10 Bold Predictions for 2nd Half of the 2021 MLB Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2021

10 Bold Predictions for 2nd Half of the 2021 MLB Season

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    In this week's B/R MLB community article, we had readers offer their best bold predictions for the second half of the 2021 MLB season.

    Now it's my turn for some prognostication on how the final months of the season will unfold.

    Ahead we've touched on stat leaders, award winners, trade-deadline deals, surprise contenders, and everything in between.

    The idea was to be bold while remaining grounded in reality.

Robbie Ray Leads the AL in Strikeouts

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    Robbie Ray
    Robbie RayJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays made a brilliant investment when they re-signed Robbie Ray to a one-year, $8 million contract during the offseason.

    The 29-year-old struggled through a brutal 2020 that included a 6.62 ERA and 45 walks in 51.2 innings, but he fared better in five appearances with the Blue Jays after heading over from Arizona in a deadline deal.

    By any measure, 2021 has been the best year of his career.

    The southpaw has a 3.13 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 100.2 innings, and perhaps most important of all, he has slashed his walk rate from an untenable 17.9 percent to a career-low 6.2 percent.

    His 130 strikeouts are tied for second in the AL with Shane Bieber, who is on the injured list. Gerrit Cole sits atop the list with 147 punchouts, but he has tallied double-digit strikeouts just once in his last 10 starts after doing it five times in his first eight outings.

    The high strikeout total is nothing new for Ray. He had 235 strikeouts in 174.1 innings in 2019, and even when he struggled to find the strike zone last season, he still racked up 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

    The X-factor could be how quickly Bieber returns from a shoulder injury, but Ray has a real chance of finishing the year atop the leaderboard.

Jarren Duran Receives Multiple Votes for AL Rookie of the Year

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It did not take Jarren Duran long to emerge as one of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox system after they selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB draft.

    He hit .357/.394/.516 with 28 extra-base hits and 24 steals in 67 games in his pro debut, and he has continued to impress while climbing the organizational ladder since.

    The 24-year-old was assigned to Triple-A Worcester to start the season, and he hit .270/.365/.561 with 15 home runs, 32 RBI and 12 steals in 46 games, and he stepped away from the team briefly to play for Team USA in the Olympics qualifying tournament.

    It was announced Wednesday that he would be promoted to the majors to start the second half, and he should have an opportunity to earn the starting center field job.

    With his mix of power, speed and overall polish, Duran has a chance to make an immediate impact for a first-place team.

    Texas Rangers standout Adolis Garcia has a big head-start in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but Duran has the talent and exposure in a major market to work his way onto ballots by the time the 2021 season ends.

Paul Goldschmidt Enters the NL MVP Conversation

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    For a player who was once a perennial MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt has put up pedestrian numbers this season.

    The 33-year-old is hitting .265/.335/.432 with 15 doubles, 13 home runs and 49 RBI in 373 plate appearances, and after making six straight All-Star appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was absent from the NL roster for a third straight year.

    Two seasons into his five-year, $130 million contract, the St. Louis Cardinals need improved production from him, and there's reason to believe it's coming.

    Goldschmidt ranks among the MLB leaders in average exit velocity (95th percentile) and hard-hit rate (97th percentile), and he's putting the ball in play more with a 20.4 percent strikeout rate that is well below his career average.

    He entered the All-Star break working on a 10-game hitting streak, during which time he batted .400/.478/.625 with five extra-base hits, and that could be a stepping stone for a big second-half performance.

Bobby Witt Jr. Is the New No. 1 Prospect in Baseball

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    Bobby Witt Jr.
    Bobby Witt Jr.Gabe Christus/Associated Press

    With 69 more at-bats in the big leagues, Tampa Bay Rays phenom Wander Franco will exit the prospect ranks, creating a void atop leaguewide top-100 prospect lists.

    Spencer Torkelson (DET), Adley Rutschman (BAL), Julio Rodriguez (SEA), Marco Luciano (SF) and Grayson Rodriguez (BAL) are among the candidates to move into the No. 1 spot.

    However, it's Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. who has made the most compelling case to be baseball's next top prospect.

    After going 11-for-38 with three home runs during spring training to at least make the Royals consider including him on the Opening Day roster, he is flat-out raking at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

    The 21-year-old is hitting .301/.379/.575 with 28 extra-base hits, 15 home runs, 46 RBI and 43 runs scored in 56 games, and while a promotion to Triple-A could be forthcoming, the Royals have no reason to rush him to the majors and start his service-time clock on a non-contender.

    He could get a cup of coffee in September, but expect him to still hold prospect status heading into the 2022 season. He'll get a long look for the starting shortstop job next spring.

Craig Kimbrel Is the Only Major Piece Moved by the Chicago Cubs

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    Craig Kimbrel
    Craig KimbrelGregory Bull/Associated Press

    By and large, Chicago Cubs fans despised the offseason trade of Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres.

    That deal brought back a solid package of prospects, headlined by Reginald Preciado and Owen Caissie, who will both be among the team's top 10 prospects when our rankings are updated later this week. It also brought Zach Davies, who has a solid 4.37 ERA in 92.2 innings.

    From a value standpoint, it was a perfectly reasonable return for Darvish given his hefty $23 million salary, but it was never going to be well-received.

    Now imagine how the fanbase would react to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo being traded for even less exciting packages, given their rental status.

    General manager Jed Hoyer knows the optics of what could be a pivotal summer for the franchise, and the team's best move might be to simply hold on to that trio, extend each a qualifying offer and load up on draft picks in 2022 when they sign elsewhere.

    Flipping All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel ahead of a $16 million club-option decision for 2022 makes perfect sense, and he should bring back a nice return. The 33-year-old has a 0.57 ERA, 0.66 WHIP and 15.3 K/9 with 20 saves in 33 appearances.

    Don't be surprised if everyone else stays put after being shopped at a high price.

Trevor Story Lands with the Chicago White Sox at the Trade Deadline

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    Trevor Story
    Trevor StoryGabriel Christus/Associated Press

    It's no secret the Chicago White Sox need help at second base.

    With rookie Nick Madrigal on the shelf following a season-ending hamstring injury, the light-hitting duo of Danny Mendick and Leury Garcia has split time at the keystone for the last month.

    Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported on June 27 that Arizona Diamondbacks veteran Eduardo Escobar was "on his way" to the White Sox, but nothing has been finalized, and it stands to reason that several contenders could be interested in the versatile slugger.

    If he lands elsewhere, the White Sox could aim higher and make a run at Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story to plug the middle infield void.

    The 28-year-old will be a free agent at season's end, and he tallied 18 doubles, 11 home runs, 42 RBI and 17 steals during the first half before putting on a show in front of the home fans in the Home Run Derby.

    He won't come cheaply, but since he's a two-month rental, the White Sox should be able to get a deal done without giving up right-hander Jared Kelley or outfielder Yoelqui Cespedes. Pitching prospects Jonathan Stiever, Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist would presumably be of interest to the Rockies, while a healthy Micker Adolfo (after two elbow surgeries, albeit as an outfielder) is another prospective centerpiece.

    Ideally, incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson could be convinced to temporarily slide over to second base. Story is a vastly superior defender at shortstop but would likely have to defer to one of the faces of the franchise on the South Side.

    If the White Sox want to make a splash, this is it.

Fernando Tatis Jr. Does Something That Hasn't Happened Since 1932

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    Fernando Tatis Jr.
    Fernando Tatis Jr.Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press

    How rare is the combination of power and speed that Fernando Tatis Jr. possesses?

    The San Diego Padres superstar entered the All-Star break leading the National League in home runs (28) and steals (20), putting him on pace for a 49-homer, 35-steal season.

    The 22-year-old would be the first player since Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Chuck Klein in 1932 to lead the AL or NL in both categories, according to AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. Jimmy Sheckard (1903) and Ty Cobb (1909) are the only other players to do it in the modern era. And both of those guys only needed nine homers to pace their circuits.

    His 28 home runs are three more than Washington Nationals outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who went on a power surge of 16 home runs in 18 games to narrow the gap but then hit the IL with a hamstring strain. The only other player within striking distance is Ronald Acuna Jr. with 24, and he is out for the season with a torn ACL.

    Steals might be the biggest question mark.

    Trea Turner is arguably the fastest player in baseball, and he's just one theft behind, with 19 steals in 22 attempts. He ranks third in the majors with 110 hits and has a solid .365 on-base percentage, giving him ample opportunity to add to his total.

    If the milestone is within reach when September rolls around, expect Tatis to take a more aggressive approach on the basepaths.

Freddy Peralta Throws a No-Hitter

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    Freddy Peralta
    Freddy PeraltaGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Pitching behind Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation, Freddy Peralta is the best No. 3 starter in baseball.

    The 25-year-old is having a breakout season, posting a 2.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 135 strikeouts in 98 innings, and his .131 opponents' batting average trails only Jacob deGrom (.126) among all qualified pitchers.

    He has held opponents to just one hit in multiple appearances already this year:

    • April 6: 5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 K
    • April 30: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
    • May 11: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
    • June 4: 7.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 K
    • June 22: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 10 K

    With his six other starts in which he has allowed only two hits, it's fair to say he has had potential no-hit stuff on multiple occasions.

    In a year when we've already seen seven no-hitters, Peralta seems like as good a bet as anyone to join the party in the coming months.

The Seattle Mariners Make the Playoffs

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners have missed the postseason for 19 straight seasons.

    That goes all the way back to the magical 2001 team that won 116 games and was led by rookie sensation Ichiro Suzuki.

    Most viewed the M's as a team on the rise when the season began, poised to steadily climb the standings as a talent-rich farm system provided a steady influx of young talent to the MLB roster. Still, they seemed a few years removed from legitimate contention.

    That was a spot-on assessment in mid-June as the team hovered around .500. But after ending the first half with a 17-8 record in their last 25 games, the Mariners are suddenly five games over .500 and just 3.5 games back in the wild-card standings.

    Top prospect Cal Raleigh joined the MLB roster right before the break, and he should provide an in-house upgrade at catcher. He's the first of what could be a handful of call-ups in the coming weeks, which will include Jarred Kelenic, as general manager Jerry Dipoto told 710 ESPN that the outfielder will rejoin the big league club Friday.

    A run at trading for a controllable arm like Jose Berrios, Kyle Hendricks or German Marquez would make a ton of sense and would improve the club for the stretch run and beyond.

    The front office undoubtedly feels the weight of that drought, so expect some moves to upgrade the roster if they pick up where they left off when the second half begins.

Joey Gallo Slugs the San Diego Padres to the NL West Title

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    Joey Gallo
    Joey GalloCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Joey Gallo closed the first half on a home run binge, going deep 11 times in his final 12 games.

    The 27-year-old slugger has emerged as more than just an all-or-nothing home run hitter, leading the American League with 72 walks en route to a .402 on-base percentage and a 153 OPS+ to go with 24 long balls.

    Add that to his stellar defense in right field, and he's been worth 4.0 WAR in 84 games, which ranks sixth among all AL players.

    With the Texas Rangers in the early stages of a rebuild and Gallo headed for his final year of arbitration next season, it's time to sell high if they don't intend to pursue an extension. The San Diego Padres are among the teams that could inquire about a potential trade.

    "Padres general manager A.J. Preller was with Texas when Gallo was drafted, and opposing executives expect San Diego to be interested," wrote Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

    The Padres rank 12th in the majors with 4.6 runs per game, and assuming Darvish's hip doesn't cause him to miss significant time in the starting rotation, adding a power bat could be the club's top priority at the deadline. Shifting Eric Hosmer (97 OPS+, 7 HR, 41 RBI) and Wil Myers (113 OPS+, 10 HR, 37 RBI) into a platoon of sorts at first base would open up right field.

    The NL West will be a three-way battle all season, and the Padres trail the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in the standings. With a terrific pitching staff and the superstar duo of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado in place, Gallo could be the missing piece that pushes them over the top.