The 2021 MLB All-Star Game is in the books and the second half of the regular season is upon us. The trade deadline is two weeks away, and over the next 12 weeks pennants races and awards races will be decided. Some teams will make a surprise run to the postseason and others will collapse, and have to watch October from home.
A wise man once said you can't predict baseball, but I'm going to try anyway. Here are five bold predictions for the second half of the 2021 regular season.
1. Ohtani and Vlad Jr. will hit 50 homers
Despite MLB's efforts to deaden the baseball, two players are on pace to hit 50 home runs this season. Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has 33 homers in 89 team games, a 60-homer pace. Blue Jays wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has 28 homers in 87 team games. That's a 52-homer pace.
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It wasn't too long ago that MLB last had two players hit 50 homers in the same season, though it's not something that happens all that often, even when the ball was juiced to the gills in 2019. Here are the last five times MLB had multiple 50-homer hitters in a single season:
- 2017: Giancarlo Stanton (57) and Aaron Judge (52)
- 2007: Alex Rodriguez (54) and Prince Fielder (50)
- 2006: Ryan Howard (58) and David Ortiz (54)
- 2002: Alex Rodriguez (57) and Jim Thome (52)
- 2001: Barry Bonds (73), Sammy Sosa (64), Luis Gonzalez (57), and Alex Rodriguez (52)
I'm more worried about Ohtani getting to 50 homers than I am Vlad Jr. Worried isn't the right word, really. I just think Ohtani will have a harder time, for two reasons. One: fatigue. It is a long season and all that pitching and all that hitting will take a toll, even on a player as young (27) and as strong as Ohtani. It wouldn't be the most surprising thing to see him hit a wall late in the year, or even get fewer at-bats to rest, which would also cut into his home run total.
Joe Maddon said it’s possible the Angels will use Shohei Ohtani slightly differently in the second half. One of the changes might be hitting less on days that he pitches. They’ll still have some conversations before the second half.— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) July 11, 2021
During his start last week, Bally Sports West did an "Ohtani Cam" and followed Ohtani between innings rather than cut to commercial. Ohtani came off the mound and immediately pivoted to hitter mode, and put on his protective equipment and all that. We all knew this was something he did, though it was eye-opening to actually see it. He had no time to catch his breath. Then think about all the extra work he has to do between starts too. It's so much!
And two: Ohtani will stop getting pitched to at some point, right? Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are out with injuries (and Rendon hasn't been good when healthy), and with all due respect to Jared Walsh, there are going to be times when teams simply pitch around Ohtani. They won't let him beat them, especially in important games down the stretch. That could cut into his home run total.
Despite that, I'm predicting both Ohtani and Vlad Jr. reach the 50-homer plateau. At age 22, Guerrero would be the youngest player in history with a 50-homer season (Prince Fielder did it at 23), and Ohtani would be the first player to hit 50 homers while also being a really awesome starting pitcher. The two will make history this season.
2. Tatis will go 40/40
Not even a lingering shoulder injury has been able to slow down Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Despite playing in only 74 of his team's 93 games around the shoulder issue, Tatis has socked 28 home runs and stolen 20 bases. He's missed 19 games and he still leads the National League in home runs (by three) and stolen bases (by one).
The 40/40 club is hallowed ground and Tatis is very much within striking distance. Here are the only four 40/40 seasons in history:
- Jose Canseco, 1988 Athletics: 42 homers and 40 steals
- Barry Bonds, 1996 Giants: 42 homers and 40 steals
- Alex Rodriguez, 1998 Mariners: 42 homers and 46 steals
- Alfonso Soriano, 2006 Nationals: 46 homers and 41 steals
There have been several 40/40 club near misses in the not-too-distant past. Ronald Acuña Jr. was three steals short in 2019. Matt Kemp was one homer short in 2011 and both Soriano and Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.) were one homer short in 2002.
At this point Tatis is only 12 homers away from 40, so he should get there as long as he stays healthy. Getting those last 20 steals will be more challenging. Stolen base rates typically slow in the second half, mostly because players have 100-something games on their legs and get worn down, and try to protect themselves and stay healthy going into the postseason.
That said, no team in baseball runs like the Padres. They lead baseball in steals (by 18) and in stolen base attempts (by 23), and there's no reason to think they'll take their foot off the gas. San Diego is within striking distance in the NL West and, at minimum, they'll be jockeying for home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game the rest of the season. They still have lots to play for.
Also, Tatis surely wants to go 40/40. He wants to be great and a 40/40 season is rarified air. Unless the Padres explicitly give him the stop sign (always possible in order to keep him healthy for October), I suspect Tatis will run like crazy late in the season to get to 40 stolen bases, tired legs and all. He has a nice head start, he has the talent, and he's motivated. 40/40, here he comes.
3. Jiménez will finish with 15-plus home runs
It's rather remarkable the White Sox have the American League's best record (54-35) and second best run differential (plus-117), as well as an eight-game lead in the AL Central, despite not having Eloy Jiménez at all, and despite losing Luis Robert to a hip injury 25 games into the season. Also, Adam Eaton was so bad that he got released earlier this month.
Jiménez, the club's 24-year-old masher, tore his pectoral trying to rob a home run in spring training and has yet to play a game this season. Eloy recently completed his recovery and is now on a minor-league rehab assignment with Chicago's Triple-A affiliate, and he went deep in his first game this past weekend.
"The team is winning, and I feel happy I will be back to help the team," Jiménez told reporters, including Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times, prior to his rehab assignment. "They said six months, but I'm back in three months ... I feel better than I did in spring training. I feel 110 percent. Let's say 200 percent. I feel normal. I can finish my swing with one hand, two hands, whatever. It's not going to hurt."
Position players can spend up to 20 days on minor-league rehab assignments, putting Jiménez on track to return July 30, and GM Rick Hahn told Van Schouwen that "if everything goes smoothly in that time period, you'll see them back in Chicago." As long as he has no problems with the pectoral, Jiménez will rejoin the White Sox within two weeks or so.
And they need him too. They're sitting pretty in the standings, no doubt, but White Sox outfielders have hit an unremarkable .246/.316/.426 (103 OPS+) this season, and their DHs have hit .265/.335/.421 (99 OPS+). They are 24th in baseball with 92 home runs. It is a testament to their lineup that they're third in baseball with 5.12 runs per game. Still, there's room for improvement.
Former Marlins president David Samson previewed MLB's second half on Thursday's Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:
This bold prediction calls for Jiménez to be that improvement, and slug at least 15 homers in the season's final two months. He hit .296/.332/.559 with 14 home runs in 55 games last year, though that was with the juiced ball. Jiménez will play a similar number of games with the deadened ball this year, yet I'm predicting 15 homers anyway. Even after the injury. His power is that prodigious.
4. The Mets will trade for Bryant
Is it wrong to go against your own preseason bold prediction? Yeah, probably, but the circumstances have changed, and I'm treating this as a clean slate. The Cubs recently lost 11 straight games ( ) and they lost 13 of 15 to close out the first half. Last week, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer all but confirmed they will sell at the trade deadline.
Here's what Hoyer told reporters, including MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, last week:
"Obviously, people are now calling to see which players are available," Hoyer said. "It's a very different scenario than we expected. Life comes at you fast."
"(When) you're in this moment and your playoff odds get into single digits at this time of year, you have to keep one eye on the future and think about what moves you can potentially make that can help build the next great Cubs team.
"So yeah, I think you have to think through those things. I think it'd be irresponsible not to take those phone calls and think through it."
All-Star closer and impending free agent Craig Kimbrel is surely a goner at the trade deadline. He's having a tremendous season and contenders are always looking for bullpen help. The Astros need Kimbrel more than any other team, I think, though you needn't try hard to see him fitting with the Athletics, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, so on and so forth.
Like Kimbrel, Kris Bryant is an All-Star and an impending free agent, and there's some sweet comeuppance in the Cubs trading him for prospects in the year they not-so-subtly manipulated his service time to acquire. Unfortunately for Chicago, elite players with one postseason run of control don't fetch huge trade packages these days (see: Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado).
With all due respect to Jonathan Villar and the currently injured JD Davis, the Mets have a glaring need at third base, and also a glaring need for a righty bat to balance their lefty-heavy lineup. Bryant would address both needs. New York could build a package around shortstop prospect Ronny Mauricio, though they might not even have to part with that much to get rental Bryant.
The Brewers and Nationals stand out as other potential landing spots for Bryant (would the Cubs really trade him to Milwaukee?), though the Mets have the greatest combination of need and motivation. They are very much in it to win it, and I don't think they will cut corners. Bryant to the Mets to fill in at third base is such an obvious move that I'm not sure it qualifies as a bold prediction.
5. There will be a three-team tie for an AL wild card spot
I'm not boldly predicting this as much as I'm trying to will it into reality. This is the 10th year of the Wild Card Game (technically the ninth because there was no Wild Card Game last year) and we've yet to have tiebreaker chaos. There were Game 163 tiebreakers in 2018 (Dodgers vs. Rockies and Cubs vs. Brewers) and 2013 (Rays vs. Rangers), but those were boring two-team ties.
Baseball needs a chaotic three-team tie one of these years and I am boldly predicting (and very much hoping) we get it this year. To be specific, I'm going to predict the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Yankees finish tied for the second American League wild card spot. Sorry Cleveland, Angels, and Mariners. I don't see your teams making a run at a postseason spot this year. Maybe next year.
What happens in the event of a three-team tie? Long story short, the three teams would play a mini-tournament to decide that second Wild Card spot. The three teams would be designated Club A, Club B, and Club C using a long cookbook formula (based on head-to-head records, etc.), then this happens:
- Game 1: Club B at Club A (loser goes home)
- Game 2: Club C at Game 1 winner (winner gets wild card spot, loser goes home)
You want to be Club C in that scenario so you only have to win one game to advance rather than two, though you do have to play on the road. The Game 2 winner then has to play the Wild Card Game, so if Club A or Club B wins that little tiebreaker tournament, they would play three consecutive win-or-go-home games (potentially in three different cities) to get to the ALDS. Three Game 7s is much better than one Game 7, no?
Let's get weirdly specific with this prediction. I'll say the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Yankees all finish 88-74, and the Yankees get the coveted Club C designation. The Blue Jays go to Oakland, Vlad Jr. and George Springer power them to a win, then the Yankees face the Jays on the road, and Hyun-Jin Ryu beats Gerrit Cole in a pitcher's duel. Toronto advances through the tiebreaker tournament and to the AL Wild Card Game. It has been foretold.