MLB Predictions for Stretch Run of 2022 Regular Season
The Major League Baseball season is in its stretch run midway through September. It's the time of year when records are being chased and awards positioning is solidified.
This season particularly is compelling with Aaron Judge chasing Roger Maris' home run record, Shohei Ohtani continuing to do things we've never seen and Justin Verlander's stunning comeback from Tommy John surgery at age 39.
All three of those stars are up for either MVP or Cy Young. Let's make some predictions for this stretch run of the season.
Luis Arráez, Jeff McNeil win batting titles
Both players were top-two in batting average for their respective leagues as of Wednesday. Luis Arráez was atop the American League with a .319, while Jeff McNeil's .323 average trailed only Freddie Freeman.
Arráez and McNeil are both having their best seasons since 2019, when Arráez was a rookie and McNeil was named to his first All-Star team.
They are competing against more accomplished players.
Arráez has Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Judge and José Abreu on his heels. McNeil is chasing Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt is right behind them.
But these two should get their opportunities to take home a batting title down the stretch. The Minnesota Twins and New York Mets have two of the five easiest remaining schedules, according to Tankathon.
Albert Pujols hits 700th career home run
Albert Pujols is having one of the best swan songs in baseball history. He moved to fourth on the all-time home run list with his 697th career homer Sunday.
It was his third of the month and 11th since Aug. 10. Before then, Pujols had not hit more than three homers in any month this season. He's clearly on a roll now.
The St. Louis Cardinals also have eight games against the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers (including Wednesday) left, and both teams are prone to giving up the long ball.
Pujols won't get higher than fourth on the list, but this sets up perfectly for him to continue to be on pace for 700.
Andrés Giménez goes 20-20
After a slow start to his time in Cleveland, Andrés Giménez has emerged into the star intended to be the centerpiece of the Francisco Lindor trade in 2021.
The first few weeks of last season were so underwhelming, Cleveland sent him down to Triple-A for the summer.
Now, Giménez projects to be their shortstop of the future depending on what the Guardians do with Amed Rosario, who at the time was viewed as a throw-in of the Lindor trade but proved to be one of the team's best players.
With 16 home runs and 18 stolen bases as of Wednesday, Giménez is likely to hit the 20 mark in both categories. He would be in impressive company. The other 20-20 players this year: Kyle Tucker, Trea Turner, Marcus Semien, Adolis García and rookies Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodríguez.
The first-time All-Star is elite on the basepaths, ranking in the 94th percentile in sprint speed, according to Baseball Savant. The Guardians have seven combined games left against the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, who are susceptible to giving up stolen bases.
They also have 11 combined games left against the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, who are susceptible to giving up the long ball.
Aaron Judge breaks Roger Maris' home run record
After Aaron Judge hit his 56th and 57th home runs with 20 games to spare Tuesday night, it made this the easiest prediction to make.
At this point, it seems more likely Judge breaks Roger Maris' franchise and American League record of 61 homers in a season. Not getting there would be a major disappointment.
Remember, Judge hit double-digit home runs for three straight months (May-July) before hitting nine in August. He has six through 11 games in September.
Even if he gets a day off, it's reasonable to expect Judge to hit more than four over the final 20 games.
What will be interesting to observe is how Judge's record is treated in public discourse once he gets it.
Some purists will view him as the rightful all-time record holder, with the idea that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds are tainted.
But Shohei Ohtani Swoops in for second straight AL MVP
As impressive as it will be for Judge to break Maris' home run record in a contract year, it still won't be enough to wrangle AL MVP from Shohei Ohtani.
The Los Angeles Angels slugger/ace is simply more valuable than any other individual baseball player. That the Angels just clinched their seventh straight losing season with two MVPs on their roster is a credit to how much of a team game baseball is.
Last Saturday, Ohtani recorded his 12th win as a starting pitcher this season. During that performance, he lit up the radar gun for a 101.4 mph fastball, the highest velocity pitch of his career.
The next day, Ohtani hit his 34th home run.
Judge is still the betting favorite, and playing on a World Series contender as opposed to the Angels works in his favor. But Ohtani as a complete anomaly is too good for voters to ignore.
Framber Valdez breaks Jacob deGrom's 26 straight quality starts record
Framber Valdez tied the major league record for quality starts Monday night with a shutout against the Detroit Tigers. It was also his first career shutout.
His All-Star season has been overshadowed by Justin Verlander stepping in a time machine and turning in a Cy Young-worthy campaign, coming off Tommy John surgery at age 39.
The Astros also remain villains across baseball, even though they've continued to have success past the sign-stealing scandal. It's easy to overlook a staff with the second-lowest ERA and a rotation with the highest WAR.
Verlander and Valdez rank fifth and 14th, respectively, among starting pitchers in WAR.
Valdez's 24 straight quality starts this season equal Jacob deGrom's mark in 2018. DeGrom's overall quality start streak is 26, spanning 2018-19.
Valdez's next scheduled start is Sunday when Houston hosts the Oakland Athletics, who have been pesky against the Astros this year but are still one of the worst offensive teams in baseball.
Justin Verlander gets back on AL Cy Young track
Speaking of Justin Verlander, he's back after spending the last couple of weeks on the injured list. The Astros ace suffered a calf injury that landed him on the list since Aug. 28.
His 1.84 ERA remains the lowest in baseball, despite missing time and the Astros working with a six-man rotation. Verlander is tied with Shane McClanahan for the lowest WHIP in MLB this year.
McClanahan and Dylan Cease appeared to have a chance to move Verlander out of the AL Cy Young race.
But the future Hall of Famer will have a few opportunities to leave a final impression after being the favorite for most of the season.
The last time he was healthy, Verlander won the award, competing with then-teammate Gerrit Cole in 2019. It would be Verlander's third Cy Young of his career.