Thanks to Robinson Cano, without whose home run the All-Star Game might still be going on, we are officially in the second half of the Major League season. We know the Dodgers and Astros are in the conversation for best team in baseball. We know the Nationals are but an entire bullpen change away from saying the same. We can count out some expected also-rans and even some surprise ones in the Giants and Mets.
Everything else in the standings is one big shrug emoji.
So here are five predictions for the rest of the way. I'll have plenty of time to get my October predictions wrong later. For now, let's focus on what I can get wrong for the remainder of the regular season.
1. Yes, the Brewers will hold on in the National League Central … and I think you know what that might mean.
Because the Rockies still possess a 7 1/2-game edge in the NL Wild Card race even after taking on some water late in the first half, that might mean the Cubs getting left off the October dance card -- a thought that would have been unthinkable on Opening Day and, well, still seems pretty unthinkable, doesn't it?
I'm going to note here that this column originally ran before the Cubs pulled off that surprising swap for Jose Quintana. It's a trade that almost certainly improves a rotation that has shown its age and October/November wear and tear this year -- though to what degree remains to be seen, given that Quintana has only recently begun to turn his iffy year around.
So the big question: Can the Brewers really do this, especially after the Cubs upped the ante? I'm starting to believe, because they're starting to believe. It's amazing what confidence does for a club, and the Brewers have slowly been building a base of it as the season has evolved. They've got a power-packed offense even with Ryan Braun mostly on the shelf, their pitching staff -- shockingly -- has the best adjusted ERA (as measured by FanGraphs) in the division and internal upside if Josh Hader gets a starting shot, and they absolutely have the pieces in their system to get a controllable starter (Quintana's off the market, but Sonny Gray is still out there).
Maybe they make a trade that comes back to bite them. Maybe this is all too much, too soon. But don't dismiss the 51 wins as a fluke. The Brewers' plus-45 run differential suggests they are exactly where they ought to be, win-wise, and not the beneficiaries of wild luck (if anything, they've had bad luck, with seven extra-innings losses). This could happen, people!
2. The Rays will win the American League East.
You wanna get nuts, c'mon -- let's get nuts!
The Red Sox are an inherently safer selection here, not just because they currently have a 3 1/2-game lead on the Yankees and Rays but because they were the favorites in the East at the beginning of the year. The Sox are deeper, more star-laden, more experienced. FanGraphs gives them a 76.7 percent shot of nailing this thing down, and the Rays are given just a 5.5 percent chance.
But I'm using this space as my public plea not to overlook Kevin Cash's club, which won or tied 14 of its last 17 series before the break. The Rays have remained within four games of .500 for the entire length of the season, so they've just been kind of hovering -- not good enough to attract notice and not bad enough to start dealing away Chris Archer or others.
Still, this is one of the better offensive groups the Rays have ever had (and that's with their signature star, Evan Longoria, sitting on an OPS nearly 100 points lower than his mark from just a year ago). The Rays have the third-highest slugging percentage in the AL, getting boosts from the unexpectedly stellar seasons of Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison and a healthy, productive return from catcher Wilson Ramos. Their rotation is merely solid, not spectacular, but there's room for growth and there could be intrigue if screwball-tossing Futures Game MVP Brent Honeywell joins the mix (bring him up!). The bullpen likely needs some Trade Deadline help, but has gotten healthier with Brad Boxberger back. Kevin Kiermaier could be back in the lineup and catching everything in August.
Again, in all likelihood, the Red Sox pull away here. But luxury tax considerations could prevent them from taking on significant salary (and, ergo, a significant upgrade) at the Trade Deadline. The Yankees could pull this off, but do seem reluctant to really raid their farm system to cover over their warts, opting instead to look into the market for low-profile solutions.
It could be that the AL East remains compact for the duration of 2017, in which case the Rays have a good chance of getting hot at the right time and surprising people. And even if they don't win the division, the dynamics of the rest of the AL do lead you to believe they could maintain their current Wild Card spot.
3. The Trade Deadline won't be quite as bonkers as we want it to be.
Quintana has become the rare player dealt from one side of Chicago to the other. Gray will get dealt (I'll say Astros). J.D. Martinez will take his over-1.000 OPS elsewhere (I'll say Dodgers). Those are not small swaps. There will be plenty of player movement, just as there always is this time of year.
But by and large, this Deadline period will be light on what can seriously be advertised as "blockbuster" deals involving legitimate star players.
Justin Verlander makes too much money, and the Tigers would have to eat a ton of it to get something back. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole will both stay put in Pittsburgh, because there will be too much position-player stock available to justify the Pirates' asking price on Cutch and there's too little incentive for the Pirates to punt on Cole at this particular juncture. The Royals will keep their guys and go for it. The Marlins will listen on Marcell Ozuna but wait until their ownership situation is settled. Johnny Cueto's opt-out cause will create complication. Having cultivated a comfort level for him stateside, the Rangers are probably more likely to re-sign Yu Darvish than they are to deal him. The Blue Jays will move their more immediate pending free agents and not go the nuclear route with Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, etc. And unless the O's shock the world with Zach Britton (selling low, anyway), the closing market does not have an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman type, as it did a year ago.
Basically, it projects to be too much of a buyer's market, perhaps with some straight salary dumps, on the position-player side, and the stock of "ace" arms is too light/iffy on both the starting and relieving sides to make this the kind of Deadline period that lights up your world. Clubs will get better, but perhaps just incrementally so.
4. The Indians will win the AL Central by double digits.
This wouldn't have qualified as a bold prediction preseason -- but it does now, after the Tribe got off to a so-so start with a confusingly awful home record and inconsistency in the lineup and rotation. This has allowed the surprise Twins and sneaky Royals to hang around, and the Royals now appear pretty committed to giving their 2015 championship core one last shot at October rather than dealing away bodies at the Deadline.
But this is going to end just as we thought it would, with the Indians comfortably out in front. The rotation beyond staff stalwarts Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco has ample opportunity to straighten out as Danny Salazar makes some needed adjustments in the Minors and Trevor Bauer simplifies his repertoire. And whether or not a deal actually gets done, the Indians are going to leave no stone unturned in their investigation of the market for an impact arm in this win-now year. The offense should see improved consistency, especially if Francisco Lindor snaps out of a rare multi-month funk.
The Indians are the only Central club with a positive run differential. They are the only Central club with a "third-order winning percentage" (Baseball Prospectus' fancy way of adjusting win percentage for underlying stats and quality of competition) greater than .465 (the Tribe's at .619). They're just fine and will probably still run away with the Central, as advertised.
5. Aaron Judge will not win the AL MVP Award.
Let me be very clear about something: I very much want this prediction to be wrong. Only two rookies have won the AL MVP Award previously (Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001), so we're definitely due. A healthy Judge seems a lock to break the rookie home run record (49, Mark McGwire in 1987) and has a chance to break the rookie walks record (107, Ted Williams in 1939). This could potentially go down as the greatest rookie season of all-time, and there is absolutely no doubt that Judge is the AL MVP Award favorite at the break.
But a level-headed assessment of the situation causes you to pump the breaks just a little bit.
For one, Judge currently has what would qualify as the third-highest batting average on balls in play (.427) in the history of the game. Between pitchers attacking him differently and likely unavoidable regression in batted ball luck, Judge's rate numbers will come down a bit. He's also never played more than 131 games in a professional season, so some second-half fatigue -- especially under the national glare he earned for himself not just with his first half but his stunning Home Run Derby display -- seems reasonably likely.
Another thing, of course, is that we don't know the fate of Judge's Yankees. They're no sure bet of reaching the postseason (FanGraphs gives them a 54.8 percent chance), and, depending on the makeup of this year's MVP voting body, their fate could play a factor in Judge's cause, even though it shouldn't.
One factor working in Judge's favor right now is that the best team in the AL has three qualifiers with OPS+ marks of 160. But don't assume the Astros' MVP picture will be quite so complicated at year's end. The 1963 Giants, with Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, are the only club with three such guys in a full season. The most likely scenario is that one of those Houston guys separates himself before year's end (kind of like Kris Bryant pulling away from Anthony Rizzo in the second half last year). And that's before you even begin to consider the Indians' Jose Ramirez, the return of Mike Trout and other factors that might emerge in the AL (Chris Sale, perhaps?).
With all that in mind, I'm betting the under on Judge, and sincerely hoping I'm as wrong here as I'm likely to be with the others.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.