25 Predictions for Rest of 2014 MLB Season
The final month of the MLB regular season is here, and this year's stretch run promises to be as good as any in recent memory.
There are a number of playoff races still up for grabs in both leagues, and the second wild-card spot has once again made more teams contenders heading into the final month.
Even on non-contending teams, there is no shortage of interesting storylines to follow, as September also brings an influx of young talent with expanded rosters.
At any rate, it's prediction time once again, and what follows are 25 predictions both on the team and individual side of things for this September around Major League Baseball.
Masahiro Tanaka Won't Pitch Again in 2014
Despite a minus-32 run differential on the season and a bevy of injuries to their pitching staff, the New York Yankees still somehow sit just five games out for the second AL wild-card spot.
There was some hope of a potential September return from rookie phenom Masahiro Tanaka, who has been shelved since July 9 with a partially torn UCL.
Tanaka had been throwing and working to get back into shape when he experienced "general soreness" in his arm last Friday, according to Chris Toman of MLB.com.
That was not enough for the team to shut him down, but it was nonetheless a setback, and there is still a very real possibility he doesn't pitch again in 2014.
"There's obviously concern, but I think we play it out this week to see where we're at," manager Joe Girardi told Toman. "He's going to continue to play catch and do some exercises that a pitcher would normally do, and we'll go from there. We're going to proceed, and it's either going to be he's healthy or he needs surgery."
Ryan Zimmerman Will Thrive in a Bench Role
There was a time when Ryan Zimmerman was considered one of the best young players in baseball and the face of the Washington Nationals franchise, but he could find himself coming off the bench for the stretch run this season.
The 29-year-old has played just 53 games this season, as a fractured thumb and a torn right hamstring have cost him significant time.
With Anthony Rendon playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base, Asdrubal Cabrera doing a nice job as the primary second baseman and Bryce Harper heating up in left field, there's really nowhere in the everyday lineup for Zimmerman.
To be honest, there's really no reason to mess with a good thing, as the Nationals have been playing their best baseball over the past month or so, but that doesn't mean Zimmerman can't still make an impact down the stretch.
The Nationals bench is weak. Kevin Frandsen and Scott Hairston have seen the bulk of the pinch-hitting duties, and Zimmerman could be a real weapon if he embraces the role.
Matt Shoemaker Makes a Michael Wacha-Type Impact Down the Stretch
Many people, myself included, were ready to dismiss the Angels once Garrett Richards was lost for the season to a knee injury.
Sure, they still looked like a safe bet to reach the playoffs, but could they really be considered legitimate title contenders without the ace of their staff?
Well, the Angels are 8-4 since he went down, as they've opened up a 4.5-game lead over the Oakland A's in the AL West following a weekend sweep, and it's fair to say they have looked very much like title contenders of late.
A big reason why is the performance of rookie right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who is 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 24 games (17 starts) on the season. And he's only getting better, going 6-1 with a 1.31 ERA in August.
Hector Santiago and Jered Weaver have both been solid, and even C.J. Wilson is throwing the ball better of late, but Shoemaker will be the key to their success down the stretch and on into October.
Michael Wacha shined for the St. Louis Cardinals in September last year, going 2-1 with a 1.72 ERA in five starts, and Shoemaker could have a similar impact on the stretch run here in 2014.
Michael Wacha Returns, Helps Lead Cardinals to NL Central Title
Speaking of Michael Wacha, he looks like a potential September X-factor once again.
Last year's surprise postseason hero was expected to be a breakout star in his first full season in the majors, and he delivered through his first 15 starts, going 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA as a solid No. 2 option behind Adam Wainwright.
However, he's been sidelined since June 18 with a sore shoulder, and that injury played a significant role in the team's decision to go out and trade for John Lackey and Justin Masterson at the trade deadline.
Wacha made his first rehab start Sunday and will return to the Cardinals rotation this Thursday, looking to give the first-place team a boost in September once again.
"His resume speaks for itself," general manager John Mozeliak said in an Associated Press report (via ESPN). "When he was throwing, he could be dominant. And frankly, he's very fresh."
Adam Dunn Will Make a Significant Impact in Oakland
It's easy to write off the Oakland Athletics' acquisition of Adam Dunn over the weekend as a desperation move by a team that has been struggling offensively, but he has a real chance to be a significant addition.
"Very nice pickup for a struggling A's offense," Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports said in a tweet immediately following the trade.
The 34-year-old is 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in his first two games with the team, and while that's a small sample size, it's fair to say there may be no one in baseball hungrier to reach October than Dunn.
With 1,978 career games under his belt, he's played more games without reaching the postseason than any other active player. That, coupled with the announcement that he'll likely retire at the end of the season, means this is his last chance to experience postseason baseball.
Is he going to keep hitting .750 the rest of the way? Obviously not, but there is still some legitimate pop in his bat. He knows how to work a walk, and it looks like he'll be penciled into a prime spot in the middle of the lineup.
Jonathan Lucroy Will Become First Catcher With 50 Doubles in a Season
After a strong showing in 2013, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy has been a breakout star this season, emerging as a legitimate NL MVP candidate.
He's currently hitting .297/.362/.476 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI, but it's his 46 doubles that appear to have him on his way to etching his name in the record books.
No catcher has ever reached the 50-double mark in a single season. In fact, there has only been a total of 16 seasons where a backstop has tallied 40 or more doubles.
The current record belongs to Ivan Rodriguez, who laced 47 two-baggers back in 1996, so Lucroy is already second on the all-time list and just two away from the record.
As long as he doesn't go down with an injury, he should have no problem eclipsing that mark and becoming the first catcher to reach 50 doubles in a season.
Clayton Kershaw Is First Pitcher with ERA Under 1.70 Since 1995
With another dominant start Tuesday night, one in which he allowed just three hits and a single run in eight innings of work, Clayton Kershaw is now 17-3 with a 1.70 ERA in 23 starts on the year.
There's not much margin of error at this point if he hopes to keep lowering that ERA over the final month. One so-so start could be enough to jump it up a decent amount, but given the way he's been throwing the ball lately, "so-so" doesn't even seem possible.
Provided he can lower his ERA just one more hundredth of a point, he'd become the first pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56) and 1995 (1.63) to post an ERA under the 1.70 mark.
The crazy thing about Kershaw's numbers is how much better they would be if not for a rough start back in April where he allowed seven earned runs in 1.2 innings of work.
In his other 22 games, he's a ridiculous 17-2 with a 1.34 ERA, 0.787 WHIP and 10.7 K/9.
Joe Panik Stays Hot, Makes Serious Run at NL Rookie of the Year
Last season's National League rookie class was as deep as any in recent memory, with Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig battling it out for Rookie of the Year honors, and the likes of Julio Teheran, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Shelby Miller, Gerrit Cole and Nolan Arenado all having terrific seasons as well.
This year is a different story entirely, as the field has no clear-cut top choice, and the final month of the year will go a long way in determining who takes home the honors.
Billy Hamilton (.269/.305/.382, 71 R, 55-of-76 SB) has been great defensively and has an eye-popping stolen base total, but the rest of his numbers are sub-par, and he's hitting just .237 with a .580 OPS since the All-Star break.
Kolten Wong (.251/.292/.402, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 19 SB) is the only other position player who has seen regular playing time, but he too has so-so numbers overall.
The two best candidates at this point may be a pair of New York Mets pitchers in starter Jacob deGrom (18 GS, 7-6, 2.94 ERA) and setup man Jeurys Familia (66 G, 17 HLD, 2.10 ERA).
If there's a dark horse that could emerge in September, my money is on San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik.
The 23-year-old just wrapped up a fantastic month of August that saw him hit .379/.416/.484, bringing his season line to .314/.363/.394 with 15 RBI and 23 runs scored. Another strong month could conceivably be enough to overtake the rest of the field, despite the fact that he's played in just 51 games to this point.
Chris Tillman Will Pitch His Way into the AL Cy Young Conversation
At this point, the AL Cy Young race looks to be between Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and Chicago White Sox stud Chris Sale, with guys like Corey Kluber and Jon Lester hanging on the periphery.
It will take quite a bit for someone to overtake one of those top two guys over the final month, but one pitcher who could at least work his way into the conversation as a top-five candidate is Baltimore Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman.
Tillman is 11-5 with a 3.36 ERA, and while that may not look Cy Young worthy, he enters the final month of the season with as much momentum as any pitcher in baseball.
In nine starts since the All-Star break, he's gone 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA, 0.874 WHIP and seven quality starts, giving the Orioles a legitimate ace to lean on.
Baltimore currently has the biggest division lead in baseball at 9.5 games, and if it continues to run away with the division, that will certainly help Tillman's candidacy as well.
Chicago Cubs Have Three Rookies With 10-Plus HR, First Team Since 2007
Not since 2007 has a team had three different rookies reach double-digits in home runs in the same season, with two different teams accomplishing it that season.
Chris Young (32), Mark Reynolds (17) and Miguel Montero (10) did it for the Arizona Diamondbacks, while Delmon Young (13), Brendan Harris (12) and Elijah Dukes (10) accomplished the feat for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
There is some work to be done for the Chicago Cubs to pull it off this season, but they have the young guns to do it.
All-or-nothing slugger Mike Olt has already reached double digits with 12 longballs in 187 at-bats earlier this season, though he hit just .139/.222/.353 in the process.
Meanwhile, top prospects Arismendy Alcantara (200 AB, 8 HR), Javier Baez (120 AB, 7 HR) and Jorge Soler (22 AB, 3 HR) are all within striking distance heading down the home stretch.
The future is incredibly bright in Chicago, and this would be just the first of many accolades that is likely headed for their impressive group of young hitters.
Texas Rangers Won't Win a Series in September, Lose 100 Games
At this point, it would appear to be in the Texas Rangers' best interest to continue piling up losses in an attempt to secure the No. 1 pick in next year's amateur draft.
They currently "lead" the Colorado Rockies by 1.5 games in that department, and the schedule is certainly lining up for them to continue struggling the rest of the way.
A three-game series at home with the Houston Astros are their only remaining games against a non-contender, as their other games are with the Athletics (7), Angels (6), Mariners (4), Braves (3) and Royals (1).
We'll go ahead and say they don't win another series the rest of the way, giving the team its first 100-loss season since it went 57-105 back in 1973.
Tampa Bay Rays Will Set Single-Season Team Strikeout Record
Despite trading David Price at the deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays have still managed to post the best team ERA in baseball since the All-Star break at 2.70.
Drew Smyly (6 GS, 3-1, 1.73 ERA) has been fantastic stepping into the rotation spot vacated by Price, and the rotation as a whole still looks like the best in the AL East.
Their continued success has put them within striking distance of the single-season team strikeout record, which was set by the Detroit Tigers a year ago with 1,428 punchouts.
The Rays currently have 1,251 strikeouts with 23 games to play, meaning they will need to average 7.74 strikeouts per game the rest of the way to claim the record.
That is certainly doable considering they have averaged 9.00 strikeouts per game to this point, and if nothing else, it will be a testament to the impressive depth they have on the mound.
Jose Altuve Will Set Houston Astros Single-Season Hits Record
In the 52 years that the Houston Astros had been a franchise heading into this season, only once has a player topped 200 hits in a single season for them.
That was all-time great Craig Biggio with 210 back in 1998, and that mark looks to be in jeopardy this season as Jose Altuve chases a batting title.
With back-to-back four-hit performances, Altuve is now at 193 hits on the season with 24 games remaining.
Assuming five at-bats per game the rest of the way, Altuve would need to go just 18-for-120 (.150) the rest of the way to pass Biggio, so there's plenty of wiggle room for a few days off and more than a few 0-fers
The Astros may not have anything to play for at this point, but with Victor Martinez (.332 BA) hot on his tail for the batting title, Altuve (.340 BA) should stay plenty motivated down the stretch.
Rodney, K-Rod, Holland and Rosenthal Will All Set Team's Respective Save Records
Last season, Kansas City Royals closer Greg Holland set a new single-season mark for the franchise when he nailed down 47 saves, and there are a handful of team marks in that category that could go down this season.
Fernando Rodney (Seattle), Francisco Rodriguez (Milwaukee), Trevor Rosenthal (St. Louis) and Holland once again are all in position to take down their respective franchise records.
|Team||2014 Totals||Current Record|
|Seattle||40 (Rodney)||45 (Kaz Sasaki, 2001)|
|Milwaukee||39 (Rodriguez)||46 (John Axford, 2011)|
|St. Louis||41 (Rosenthal)||47 (Jason Isringhausen, 2004)|
|Kansas City||41 (Holland)||47 (Greg Holland, 2013)|
With all four of those teams in contention, there figures to be plenty of save opportunities for all of these guys down the stretch, and they are all well within striking distance of setting a new franchise record here in 2014.
The San Diego Padres Will Have a Significant Impact on the NL West Race
With the San Francisco Giants heating up and the Los Angeles Dodgers holding just a two-game lead in the standings, the NL West figures to go down to the wire this year.
Those two teams still have six games remaining head-to-head to circle on their calendars, but they may be equally concerned with their remaining matchups against a surging San Diego Padres team.
After sporting a historically bad offense for much of the season, the Padres have finally started providing one of baseball's best pitching staffs with some run support.
The result was an impressive 16-11 showing in August, and they still have three more games with the Dodgers and seven more with the Giants, including a four-game series in San Francisco to close out the year.
Provided they can keep playing at a high level and push to get their record to .500, the Padres figure to play a significant role in helping decide who claims the NL West title.
Milwaukee Brewers Claim No. 2 NL Wild-Card Spot
The wheels have started to fall off the wagon for the Milwaukee Brewers after so many days in first place, as a seven-game losing streak has them out of the top spot for the first time since Apr. 4.
The starting rotation that has been so reliable all season has been hit hard of late, while the offense was dealt a blow when outfielder Carlos Gomez was sidelined with a sprained wrist.
A big four-game series this weekend with the St. Louis Cardinals in Milwaukee could very well be the turning point in their season, as they look to right the ship against the new division leader.
"The Brewers have battled the perception that they're overachieving all season long, and with a 53-56 record from May 1 on, they're not gaining many converts," wrote Jorge Ortiz of USA Today. "The division is very much up for grabs, but the Brewers are not exactly charging after it."
The Cardinals simply look like the better team at this point and have to be considered the favorites to come away with the NL Central title, but the Brewers still have the talent to get in as a wild card.
San Francisco Giants Claim No. 1 NL Wild-Card Spot
The Giants have trimmed the Los Angeles Dodgers' lead in the NL West to just two games thanks to a 12-5 hot streak, but they still have their work cut out for them.
They still have six games head-to-head with the Dodgers, seven games with a solid San Diego Padres team and a three-game series with the Detroit Tigers this coming weekend.
"The division crown seemed out of reach as recently as last Monday, when the Giants fell to five games back, but the current surge has made it quite achievable," wrote Jorge Ortiz of USA Today. "The six remaining games with the Dodgers will probably provide the final say."
With Buster Posey and the rest of the offense hitting well, and the starting rotation picking things up behind Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy, this team should be able to secure a wild-card spot at the very least.
They'll make it interesting down to the wire, but we'll say they wind up hosting the Wild Card Game, where Bumgarner will be as tough a draw as anyone the way he's been pitching of late.
St. Louis Cardinals Win NL Central, No. 3 Seed in National League
Despite putting up a minus-four run differential on the season and falling well short of expectations in a number of areas, the St. Louis Cardinals still find themselves in first place in the NL Central here in September.
The offense has finally picked things up over the past few weeks, with Matt Holliday catching fire and all-world catcher Yadier Molina returning to the lineup.
On the pitching side of things, the dead arm issues Adam Wainwright is dealing with are a concern, but it is better to face this issue now than in the playoffs. The return of Michael Wacha on Thursday should give the staff a boost as well, while an expanded bullpen gives Mike Matheny more ability to play matchups.
Provided Wainwright can move past his arm issues, the Cardinals look to be gearing up to play their best baseball of the season down the stretch, and they are the pick to win the NL Central at this point.
Los Angeles Dodgers Win NL West, No. 2 Seed in National League
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been banged up all season, but with Juan Uribe and Hyun-Jin Ryu back from the disabled list, they are as close to full strength as they have been all season heading into September.
The recent offensive struggles of Yasiel Puig, who hit just .216/.296/.247 with zero home runs and four RBI in August, are certainly a concern. So too is the health of Hanley Ramirez, as he has battled injuries for much of the season, though he is relatively healthy at the moment.
All that said, this team still holds a two-game lead in the NL West and features arguably the best one-two punch in baseball atop the rotation in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
The San Francisco Giants are going to make it interesting, but the Dodgers' horses come to life down the stretch and help them bring home a second-straight NL West title.
Washington Nationals Win NL East, No. 1 Seed in National League
The Washington Nationals made their case as the team to beat in the National League when they rattled off a 10-game winning streak in the middle of August.
They are currently facing off with perhaps their biggest competition for that title in the Los Angeles Dodgers. The teams have split the first two games of a three-game series in LA.
The offense has no clear holes since the acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera. The starting rotation is one of the best in the business with Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann leading the way, and the bullpen features perhaps the strongest relief trio in the NL in Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano.
On paper, this looks like the best team in the National League, and their on-field performance of late has backed that up. They are already running away with the NL East, and they look like the odds-on favorite to claim home-field advantage as well.
Seattle Mariners Claim No. 2 AL Wild-Card Spot
The second AL wild-card spot is a tough one to call, as it figures to come down to the Seattle Mariners and whoever doesn't win the AL Central between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.
It's a tough road ahead for the M's, as they have four games each with the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A's and Toronto Blue Jays, but they actually have a winning record against all three of those teams on the year.
The offense is never going to be capable of carrying this team, but they don't need to, as the pitching staff boasts an MLB-best 3.06 team ERA. With Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma anchoring the rotation and probably the best bullpen in baseball top-to-bottom, the staff is more than capable of shouldering the load.
As a baseball fan, I'm genuinely rooting for the Royals to snap their postseason drought, but it's hard to pick against the Mariners at this point.
Oakland Athletics Claim No. 1 AL Wild-Card Spot
After looking like the best team in baseball for several months, the Oakland A's are limping to the finish line, going just 7-15 in their last 22 games and winning back-to-back games just once during that span.
That said, this team is still 20 games over .500 and 4.5 games up with the No. 1 wild-card spot in the American League, so it's still hard to see them missing the playoffs entirely at this point.
The free fall in offensive production is obviously a concern, but on the strength of its starting pitching alone, this team should be able to make its way into October.
The Los Angeles Angels are running with the AL West at this point, but the A's are still the pick for a home game in the Wild Card Round, where they would have an interesting decision about which pitcher to start.
Detroit Tigers Win AL Central, No. 3 Seed in American League
A 19-9 month of August by the Kansas City Royals cost the Detroit Tigers 4.5 games in the standings and first place in the AL Central, but they still look like the team to beat at this point.
The Tigers closed out the month hot and are now 8-3 in their last 11 games. That leaves them just a half-game back in the standings with six games left against the Royals head-to-head, and they are 9-4 against them already this season.
A rotation led by David Price, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello is still one of the best in baseball, while the offense has no real holes and is paced by two of the best in the game in Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Even the bullpen has been better of late, with Al Albuquerque and Blaine Hardy emerging as a solid setup duo, and Joe Nathan locking down 10-of-11 saves since the break.
The Royals are not simply going to disappear. Their pitching is too good for that to happen, but the Tigers' experience is enough to make them the pick to come away with the AL Central title down the stretch.
Baltimore Orioles Win AL East, No. 2 Seed in American League
If you told me at the beginning of the season that the Baltimore Orioles would not only be leading the AL East heading into the final month but would have the biggest division lead in baseball, I would have been skeptical to say the least.
Yet here we are in September with the O's boasting a 9.5-game lead over the New York Yankees in the division and coming off a brilliant month of August, one which saw them go 19-9 with an MLB-best plus-48 run differential.
The starting rotation has taken a lot of criticism over the past few years, but it has been rock-solid in the second half, and Chris Tillman has been an absolute stud. They lead all of baseball in home runs, and they are still one of the best defensive teams around. As long as the pitching holds up, they are in great shape.
How well this team is built to contend in October remains to be seen, but it should have no trouble putting away its first AL East title since 1997.
Los Angeles Angels Win AL West, No. 1 Seed in American League
At 15-5 in their last 20 games, the Angels may be the hottest team in baseball entering the final month of the season, and they have built a 4.5-game lead in the AL West as a result.
Losing ace Garrett Richards looked like a potential dagger, but they are 8-4 since he went down, and the rotation looks as strong as ever behind breakout rookie Matt Shoemaker.
The offense is among the best in baseball, averaging 4.68 runs per game, and the bullpen has become a legitimate strength since Jason Grilli and Huston Street were added to the mix.
There are some questions as to how the postseason rotation will shape up and whether it can contend in October against the staffs that teams like Detroit and Oakland can run out in a series, but this looks like the best team in baseball right now and a safe bet to claim home-field advantage in the American League.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through Tuesday, Sep. 2.
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