Baseball's ceremonial halfway mark arrives with the upcoming All-Star festivities, but, as you know, we've already encountered the mathematical midpoint. And when you look at that cluster of clubs still very much in the mix for a playoff spot (every American League team entered Wednesday within at least seven games of the second Wild Card), you wonder if we've learned anything definitive about this 2015 season.
But that's what makes the second half so exciting. Here, a few educated guesses as to how things will go down in the next few months.
1. Cole Hamels will go to the Dodgers
There is talk in the industry right now that the Phillies might actually hold onto Hamels for the rest of the season while new president Andy MacPhail gets a feel for the organization, and then make the long-anticipated move to trade him this winter.
On the one hand, this makes sense, because if the Phillies are going to go in a different direction at general manager, as many suspect, why would they have Ruben Amaro behind the wheel for such a franchise-shaping swap?
On the other hand, holding onto Hamels past July 31 would be absolutely nuts. The free-agent market is going to be flooded with arms, and the Phillies are going to run into the same issues they ran into last winter.
So this is the time to make the best deal they can possibly make, and the Dodgers make perfect sense.
With Zack Greinke pitching his way into opt-out riches (joining that aforementioned flooded free-agent market), the Dodgers can ensure they continue to have an elite pair atop their rotation in 2016 and beyond while aligning a division-clinching, October-shifting threesome of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels in the short-term. They certainly have the finances to handle Hamels' deal, and they've got the prospects to make this trade without giving up Corey Seager and Julio Urias.
Whether it's Hamels or a more moderate upgrade to their wobbly back end of the rotation, a Dodgers team with an 8-18 record against clubs that hit the midweek mark with a winning record needs some assistance.
2. The Mets will get serious about 2015
Standing pat and expecting this loaded rotation to be enough to clinch an October spot would be foolish. The Mets have scored the second-fewest runs in baseball going back to the beginning of June, and, for the season, they've grounded into double plays more frequently than they've homered. This is not an October-worthy offense, as any Mets fan can attest.
So even if the Mets aren't going to give up a young, controllable stud pitcher like a Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard to bring back a young, controllable position player, they should, at the very least, take on some salary if it's attached to a bat that can potentially provide a boost.
Ben Zobrist is the oft-cited, versatile fix that the Mets would have to overpay for, in terms of the prospect price. But what about Aramis Ramirez, who has an .841 OPS over the last month? The Brewers' main motivation would be to shed the roughly $7 million he still has coming to him in what is expected to be his final season.
The question, as always, is to what financial lengths the Mets are willing to go to here. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but I expect the Mets to make a move aimed at helping out that loaded pitching staff on the offensive end.
That said, I'm still not picking them to win the National League East or a Wild Card spot. I said they'd make a move, not the right move.
3. The Blue Jays will end baseball's longest October drought
Man, if you could combine the Mets' pitching staff with the Blue Jays' offense, you'd have a juggernaut. Alas, Toronto might waste the game's best collection of bats if it doesn't land a quality arm or three between now and the Trade Deadline.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos is in the last year of his contract and already made successfully aggressive moves for Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. He might have given a window into his thinking with regard to the Deadline when he quoted Warren Buffet during an interview with a Toronto radio station: "It's better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."
In other words, look for the Blue Jays to be in on the top-of-the-market arms available this month (Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija … probably not Hamels, though). And if they pull one off, they can and will win the wide-open AL East.
4. The Tigers will run out of gas
Not exactly a bold prediction with Miguel Cabrera out of the picture for up to six weeks, but I might have made it even if he were still aboard. There's just a certain spark absent from this club this year, and maybe the looseness Torii Hunter once brought to the clubhouse is missing.
What's really missing is a consistent starting staff. And even if Dave Dombrowski is able to work his characteristic Trade Deadline magic to help the rotation and/or bullpen, the Tigers will still have to count on quality innings from Alfredo Simon (who went backward in the second half in Cincinnati last year and has labored leading up to the break) and Justin Verlander (who has been knocked around a bit since his return from the disabled list). Because they can't replace Cabrera's run production, it's all the more important the Tigers improve their run prevention.
The Tigers would have to go into an epic losing streak between now and July 31 to start dangling pending free agents David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Simon. Even if the long-term forecast might call for the Tigers to become the next Phillies, they're going to continue to go for it, because that's what you do when you have a competitive, soon-to-be-86-year-old owner (Mike Ilitch) and a competitive GM in the last year of his contract. I just don't think this 2015 club has what it takes to win a fifth straight Central title, and even a Wild Card spot is in doubt.
5. Houston will hold on
The Astros have the third-lowest average age in the big leagues, with no regulars in their current lineup or rotation older than 29. Beyond the youth is the simple fact that there's not a whole heck of a lot of postseason experience on that Houston roster, so this team will be tested in new ways down the stretch, as it looks to put an exclamation point on what has already been a dramatic rise in the standings.
It bears repeating, though, that no team in the AL West (and perhaps no team in baseball) has a better combination of trade resources and financial flexibility than these Astros. Their farm system is deep enough to put them in play for any starting option the market might bear, and the rotation will obviously be the focus for Jeff Luhnow and Co., especially with Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez on track to reach unprecedented innings territory.
The Astros likely have to do something, because the Angels are looming close behind and we can't rule out the Rangers making another run at them, too. Also, a power-reliant lineup will hit some snags, as we've seen this week. But I think the Astros will get it done.
6. Three big winter buyers will turn into summer sellers
That aforementioned AL cluster means it's not dark yet for the Mariners and White Sox. But it's hard to be too optimistic about either club's offense suddenly taking flight. And the Padres remain every bit as frustrating under Pat Murphy as they were under Bud Black. Their flaws were in roster construction, not management.
I don't expect the M's and Sox to totally blow things up when they punt on '15, but Seattle should definitely feel out the market for Hisashi Iwakuma if he proves he's healthy enough to help a contending club. And with the market as tight as it is, one would think the Sox could get back a return for Samardzija that exceeds the worth of the Draft-pick compensation that would be attached to him.
The Padres are the ones who stand to reap the biggest benefit from their also-ran status, because Justin Upton (if healthy) can be the all-too-rare game-changing bat available in the midseason marketplace. But here, too, a major overhaul -- a la moving Craig Kimbrel or Andrew Cashner (or any move that will free up money as Matt Kemp's contract becomes more onerous) -- seems more likely in the offseason than in-season.
7. Wade Davis will give up five runs in the second half
And his ERA+ -- currently at an unfathomable 1,637 -- will come down to a more fathomable level. Despite this adversity, the Royals will manage to win the AL Central, anyway.
That doesn't mean a Twins team powered by Miguel Sano and their best rotation ERA since 1991 or an Indians team with a high-upside starting staff won't keep them honest, especially with the Royals lineup prone to some slumbering stretches. But yes, there will be October baseball in Kansas City again this year.
8. The Cardinals will lose their NL Central lead …
Only to gain it back in the season's last week and win the division yet again.
I'm not dumb enough to pick against the Cards after their absurd start, but that start does beg for some perspective. I have a very hard time believing St. Louis pitchers are going to maintain a sub-.200 batting average against with runners in scoring position, something that has not been done in at least 40 years, per STATS LLC. I have a very hard time believing the Cards' pitching staff will carry a full-season ERA below 3.00, something that hasn't been done since 1989. I have a very hard time believing the Cardinals are going to win 100-plus games, something that hasn't been done since 2011.
The Cards are thin enough in the depth department that they can't afford another rotation injury, and we have to see what kind of staying power Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez possess as they both venture into new innings terrain. We also have to see what John Mozeliak does to address the pitiful production the Cardinals are getting from first base.
None of this is a big knock on the Cards, because, again, I think they're going to win the Central. But I also think they're going to be pushed every step of the way by the Pirates and Cubs, who they'll face within the season's last 10 days and who will ultimately face off in the NL Wild Card Game.
9. Bryce Harper will go on the DL …
And he'll win the NL MVP Award anyway.
I'm just playing the percentages here. Harper had injury issues in '13 and '14, and he's battled a bunch of minor leg problems this season. He also plays baseball for the Washington Nationals, who have found it impossible to field their projected lineup this season with Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth all dealing with injury issues of varying degrees. Harper-to-the-DL is not my wish, but, all things considered, it's my best guess.
Still, I expect Harper to log enough playing time and production to seal his MVP standing in what has really been a transcendent year for the 22-year-old. As much as I (and I'm sure you) would have loved to see him swing for the fences at Great American Small Park, he was wise to abstain from the Home Run Derby to give his body a little bit of a break.
Oh, and yes, the Nats are going to win the East, despite all this adversity. The only question is will they be healthy enough to ascend through October?
10. The Red Sox will win a Wild Card spot
Less Mike Napoli, more Brock Holt at third, with Pablo Sandoval at first (against righties, at least). The return of Dustin Pedroia. The continued emergence of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. An upgrade in status for Rick Porcello, from pungent to passable. A deal from the outfield excess that brings in some starting support.
None of these things are inconceivable, and together they'd be enough to keep the Red Sox competitive enough to vie for a postseason spot after an inordinately frustrating first half.
Of course, I've been wrong before. Like when I picked these same Red Sox to win the AL East.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.