The mathematical midway point of the Major League season is the perfect time to bury those faulty preseason predictions and replace them with … entirely new, equally faulty in-season predictions!
I'm merely practicing for my "Final Predictions I Really Mean It This Time Seriously" piece, which is scheduled to run the evening of Saturday, Oct. 2.
1. The Cubs win the NL Central -- but not 100 games
To get to the vaunted 100 mark, the Cubs have to post at least a .607 winning percentage from here on out, which - news flash - is very doable for a club that ranks second in the Majors in wRC+, first in ERA and second in defensive runs saved. The Cubs are going to win their division - probably handily -- and I'm certain they'll land some relief help that will put them in good position for the long October run everybody is expecting.
But I'm going to bet against 100, for a few reasons.
One, 41.7 percent of the Cubs' games this season have been decided by five-plus runs, and, yes, the Cubs have won the vast majority of them (they're 28-7 in such games). That's a pretty crazy pace to keep up the length of the year, even if you do have a couple dogs in your division (for the record, the Cubs have a 10-13 record in one-run games).
Two, the Cubs just used a sixth starter for the first time all season on Wednesday - and they used Adam Warren by design. It's not safe to assume they'll have such a pristine run of health in that starting group over the full width of 162. And even if this rotation does stay healthy, it possesses the Majors' second-largest negative differential between its ERA and its Fielding Independent Pitching mark, which means there's probably some reckoning in order here.
Finally, there's this: The Cubs have already used up 13 of their 19 games against the Reds, who they won't face again until September. The Cubs are averaging 8.1(!) runs per game against Cincinnati pitching and 4.7 against everybody else (the NL average is 4.4). So as much as we love the depth and flexibility of this lineup, its overall numbers are certainly padded by that particular split.
I don't want to overreact to recent trends here (the Cubs have dropped five of their last seven series), because we all know the Cubs haven't been able to field their "first-team" lineup in several weeks. But I really just think the recent trend is an unavoidable correction that will continue, in some measure, in the second half.
The Cubs might have to settle for 99 wins and a division crown.
2. The Nationals land Jay Bruce, win NL East
The two elements of this subhed are not necessarily related. This club is certainly good enough to win the East even if it doesn't acquire Bruce. But Bruce wouldn't hurt the effort, and he might be the kind of piece the Nats need to ascend in October.
I've used this space in the recent past to match up Bruce and the Indians, but the looming return of Michael Brantley and better-than-expected performance from Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis and others could compel the Indians to firmly focus instead on relief help and possibly a utility type as they try to nail down the AL Central.
The Nats are going to be looking for relief help, too. We all know that. But with Ryan Zimmerman having such a brutal year and Michael Taylor not living up to the breakout potential so many of us prescribed for '16 (he was optioned out earlier this week), this club needs more offensive stability, as well. There would be defensive concessions associated with this move, no doubt. Bryce Harper would have to move to center field, even temporarily, and Bruce doesn't grade out particularly well in the corner anymore. That's not ideal. Maybe the Nats are content to let it ride in center with a combination of Ben Revere and shortstop prospect Trea Turner, who has recently begun getting some developmental time in center and might already have a Major League-ready stick.
But on a Nats team that has yet to get through the first round of the playoffs with this core, there's an argument to be made for adding another left-handed bat, more thump, more protection for Harper, etc. Bruce would fit the bill, and, with the Reds looking for controllable position players, Taylor could be used as a chip in such a swap.
3. The Indians and Rangers also hold on
Yeah, I know. Booooring.
Not to suggest the Indians are going to maintain the .735 winning clip they've produced since the start of June, but that rotation isn't going to let them go into the kind of prolonged rut it would take for any of the imperfect and/or injury riddled AL Central clubs to run them down. You just wonder what this small-market club with little, if any, financial wiggle room will do to put itself in a better position to advance in October.
And the Rangers are of course a really interesting Trade Deadline team. A couple scouts surveyed insist they've got better trade chips than any other club this summer -- yes, even after making the Cole Hamels swap a year ago. Will they add to the rotation, the bullpen or both? Injuries have struck a rotation that was already bound for some statistical regression, but we still haven't seen much from Yu Darvish this season. Anyway, this team is deep enough and the West lead is big enough that Texas should be pretty stable.
All right, so how about some divisional upheaval?
4. The Dodgers win the NL West
I don't claim to know how they do it. Clayton Kershaw's currently hurt (though he did respond well enough to an epidural to resume throwing ahead of schedule). The Dodgers don't have an elite offense or enough bullpen weapons ahead of Kenley Jansen. Their starting depth has been tested all year, and getting length from that group has been a concern and will continue to be a concern even as Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu get settled.
Plus, it's an even year, and the Giants, you might have noticed, are really, really good.
But when you're resource-rich and your Baseball Prospectus-calculated third-order winning percentage (which is basically what a team's record should be, based on run differential and strength of schedule and whatnot) is significantly higher than your actual winning percentage (.617 versus .558), there's reason to believe you can achieve greater traction in the not-too-distant future. Maybe that means a Yasiel Puig awakening or a rousing speech from Vin Scully or a move for a big bat or Kershaw feeling so good after that epidural that he's able to pitch every other day instead of every fifth.
The Giants will have to begin their World Series run in the Wild Card round.
Eh, whatever. They've done that before.
5. Jonathan Lucroy to the Red Sox
Lucroy is making $4 million this year and will make just $5.25 million via a team option in '17 - an extremely team-friendly arrangement for a catcher with a .299/.357/.484 slash and an adjusted OPS+ 21 percent better than the league norm this year. He is absolutely the best of the rebuilding Brewers' current trade chips, but that doesn't mean he's a lock to move this month. Teams in need of an injection of offense might do better than to acquire a guy who would be encountering the inevitable distraction of learning an entirely new pitching staff on the fly.
And besides, there just aren't many contending teams who have the combination of second-rate production from their current guy behind the dish and reason, be it financial or otherwise, to bail on that guy moving forward. The Indians, for example, aren't going to cut the cord with Yan Gomes, the Blue Jays aren't going to give up on Russell Martin, the Mets are going to give Travis d'Arnaud every opportunity to prove he can stay healthy and productive, etc.
But Boston's catching situation is nowhere near what it was purported or expected to be. Highly touted prospect Blake Swihart was moved to the outfield because of the depth at catcher and then sprained his ankle in early June. Christian Vazquez, a favorite working partner of several Red Sox pitchers, regressed on both sides of the ball, to the point that when Ryan Hanigan came off the DL earlier this week, Vazquez was optioned to Triple-A. The Red Sox decided to ride the hot hand in Sandy Leon, though it's debatable how long that hand will be hot.
Catcher trades are complicated for the reasons stated above. It's a lot to put on a guy to leap right in midstream, especially on a contending team. But the Red Sox need to do everything in their power to improve their pitching staff, and part of that process could involve improving the relay of information from the coaching staff (a staff that now, notably, includes analytics guru Brian Bannister). Lucroy would be an asset in this area, and he'd lengthen an already imposing lineup without having to serve as a focal point of said lineup. The Red Sox certainly have the pieces in their system to pull off such a trade. The question, of course, is whether they could or would do this in addition to upgrading the starting staff.
Despite all this …
6. The Blue Jays win the AL East again
It's a legitimate slugfest in the East this season, which means predicting the division title basically comes down to which pitching staff you trust the most.
The Red Sox have by far the best trade resources of the East contenders, but the thinness of the starting pitching market could impact their ability to get the complete boost they need in that particular area.
The Orioles have the best bullpen and have gotten further than anybody could have reasonably imagined, given the way their rotation thins out after Chris Tillman. But how long can that reasonably last? And do the O's have the trade pieces to add more quality innings? (I really should know better than to bet against Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter in an even year, but I guess I don't.)
Do I trust the Blue Jays? Not explicitly. Aaron Sanchez is going to run out of gas eventually, though you've got to respect the way Toronto is listening to his arm rather than some prescribed innings plan (the Blue Jays have let him make three eight-inning starts already). The bullpen needs at least another piece, and last year's farm system raid that ended a 22-year October drought will make it difficult to make a big splash.
But my crystal ball sees more downward action on Marcus Stroman's sinker in the second half, some wily under-the-radar pitching acquisition from Mark Shapiro (who specialized in the small swaps in his time in Cleveland) and an offense that has averaged about 1.5 more runs per game than its opponent over the last month-plus continuing to bash people into submission.
7. Neither 2015 World Series club makes the playoffs
This prediction would have been a bit more bold before the Royals suffered the injuries that have introduced us to the likes of Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, Brett Eibner and Brooks Pounders. Give Merrifield and Cuthbert particular credit for their part in keeping K.C. afloat, but the combination of bad luck, questionable depth to make an impact trade, an inconsistent rotation and a clicking Indians team make it doubtful the Royals will repeat as AL Central champs at this moment.
I'm going to guess the AL Wild Cards come from the East (Red Sox) and West (Astros), which leaves the Royals out of the running.
As for the Mets, they've played much better ball the past week. But big picture, I've never totally trusted this homer-reliant-and-now-David Wright-less Mets offense (Jose Reyes' arrival doesn't change that for me), and now we have reason to be at least slightly concerned about the health of the starting staff moving forward. The Mets just aren't likely to have the perfect alignment of late-July health and trade upgrades that they received last year.
So I'm going to stick with my preseason prediction, which is that the Nats win the division and the East club that claims a Wild Card is not the Mets but the Marlins. Yes, that's right …
8. The Marlins make the playoffs
Sticking to my preseason stance, even if the timing, thanks to the Mets taking two of three from the Fish this week, is slightly awkward.
The Marlins do have depth issues in their rotation, and, because of the state of their farm system, there is doubt they can make a significant upgrade there without subtracting from their Major League squad. But there is some potential improvement in-house, especially if Wei-Yin Chen reduces his home-run rate and gets closer to his career norm (a process that seems to be playing out in some recent starts). The Marlins will also get Dee Gordon back from his suspension soon, deepening the bench, if nothing else. And Giancarlo Stanton seems to have recalled that he is not, in fact, a pitcher, as his offensive performance in May and early June suggested, and is, in fact, Giancarlo Stanton, as these recent numbers suggest:
Giancarlo Stanton's last 5 ABs:- Daren Willman (@darenw) July 6, 2016
112.9 HR 439ft
113.1 HR 436ft
107.8 MPH 424ft HR
115.3 MPH 436ft HR@Marlins
9. The Yankees stand pat
Which means that all of our hot takes about the need for the Yanks to blow it up and throw up the white flag in-season for the first time since the Rickey Henderson trade will have been for naught. Bummer.
But look, do you really think we're going to have serious separation in the AL Wild Card field between now and Aug. 1? Heck, it's hard enough imagining that somebody's going to run away and hide in the AL East. The proximity to a playoff spot will embolden the Yankees' price tag on Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran and likely make it harder for Brian Cashman to convince ownership that selling these assets is in the organization's best interest in the long run (even if it is).
Beltran and Chapman are both worthy of a qualifying offer, which means the Yankees, at the very least, can acquire Draft pick compensation for them, and Miller can be counted on to hold his value into the winter, should the Yankees decide to make a more earnest rebuilding effort then. This is not a World Series team, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a team just mediocre enough to prevent the Yanks from totally rebranding themselves on the fly.
10. David Ortiz's career ends with his first batting title
Yeah, let's get nuts. As I write this, Big Papi's sporting a .337 mark that is second only to Jose Altuve at .352. Considering Ortiz is 40 years old, is plagued by foot problems, is a career .286 hitter and has a batting average on balls in play that is 41 points higher than his career norm, the odds of this prediction coming true are positively slim, if they exist at all.
But come on, don't you want to live in a world in which a guy who is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and another guy who is 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds can vie for the same individual athletic achievement?
Maybe we can will it to happen.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.