25 MLB Predictions from the Quarter-Mark to the All-Star Break
Roughly a quarter of the 2014 MLB season has passed with more than a few surprises.
Who would have thought, for example, that the Miami Marlins would spend time in first place, or that Tim Hudson would be the best starter for the San Francisco Giants? The answer, of course, is probably no one.
And while everyone knew Troy Tulowitzki was a special player, his performance to this point has been otherworldly. He has taken the baseball world by storm with his dominance at the dish.
There have been disappointments, too. Look no further than Curtis Granderson and the Arizona Diamondbacks for examples.
So what surprises does the season hold in store until it pauses for the All-Star Game?
Well, let’s get into it. Here are 25 predictions from the one-quarter mark to the All-Star break in no particular order.
25. The Milwaukee Brewers Will Cool off Considerably
Unfortunately, that squad didn’t play the same type of game and didn’t stay hot for long. McCalvy wrote:
The 1987 team was different, Bob Uecker said, in that Trebelhorn played much more station-to-station than current manager Ron Roenicke, and the Brewers had more of an identity as a powerhouse offense. They went cold in May, losing 12 in a row in one stretch.
The bad news is that while the Brewers haven’t lost 12 consecutive contests, they have been playing bad baseball recently. In the 10 games before taking the field on Sunday, they were 3-7 and have looked like a team struggling to find the formula that helped them get off to the best start in MLB.
Expect for the troubles to continue considering that the lack of production at first base (.222/.293/.430), shortstop (.228/.253/.309) and in left field (.219/.242/.377) will continue to be a problem, and the team’s struggles to get on base via free passes could prevent them from finding “the balance” they “need to remain competitive through September,” according to Michael Hunt from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
If they don’t right the ship offensively, they will play .500 baseball through the All-Star break.
24. The St. Louis Cardinals Will Lead the NL Central
All the St. Louis Cardinals need to retake the division lead in the NL Central is for the Milwaukee Brewers to struggle.
Sure, the Cardinals have had their share of problems to this point. Allen Craig (.213/.270/.353), Peter Bourjos (.209/.284/.358) and Kolten Wong (.225/.276/.268) haven’t exactly lived up to expectations, but it’s safe to believe that they will improve over the next two-plus months.
And even if the lineup doesn’t hit like it has the past few seasons, the pitching has been superb. Shelby Miller, for example, has the only FIP (fielding independent pitching) over 3.50. That borders on ridiculous, as does the staff’s combined 3.24 FIP.
The Cardinals are just waiting in the wings for the time to pounce. And that time is now at hand.
23. The Colorado Rockies Will Still Be Fighting for a Playoff Spot
The Colorado Rockies are playing incredible baseball at the moment.
And with an offense led by Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies aren’t going to stop anytime soon. The lineup is so fierce that B/R’s Zachary Rymer compared it to the “Death Star.”
The Rockies aren’t just about offense, though. Rymer continued by noting that the pitching staff isn’t quite as suspect as some would think:
The Rockies entered Thursday with a 4.09 ERA. That's nothing special by normal MLB standards, but it's excellent by their standards. And how this is happening can be traced to one thing in particular:
According to FanGraphs, the Rockies are third in MLB in ground-ball rate at 48.9 percent. That's not entirely an accident, as the Rockies also ranked third in MLB in ground-ball rate last year and then acquired a couple ground-ball pitchers in Jordan Lyles and Brett Anderson.
Simply put, the pitching staff will let the offense do what they do best—mash baseballs. As MLB breaks for the All-Star Game, the Rockies will still be very much in the race in the NL West.
22. Troy Tulowitzki Will Still Be Hitting Close to .400
Speaking of the Colorado Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki will not slow down thanks to what MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby has described as “better awareness” at the plate.
Ringolsby is on point, too. The shortstop has already drawn 25 walks this season and is seeing more pitches than at any other time in his career, according to numbers extrapolated from his page over at FanGraphs. More pitches for Tulowitzki equals more chances to hit the cover off the baseball.
And with the protection Carlos Gonzalez provides batting behind him in the order, Tulowitzki will continue to see good pitches. Teams are simply forced to pitch to him, as evidenced by the fact that he has only drawn one intentional walk this season.
As the All-Star break arrives, Tulowitzki's quest for .400 will still be in the news.
21. Curtis Granderson Will Be Earning His Paycheck
Well, Granderson will round back into form between now and the All-Star break. Matter of fact, he has already started the process. In the nine games preceding Saturday’s tilt against the Philadelphia Phillies, he had hit two home runs, driven in seven and had an .885 OPS.
For his part, Granderson remains confident he can continue swinging a hot bat, saying he’s “getting there,” via Kristie Ackert from the New York Daily News. That belief will serve him well as he continues the march back towards respectability.
20. Matt Kemp's Resurgence Will Be in Full-Swing
And it’s really just a matter of getting playing time in a packed Dodgers outfield. The good news for Kemp is that's exactly what he's getting after a run of poor health. From B/R’s Jason Martinez:
From 2008-2011, Kemp averaged 159 games per season. By the fourth season of that span, he had become one of the top players in the game. Two injury-plagued seasons later, he's finally becoming a fixture in the Dodgers lineup once more with 24 starts in 29 games since making his 2014 debut on April 4.
If Kemp is back at full strength, it could be only a matter of getting regular playing time once again before he can return to his MLB superstar form.
To illustrate how well Kemp has played as of late, he had 16 hits, five doubles and a .903 OPS over his previous 13 games covering 47 at-bats heading into action on Saturday.
There is no reason to see things changing between now and the All-Star break.
19. The Texas Rangers Will Add a Catcher
The Texas Rangers need a catcher in the worst way. And by worst way, of course, that means they are getting almost no production from the backstops they currently have on the roster.
According to splits over at Baseball-Reference, J.P Arencibia and Robinson Chirinos have combined to hit three home runs, drive in 14 and have put together an unimpressive .179/.237/.301 slash line. That is not going to get the job done.
To be sure, options are limited since catcher is a position where very few players excel, but that shouldn’t stop the Rangers from trying to find something.
Nick Hundley could be an option. Dennis Lin, from the San Diego Union-Tribune noted towards the end of April that “the [San Diego] Padres are in active trade discussions” for the veteran catcher. And Hundley's .298 batting average and .723 slugging percentage would certainly be an upgrade over what manager Ron Washington currently has at his disposal.
18. CC Sabathia Will Force the Yankees to Act Fast
See, when Ivan Nova’s season ended following Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda injured himself during a simulated game, the hope was that the rotation could hold together long enough for general manager Brian Cashman to find a way to bring in some reinforcements before the non-waiver trade deadline.
Unfortunately, Sabathia is expediting the situation. And make no mistake, he didn't look good before landing on the disabled list Sunday.
ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews didn’t mince words after his last outing:
This is not something Sabathia is doing willfully but rather helplessly, due to the apparent ravages of premature aging to his pitching arm. Once again he rarely got his fastball above 90 miles per hour, and often allowed it to drift over the middle of the plate, where both [Carlos] Gomez and [Jonathan] Lucroy turned it into a missile. [Aramis] Ramirez hit a cutter that meandered in at a tasty 85 mph.
Sabathia hasn’t given anyone a reason to believe that he can suddenly find a way to reinvent himself when he returns, and that leaves Cashman only one option. He needs to go get another starter, and he needs to do it as soon as possible.
17. The Atlanta Braves Will Add Offense
The Atlanta Braves have a dominant threesome—Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton—in the middle of the batting order. That’s about it, though.
And because of the lack of offense from almost everybody else, general manager Frank Wren is going to have to add at least one bat well in advance of July 31. Waiting until the non-waiver trade deadline is simply too long.
That is especially true considering that the NL East has the tightest collection of teams with relation to overall record in MLB. There is simply no room for error.
If the Braves intend on playing meaningful baseball in October, they are going to have to find a way to distance themselves from the Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies. Heck, even the New York Mets, who recently went through a stretch where they failed to score a run in 23.0 innings, are within striking distance.
Adding offense is Wren's first order of business.
16. The Detroit Tigers Will Add Another Bullpen Arm
The Detroit Tigers will be hard-pressed to find any staying power in the playoffs with the current collection of bullpen arms on their roster.
Here are a few select nuggets from a recent article by Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press:
The bullpen is a mess. Anyone who watches the Tigers can tell you that.
The not-so-good news is that trying to navigate the gap between the starter and the closer could be more difficult this year than any in recent memory. On good nights, this means surviving one inning — the eighth. On most nights, this means getting through two innings —the seventh and eighth.
Phoning out to the Tigers’ bullpen right now is risky no matter who is at the plate.
Yep. That sounds about right.
Now, they recently signed Joel Hanrahan, but he is not ready yet, and he won’t solve the problem. When Phil Coke—whom Patrick OKennedy from Bless You Boys opines the Tigers seem willing to use only in “the lowest leverage innings when two or three runs won't make a difference”—is still on the roster, the fix isn’t complete.
It’s going to take more than one guy. They need to add another reliever.
15. Miguel Cabrera Will Stay as Hot as Ever
While we’re on the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera is going to set the baseball world on fire between now and the All-Star break after a slow start. His track record is too extensive to think he won’t.
Consider that from April 22 to May 9, Cabrera slugged three home runs, hit six doubles and had a robust .354/.373/.585 slash line. That's more like it.
To be sure, he isn’t having a bad season at all. It’s just that by his standards, the results to this point had been on the disappointing side thanks to his woeful start.
John A. McGeehan, from Bless You Boys, surmised that his poor production early this season could have been the result of injury or just due to bad weather. Whatever the cause, it didn’t last long.
Cabrera is back, and he isn't going anywhere.
14. The Cleveland Indians Will Become Relevant Again
The Cleveland Indians are going to make a run at the Detroit Tigers. Now, they won’t catch them, but they will certainly climb out of the cellar in the AL Central and into second place.
And it won’t take much more than a correction to the mean for a few of their key contributors on offense.
Take Nick Swisher, for example. For his career, he has a .205 IsoP (difference between batting average and slugging percentage) and a .290 batting average on balls in play. This season, those respective numbers were .118 and .257 going into action on Saturday.
Even during the worst season of his career with the Chicago White Sox in 2008, he still belted 24 home runs and drove in 69. If he starts to trend that direction, the Indians will be in much better shape.
Outside of the batting order, the rest of the team is quite good. The top of their starting rotation is just fine, and the bullpen is fantastic, so all it will take for the Indians to fight their way back into the race is for guys like Swisher to show up and perform to their career averages.
13. The Chicago Cubs Will Trade Jeff Samardzija
The Chicago Cubs will not wait until the non-waiver trade deadline to trade Jeff Samardzija. General manager Jed Hoyer would be tempting fate to hold onto an asset that is getting feistier by the day.
Samardzija isn’t going to sign a team-friendly extension anytime soon because he has “a responsibility to the players that are younger” than he is to get as much money as possible, per CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney. And by the time he hits free agency after next season, he is going to want far more than the Cubs will be willing to pay him.
The situation has reached critical mass on the North Side. Heck, even Matt Garza has been quoted telling the right-hander that all he can do is “pitch [his] way out of there [Chicago],” according to a separate article from Mooney.
Trading Samardzija is just good business. As B/R’s Rick Weiner recently noted, it would help the Cubs “add some of the young pitching that it needs to build a future rotation around.”
He will be in a different uniform before the All-Star break. The Cubs can’t risk a decline in performance or an injury to their greatest trade chip.
12. The Miami Marlins Will Still Be with the Leaders in the NL East
The Miami Marlins aren’t going anywhere before the All-Star Game.
There is just so much talent on the roster. Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Adeiny Hechavarria and Casey McGehee are just some of the names that litter leaderboards across MLB.
They are second in the National League with 164 runs scored, have been getting incredible starting pitching from Tom Koehler, Fernandez and Eovaldi and are playing defense at a high level. They're are on a roll, and it’s been fun to watch.
Now, they may fade down the stretch as inexperience sets in and road losses mount, but when the All-Star break hits, the Marlins will still be at the party.
11. The Cincinnati Reds Will Make a Run for It
The Cincinnati Reds are going to make a run at the NL Central over the next two-plus months. And they won’t have to go out and acquire multiple players via trade in order to do it, either.
From B/R’s Rick Weiner, not too long ago:
Cincinnati's biggest acquisitions this season will come from the disabled list, which is where, among others, the team finds its starting right fielder (Jay Bruce, pictured), starting catcher (Devin Mesoraco), two-fifths of its starting rotation (Tony Cingrani and Mat Latos) and closer Aroldis Chapman.
Now, one area that the Reds may want to address quite soon is the shortstop position where Zack Cozart (.188/.228/.274) has been playing, but other than that, they will improve simply by getting healthy.
True, the Reds have been abysmal to this point, but that will all change once some key pieces start coming back. To that effect, Chapman was activated from the disabled list on Saturday. See, good things are already starting to happen.
Now, it must be noted that Billy Hamilton just went down with an injury, but then again, other than being fast, he wasn’t doing all that much anyway.
10. Jose Abreu Will Be the AL MVP
And it’s not just because Abreu is putting up mind-boggling numbers. It’s because he is doing it against all types of pitchers. From a piece by B/R’s Scott Miller:
Already this year, he’s deposited home runs against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander and the Rays’ David Price (the only homer Verlander has allowed this season against 199 batters faced, by the way). He sent a pitch from hard-throwing Indians right-hander Danny Salazar on a 439-foot ride.
He isn't always successful, of course, as his 24.9 percent strikeout rate can attest to, per FanGraphs, but Abreu is carrying the White Sox right now.
To be sure, Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo and the bullpen are doing their parts, but there is no denying that the first baseman is the one behind the wheel. And after coming off a 99-loss season, that will carry a lot of weight with national sportswriters.
9. The Pittsburgh Pirates Will Begin Selling Pieces
The Pittsburgh Pirates have to get serious. After all, their chances of catching up in the NL Central are slim, at best. And with a roster loaded with soon-to-be free agents, the time is almost at hand to start making trades.
They’ve got quite a few valuable pieces, too. Jason Grilli, Edinson Volquez and Russell Martin are just three of the players set to hit the open market at the end of the season. Each of them would command a nice return in any deal.
It's not as bad as it sounds, though.
They have a strong core already on the MLB roster for next season and a few prospects who are ready to take the next step. It's time to reload with 2015 in mind.
8. The Seattle Mariners Will Make a Legitimate Run at the AL West
Now, this isn’t really a stretch, but the Seattle Mariners will climb up the standings in the AL West before the All-Star break is upon us.
And it’s not because Robinson Cano is going to start living up to his contract. Rather, the Mariners are on the verge of having one of the best rotations in baseball.
As a matter of fact, the Mariners are pretty close as it stands with Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma who recently made his first start of the season. It won’t be long, however, until those three are joined by James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. And when that happens, look out.
As far as when those two will return, Bob Dutton from the News Tribune posits “a June 1 return for Paxton, with Walker returning a few days later—if all goes well.”
Even with an offense that ranks last in the American League in OPS, the Mariners will surge behind what is sure to be the best rotation in baseball.
7. The Mariners Will Add at Least One Bat
And while we’re on the topic of the Seattle Mariners and OPS, general manager Jack Zduriencik is going to add at least one bat before the All-Star break.
Now as to what position Zduriencik will target, the options are almost limitless. He could go after a shortstop to replace Brad Miller, who has a .164/.224/.276 slash line with 35 strikeouts. He could also find a new right fielder since Stefen Romero is only hitting .217 with a .690 OPS and three RBI in 23 games.
And even though the offense had been terrible, the Mariners are over .500 and very much in the race thanks to the pitching staff, which is only going to get better. It’s up to Zduriencik to level the playing field a bit.
6. The Arizona Diamondback Will Fall Further into the Cellar
With the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers showing no signs of slowing down, it is safe to say that the Arizona Diamondbacks will lose even more ground before the All-Star break.
Talk about a surprise in the desert. MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom elaborates:
No one foresaw this kind of a start out of a team that went to the playoffs in 2011 and broke even in both '12 and '13. But then, [Patrick] Corbin blew out his elbow five days before the team left for the two-game Opening Series against the Dodgers in Australia, skewing the starting rotation, and [David] Hernandez did the same prior to the end of Spring Training, leaving a big hole in the back end of the bullpen.
The D-backs lost both games in Australia, and they have been trying to regain their footing ever since.
And don’t forget, the prized acquisition of the offseason, Mark Trumbo, recently went on the disabled list with a foot injury. The hits (not the good ones) keep on coming in Arizona, and it doesn’t look like anyone can stop the bleeding.
The Diamondbacks will continue to fall further back of everyone else in the NL West, even the San Diego Padres.
5. Kevin Towers Will Get Fired
Given the state of his team, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers will find himself out of a job before the All-Star break. In fact, it may already be in the works.
In a recent interview with MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom, Towers said that club president Derrick Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick were “both very, very disappointed, and rightfully so,” before adding that he didn’t know if he would be around to see the team he put together succeed.
When Towers gets axed is another matter entirely.
Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller noted not too long ago that “what makes most sense is that Towers is safe for another month, at least until after the June draft.” Miller added that “to replace a GM before then would throw Arizona’s draft into complete chaos.”
He’s right. So unless the Diamondbacks miraculously become relevant between now and then, Towers will be out as their GM after the first-year player draft.
4. Mark Buehrle Will Be the First 10-Game Winner in the AL
Mark Buehrle will be the first pitcher in the American League to get to 10 wins. Now, he already has six victories, so that statement isn’t too far-fetched, but Buehrle isn't known for reaching double-digit wins in the season’s first half.
And while the fact that the victories have piled up for the left-hander is a surprise, how he’s gone about getting them isn't. Dayn Perry from CBS Sports gives the details:
There's nothing new about the way he's doing it. Buehrle, as ever, has a varied pitch mix (he throws five pitches for strikes, this season none more than 29 percent of the time and none fewer than 13 percent of the time), and he's especially adept at inducing weak contact, thanks in large part to his ability to change speed and location and get swings outside of the heart of the zone. When we invoke ‘crafitness’ in baseball, that's the kind of thing we're talking about.
That’s Buehrle in a nutshell. Always has been, always will be, although B/R’s Zachary Rymer did note one stark difference this season over years past—he is keeping the baseball in the yard.
Sure, he will lose a game or two between now and the All-Star break, but he will also be the first 10-game winner in the AL.
3. Tim Hudson Will Be an All-Star
Tim Hudson is easily having the most surprising season for a pitcher in MLB this season, and there’s no reason to think he’ll stop now.
First, some accolades courtesy of the McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee:
We’re still just a few starts in, but good gravy, Tim Hudson. What a sorcerer.
The Giants haven’t seen a pitcher with this kind of economy since, dunno, Bill Swift? The last Giants pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game under 90 pitches was Swift in ’93, and Hudson was a pitch away from being the first to do it in 21 years. The comparison isn’t completely insane. Sinkers get quick outs.
Not only sinkers, Grant, but strikes as well. In 54.1 innings going into his start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, Hudson had issued a grand total of three walks. And thanks to the ability to limit free passes, the right-hander has an infinitesimal 0.736 WHIP.
Control is the key here, and that is why Hudson will be an All-Star at the age of 38.
2. Dee Gordon Will Have 55 Steals
More impressive, though, are his 24 stolen bases in 27 attempts, which is good for an 89 percent clip. In a post for Lasorda’s Lair, Stacie Wheeler put his baserunning prowess into context:
Dee Gordon has been absolutely brilliant thus far for the Dodgers, and the second baseman has truly shaped into a game-changing lead-off guy. Gordon is on record pace with 24 stolen bases, and he is one of only four players to reach 24 steals in the first 35 games of a season. The other base stealers who also accomplished this were Scotty Podsednik, Kenny Lofton, and Vince Coleman.
That is some rare air. Perhaps the turnaround has something to do with switching from shortstop to second base this season. Then again, this may be the level he was supposed to play at the entire time.
Either way, Gordon isn’t going to stop now and will have 55 steals by the All-Star break.
1. Josh Hamilton Will Struggle Upon Returning from the Disabled List
When Josh Hamilton went down with a torn thumb ligament, he had a .444/.545/.741 slash line in 27 at-bats. To be sure, that’s a small sample size, but he seemed confident at the plate, and that is something that was missing last season.
And oh, how the Los Angeles Angels have missed him. The good news is that the slugger will be back in a matter of weeks.
The Orange County Register’s Pedro Moura tweeted:
Josh Hamilton took one-handed swings on the field today. He said he expects to be back in the majors the weekend of May 23-25— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) May 7, 2014
What the Angels get from Hamilton when he comes back is entirely unknown, however. Zachary Rymer wrote:
If the Angels have their way, Hamilton will get back to being this guy when he returns from the DL in a few weeks. If so, they'll have an impressive trio of hitters in him, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
But this is where the Angels should be crossing their fingers. The long layoff could disrupt the good rhythm Hamilton had going. If that doesn't happen, any lingering weakness in his thumb could sap his power.
That’s why I’m going to say that the left-handed hitter is going to struggle when he returns. When he is going good, his swing is fluid and instinctive. A layoff this long can only cause extended troubles.
As previously noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time on Sunday, May 11. Injury, transaction and game information is courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information was taken from Cot's Contracts.