John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Back in March I picked the Yankees to win the World Series against the Nationals, and thanks largely to Max Scherzer's spectacular June, broken nose and all, I've still got a chance to be right on both ends, as the Nats have come storming back from the dead.
In truth, as the season reaches the All-Star break, a Yankees-Dodgers World Series looks more realistic, and that would be great for baseball -- two glamorous franchises renewing October hostilities for the first time since 1981.
It's far from a lock, of course. The Yankees will avoid a fourth wild-card game appearance in five seasons by finally winning the division again, but a showdown with the Astros in either the ALDS or ALCS could make for an epic matchup.
And while the Dodgers finally have great starting pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw, the hard-hitting Braves could be a handful, especially if they address their bullpen needs at the trade deadline.
Undeterred, however, I'm sticking with my World Series pick because the Nationals are hot and it would be a tremendous story if they come all the way back from practically buried in May -- at Citi Field, of all places, after a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets -- to playing for a championship.
As for some of my other 10 Bold Predictions column from March, I hit the jackpot on Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, but I wouldn't mind a do-over on some others.
So let's review and, in some cases, re-calculate:
10. Alonso wins Rookie of the Year, McNeil Makes All-Star Team
Taking a bow here, thank you very much. If only Brodie Van Wagenen had felt as strongly, especially about McNeil, maybe he wouldn't have traded for Robinson Cano. Or at least maybe he would have spent more money on the bullpen rather than signing Jed Lowrie.
9. Torres Finishes Top-Five AL MVP
Who knew that DJ LeMahieu would be the better choice, as he continues to practically re-define clutch, hitting .474 with runners in scoring position. Don't count out Gleyber Torres yet, though. He's having a strong season, shouldn't have needed injuries to other players to make the All-Star team, and, well, if only he had more than six games left with the Orioles, his personal home-run derby pitching staff.
8. Machado Hustles, Nobody Cares
No reports that Manny Machado has dogged it in San Diego, but then again, it's San Diego so is anybody watching? The $300 million man hasn't lived up to lofty expectations, hitting .269 with 34 extra-base hits and an OPS of .838. In truth, at 44-45 as of Sunday, the Padres are on the rise with a wave of young players more on the way. But you can bet, as I said then, Machado wishes the Yankees would have signed him.
7. Harper Hits 40-Plus Bombs, Phillies Miss Playoffs
Looks like I'll be half-right, anyway. Unless they make a big move for pitching at the trading deadline, the Phillies aren't going anywhere, especially with Jake "I'll put a dent in his skull" Arrieta clearly in decline. Meanwhile, it's rather stunning that Bryce Harper, playing in that bandbox, has only 16 home runs, tying him for 33rd in the NL and 57th in the majors in a year when the ball if flying like never before. And his strikeout rate is the highest of his career. Could be a long 13 years in Philly.
6. Buehler, Bauer Win Cy Young Awards
Walker Buehler has been mostly electric, as predicted, but a few clunkers have skewed his numbers a bit. He's still in the hunt at 8-1 with a 3.46 ERA, 10th best in the NL, but Scherzer, who has allowed a grand total of five runs while winning seven straight starts, is 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA and has to be the favorite.
Trevor Bauer, 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA, has been inconsistent, but anything is still possible in a wide-open AL race. Justin Verlander is probably the favorite, but his ERA is up to 2.98 and he's given up 26 home runs. Could current ERA leader Charlie Morton win it at age 35?
5. DeGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard all Finish Top 6 in Cy Young Voting
I had visions of the another 1986-like year for Mets' pitching, when Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, and Sid Fernandez all finished seventh or better in the NL Cy Young voting, behind winner Mike Scott. However, as of Sunday, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard rank seventh, 38th, and 41st, respectively, in NL ERA among the 43 starters who have pitched enough to qualify officially. DeGrom seems to have found his form again and I'd still bet on him getting a Top 5 Cy Young finish, but Wheeler and Syndergaard remain mysteriously inconsistent.
4. Mets Finish 87-75, Win NL Wild Card, Lose to LA in NLDS
As I wrote at the time, even scouts who scoffed at Van Wagenen's hiring came away from spring training impressed by the Mets' talent level. But those opinions turned out to be as overheated as BVW's "come get us" bravado.
The agent-turned-GM bombed badly with his offseason moves, especially in giving up blue-chip prospect Jarred Kelenic while taking on five years of fast-aging Cano. And it seems Van Wagenen's not handling failure well, judging by the reports of him throwing a chair in a fit of anger while meeting with Mickey Callaway and the coaching staff after Friday night's loss. So now what?
3. Judge, Soto Win MVP Awards
A six-week oblique injury has taken Aaron Judge out of the running, so now the question is whether voters will give the AL MVP to the best player, Mike Trout, who is having another spectacular season, or the player who has the most impact on a team that's at least in the playoff race, which might well be LeMahieu at the moment.
In the NL, I debated between Juan Soto and Cody Bellinger, and obviously should have gone the other way. Bellinger and Christian Yelich are co-favorites at this point, though Soto, with his .955 OPS, isn't completely out of it if the Nationals continue to make a run.
2. Nationals Win NL East, Advance to World Series
Not giving up on this one yet. Had a feeling the Nats would be better without the pressure of trying to win with Harper, and after a dreadful start due mostly to a horrendous bullpen, the Nats have clawed their way back into contention by going 26-11 since May 25.
They need to get bullpen help at the trade deadline, but with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, the Nats could be a force come the postseason, so, who knows, maybe this indeed will be the year they finally break through in October.
1. Yanks Finish 102-60, Win World Series
It sure feels like their year, doesn't it? The Yankees have won games every which way, despite a wave of injuries that would have sunk most teams. Now the only question is who Brian Cashman will add to the starting rotation at the trading deadline to help get them over the top in October.
Will he ignore what the analytics are telling him and pay a stiff price in prospects to get Madison Bumgarner, trusting the lefty will raise his game in October as he has in the past? For a franchise that is all about winning championships, though none in 10 years, it seems worth the gamble.