With the All-Star break having just concluded, there’s still a lot of time left in the 2016 MLB season. More than 40 percent of the games have yet to played, and the upcoming trade deadline will have a significant impact on the season going forward.
A few players and teams have separated themselves from the pack, but no division is close to being clinched and the individual awards are still undecided. No team is on pace to win 100 games, and the triple crown categories, aside from batting average, are all up for grabs.
Clayton Kershaw had separated himself as the clear NL Cy Young favorite, but an injury has put the rest of his season in doubt. Three different pitchers lead the AL in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
Below are a few predictions for the second half of the MLB season.
The Chicago Cubs Will Finish With MLB’s Best Record
After getting off to a record-setting start, the Cubs have cooled off. But even though Chicago is just one game above .500 in their last 63 games, they still have MLB’s best roster.
The San Francisco Giants are tied with the Cubs for MLB's best record (57-37) on July 20, but the numbers indicate that San Francisco's current level of success won’t be sustained. They’ve outscored their opponents by just 63 runs, good for seventh in MLB, compared to Chicago, who easily ranks first with 147 more runs than their opponents.
Both Chicago’s pitching staff and lineup are among the best in MLB, making it difficult for the team to go into a prolonged slump. With multiple MVP candidates in the middle of the lineup, the Cubs are fourth in the majors in runs scored. No team in baseball comes close to touching their starters’ ERA, and while the their bullpen is the team's biggest weakness, it’s still better than half of the league.
The New York Yankees will be sellers
It’s difficult to think of a year in which the Yankees weren’t buyers at the trade deadline, but they just aren’t good enough to make the playoffs this season. With too many teams in front of them in both the wild-card and divisional races, upper management will be forced to deal a few of New York’s top players.
Even though they’ve struggled, the Yankees have a few players that can be key additions to World Series contenders. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are two of MLB’s best relievers, and they can likely be had at the right price. The same goes for Carlos Beltran, who’s in the final year of his contract and has been the team’s best hitter. New York will probably try to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira, but they might not get any takers.
The only thing that can prevent New York from making multiple deals is a winning streak before the trade deadline, which might fool ownership into thinking the Yankees can compete for a championship. But the team’s difficult upcoming schedule makes that a longshot.
3 AL East teams will make the playoffs
The NL Central has had three playoff teams in two of the last three years, but that’s never been the case in an AL division. That could change in 2016, since the AL East has three of the league’s best teams.
The Baltimore Orioles lead the division with a 53-39 record, but the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are just a half-game and 1.5 games out of first place, respectively. Baltimore is in front, but they might be the third best team in the AL East, considering Boston and Toronto have significantly better run differentials. The Red Sox have MLB’s best lineup, while the Blue Jays’ offense ranks second in the AL. The Orioles are winning with an elite bullpen and four players that are on pace to hit at least 30 home runs.
There might not be much of a threat coming from the AL Central, but the Houston Astros can certainly make the postseason. After a slow start, last year’s second wild-card winner closed out the first half with 31 wins in 44 games.
Both MVP winners will be 25 years old or younger
It’s something that hasn’t happened since the strike-shortened season of 1994, but MLB is currently being dominated by players that have only been in the league for a few years. Older players like Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado are threats to win the the MVP award, but the favorites are both just 24 years old.
Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball since 2012, and he’s virtually guaranteed to finish in the top two in MVP voting each year. Donaldson has the slight edge in OPS, but the Los Angeles Angels' outfielder is the better defender with 10 more stolen bases. Ranking third in batting average and slugging percentage, Trout could be battling Donaldson until the final week of the season for the award. Manny Machado (24) and Jose Altuve (26) are in the mix, as well.
In the National League, Kris Bryant is the favorite to win the award in just his second full season. The Cubs’ third baseman is the NL leader with 25 home runs and a 4.8 WAR. Teammate Anthony Rizzo and NL batting leader Daniel Murphy both have a better OPS, but Bryant is the best all-around player on baseball’s best team.