120) awful, but they're certainly on their way to a third consecutive season with at least 106 losses.
Now, it's one thing to be disappointed in the players for under-performing, but recent (contested) news that the Astros are the most profitable franchise in the league would really grind my gears if I were a ticket holder in Houston. Feel free to rebuild for the future, but if my favorite team were lining its coffers by putting a horrible team on the field, I would be furious.
The real kicker, though, is that Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees will be in town. In theory, it could be the last game of Rodriguez's MLB career. What better way to invite him to not let the door hit him on his way out than by refusing to even show up to acknowledge his existence?
It'll never happen, but here's hoping they at least try.
Second AL Wild Card Will Be Determined by Worst Team in Majors
With seven consecutive road games against Cleveland and Texas, the Astros hold the fate of the second AL wild-card spot in their hands.
We could even broaden this a little further and point out that the Astros will play a part in more than half of the playoff races down the stretch, as their final 13 games of the season come against the Reds, Indians, Rangers and Yankees.
However, we've already written about the Astros in a previous slide, and this is intended more as a prediction that Cleveland and Texas will finish the season separated by as little as one game—and that small margin could very well be correlated to those late games against Houston.
Entering play on Thursday, the Rangers are currently 6.5 games ahead of the Indians—and could expand that gap even further this weekend as Texas hosts Minnesota and Cleveland travels to Detroit. However, Cleveland's remaining schedule is much more forgiving than Texas'.
Here's a fun fact about the Rangers: They are 36-11 against the bottom three teams in the AL West and two games under .500 against everyone else. They do still have 10 games left against the Angels and Astros, but that leaves 19 games against the rest of the league. If those winning percentages hold, that's a 16-13 record from this point on.
If my previously stated prediction of Cleveland going 20-7 in September comes true, a roughly .500 record for the Rangers in the month of September would make things incredibly dicey.
Miguel Cabrera Wins Another Triple Crown
Miguel Cabrera overtakes Chris Davis in home runs, winning the AL Triple Crown with a line of .351 AVG, 52 HR and 157 RBI.
Cabrera will almost certainly reach those numbers. Anyone who claims to doubt that he can do anything right now is either delusional or simply being a contrarian for the sake of attention.
The between-the-lines portion of this prediction, though, is that Chris Davis will hit a maximum of four home runs in the next 31 games—which is admittedly a bit outlandish.
Davis has hit at least seven home runs in every month this season, but is also about three games away from reaching a new career high in MLB plate appearances in a season. I have no concrete evidence to support this theory, but I'm worried he might wear down a little bit as he enters into uncharted waters of longevity.
Not to mention, if the Orioles fall as hopelessly out of the playoffs as I suspect they will, 100 percent of the focus on Baltimore over the final few weeks of the season will be on whether or not Davis can maintain his lead over Cabrera. We'll see if he's up for the challenge of media scrutiny.
Robin Ventura Gets the Boot
In an effort to forget that this season ever happened, the White Sox fire manager Robin Ventura before season's end.
At the end of June, a White Sox fan asked on a forum whether it might be time to fire Ventura.
The resounding response seemed to be "Loved him as a player, can't stand him as a manager."
It would be one thing if he had inherited a terrible team, but the White Sox were really good as recently as 370 days ago. On August 26, 2012, the team was 71-55 and held a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. It went on to finish out the season with a 14-22 record, missing the playoffs by three games.
Beyond last September's meltdown, Ventura has taken one of the 10 highest Opening Day payrolls and turned it into a laughing stock of a season.
Whether we give too much credit or blame to managers is a discussion for another day, but Ventura's team is 28 games under .500 over the course of its last 168 games. It's hard to see him managing the team next April, so the only "bold" part of the prediction is that Chicago will fire him before the end of September.
Max Scherzer Breaks Single-Season Winning Percentage Record
Max Scherzer finishes season with a 23-2 (.920) record, breaking Al Spalding's 1875 record for single-season winning percentage (with at least 20 decisions) of .917.
First off, let's point out that Spalding went 55-5 over the course of 575 innings with a grand total of nine strikeouts on the season. The game has changed slightly since then.
The modern record that he's also looking to beat would be Greg Maddux's 19-2 record in 1995.
I hate the win statistic as much as the next guy, but after Felix Hernandez's meltdown on Wednesday, Scherzer has the highest WAR among AL pitchers, thus deserving a strong winning percentage.
Still, a 4-1 record from this point forward will be no easy task. Including Thursday's game, his next two starts come against the A's and Red Sox, which could easily give him three losses on the season before we've barely even gotten into September.
I'm keeping the faith, though. He's among the best in both run support and runs allowed.
Things Are About to Get Ugly in Kansas City
Following in the footsteps of the 2012 Pirates, the 2013 Royals play well below .500 baseball over final month of the season, finishing with a losing record for the 18th time in 19 seasons.
I don't have a horse in the AL race and am thus openly rooting for the perennially downtrodden Royals, but it's not looking good.
Individually, their batters have been on fire. Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer are doing everything in their power to keep the team afloat. Also, Justin Maxwell and Emilio Bonifacio have proven to be incredible midseason acquisitions.
Despite a hot August from those five players, the team has gone just 15-13 for the month while playing more than half of those games against teams that are hopelessly below .500 on the season.
The Royals' September schedule isn't anywhere near as forgiving. From September 6-22, they play 15 consecutive games against the Tigers, Indians and Rangers—and those games are bookended by seven games against the better-than-their-record Mariners.
If you're an eternal optimist, at least a hot streak for those two weeks would directly help them gain ground on the teams ahead of them. It certainly won't be easy, though.
Detroit Takes Home-Field Advantage in AL by Land Slide
Detroit wins 18 of its final 22 games, finishes with 99 wins and the best AL record by a minimum of four games.
First, an olive branch to all of the fans in Detroit who have left angry comments any time I've written anything about Victor Martinez since the All-Star break.
You were right. I was wrong. He has the second-best batting average in all of baseball in the second half of the season and is a huge cog in the Tigers' machine. I focused too much on his numbers from the first half of the season and assumed the 34-year-old would never truly bounce back to the numbers he was posting before tearing his ACL and missing all of last season. Mea culpa.
Returning to the task at hand, I no longer see a single weak spot on this team. When Prince Fielder only hitting 20 home runs is one of the biggest concerns, things are going pretty well.
On top of the Tigers' continued success (aside from the beating that Oakland has given them this week), they play perhaps the easiest final three-plus weeks of any team. The six games against Kansas City might be a tad bit difficult, but the other 16 games against the White Sox, Twins, Mariners and Marlins should be a cakewalk.
While Oakland, Texas, Boston and Tampa Bay are beating each other up, Detroit should coast into the playoffs with the best record in the AL.
At Least 2 More A-Rod On-Field Headlines
There will be a minimum of two more on-field "altercations" involving Alex Rodriguez.
He's easily the most polarizing figure in baseball since Barry Bonds retired, and the longer the appeal of his suspension lasts, the more that tensions will rise.
Ryan Dempster has already intentionally thrown at Rodriguez, and he won't be the last. A benches-clearing brawl involving the Yankees almost seems like a foregone conclusion—especially if the Yankees remain remotely close to playoff contention.
I'm also counting a fan running onto the field as one of my projected altercations. Hopefully the assumed lunatic doesn't mean any harm to anyone and simply wants to hug his favorite nationally hated player like the ones in recent memory who interrupted play to go hang out with LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo.
After all, there was already one person who threatened to run onto the field since A-Rod's return.
Blue Jays Finish with Third-Worst Record in Majors
Facing a team with a winning record in 21 of its final 28 games, Toronto loses at least 65 percent of its remaining games.
In the 10 games since losing Jose Bautista to the disabled list, the Blue Jays have only once scored more than five runs—and two of the seven runs in that game scored on a throwing error after a wild pitch.
They're struggling to score and are already 8-18 since the All-Star break against teams who are above .500. Barring a six-game mid-September winning streak at the hands of the Twins and Angels, I can't imagine them playing anything close to .500 ball the rest of the way.
I'll also predict within the prediction that this slide gets more angry comments than any other. I've got to hand it to Toronto, because it easily takes the 2013 cake for most passionate fanbase of a sub-.500 team.
Orioles Miss Playoffs by Considerable Margin
After holding a 1.5-game lead for the second wild-card spot on July 22, the Orioles will miss the playoffs by at least nine games.
Since August 12, the Orioles have played 11 games against teams with a record above .500 and have lost eight of those games.
Ain't no rest for the wicked. Twenty-one of their remaining 31 games will also be against teams who have won more games than they have lost this season.
They're already 7.5 games back in the AL East and 4.5 games back in the wild-card race. Falling another few games back against that schedule is hardly a reach. And honestly, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they go 10-21 down the stretch, dropping to .500 and missing the playoffs by at least a dozen games.
But hey, that Chris Davis fella is pretty good!
Boston Wins AL East
Boston maintains 2.5-game lead over Tampa Bay to win AL East.
I've changed my tune on the final outcome in the AL East no fewer than 47 times this season, but it's tough to see the Red Sox letting this one slip away.
Even if the three-game series in Tampa Bay from September 10-12 makes things interesting, Boston closes out the season with 11 straight games against Baltimore, Toronto and Colorado—each of whom I have predicted elsewhere in this article to completely fall apart over the next month.
I'm guessing the final margin between them will be two games, but Boston will finish on top.