We are now into the second half of the MLB season and have enjoyed the fun of All-Star Week, so now it’s time for some division winner predictions.
Speaking of All-Star Week, it was pretty obvious that Shohei Ohtani of the Angels and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres were the most talked-about players of the week, and rightfully so. Ohtani literally competed in the home run derby as the number one seed was the starting American League pitcher the next day, and was also the starting designated hitter. Ohtani didn’t win the derby, that title went to the Mets’ Pete Alonso for the second year in a row, after he hit 74 home runs throughout the contest. However, Ohtani didn’t need to win the derby at all — he and Nationals’ Juan Soto did exchange in a super exciting back and forth, though, before Soto ended up breaking their final tie. As for the All-Star Game, the American League ended up beating the National League 5-2, making it the AL’s eighth straight win in the Midsummer Classic.
As for Tatis Jr., fans of NL West teams especially are obviously very familiar with the firepower he has brought not only to the San Diego Padres but to Major League Baseball as a whole. It seems like there has been an ongoing debate for some time now about who is the actual “face” of Major League Baseball, leaving many fans torn between Tatis Jr. and Ohtani. What a wonderful problem the MLB has, where multiple generational talents, not even just those two names, are playing during the same time. One of the best highlights from this year’s All-Star Game actually involved Tatis Jr., but it was because of his great reaction to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s home run in the third inning, that charted a distance of 468ft. Vladdy was also named the All-Star MVP, and the youngest at that, at just 22 years old.
A few divisions seem like a lock-in for certain teams, the Chicago White Sox being one of them in the AL Central. They have an eight-game lead over second-place Cleveland Indians, so it’s a pretty safe bet the White Sox will win the division. In the AL West, the Houston Astros, despite not having a super huge lead in the division at just 3.5 games over the Oakland A’s, are still my favorite to win their division. In the AL East, the Boston Red Sox currently leads the division two games over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays. I think this will be a division that’s more down to the wire than other divisions, with the exception of the NL West. However, I would love to see the Rays get some redemption and win the pennant, and a guaranteed shot at the postseason.
The NL Central is another division that’s pretty locked-up, with the Milwaukee Brewers being the favorite to win it. They currently lead the division at 5 games over the Cincinnati Reds. The NL East is a division I was seeing another potential three-team race to the end, and while there still isn’t a huge gap between the first three spots, teams like the Atlanta Braves took a huge hit with Ronald Acuna Jr. out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury. While they still have power in their lineup, that just puts them at a huge deficit in third place. The Phillies are 2.5 games behind the New York Mets, who lead the division. If I had written this article last week, I probably would have picked the Mets to win the division, but news came out that Jacob DeGrom and Francisco Lindor have headed to the IL. DeGrom has forearm tightness, but Lindor has an oblique strain. This is obviously not an ideal time to have two major players on the IL, especially when the Phillies have players like J.T. Realmuto, Zack Wheeler, Bryce Harper, etc. However, I don’t think that’ll be enough to overtake the Mets, so I still have them winning their division.
And, lastly, the NL West. As I’ve mentioned, I am definitely partial to this division, but all season it has had the closest race of every division. While the Dodgers and Padres were heavily favored to be at the top of the standings, many still thought the Dodgers would ultimately prevail and win the division, per usual. However, the Giants have surprised pretty much everyone, and have remained in first for a large part of the season, and still have the best record in baseball, something that they have also held onto for a big part of this season. Also, two NL West teams currently hold the one and two spots for the best records in Major League Baseball right now, which would be the Giants and Dodgers, respectively. So, within the NL West, the Giants currently have just a one-game lead over the Dodgers, and the Dodgers have a 5.5 game lead over the Padres.
I have the same concern with both the Giants and the Dodgers, and that is injuries. The Dodgers have been injury-prone all year, with Clayton Kershaw on the IL since July 7th. It seemed like they were confident he would be back after the All-Star Break, but now it’s looking like that timetable has been pushed to August. Mookie Betts also just exited a game with hip irritation. The Giants have had their fair share of injuries too. Brandon Belt was placed on the IL towards the end of June with a knee injury, and likely won’t be back until August, although at one point there was a question of if there was a need for surgery. Buster Posey, who was named the starting NL catcher in the All-Star Game, sat out the game altogether due to a thumb injury that happened just before the All-Star break. Manager Gabe Kapler hasn’t given a definite timetable, as he said he wants to preserve Posey for the “entirety of the season,” and not just the games within reach. Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella have also dealt with injuries. While I do think that the Giants do have some strengths over the Dodgers, like the bullpen, for example, this second half includes a lot of Giants/Dodgers matchups, including a four-game series in Los Angeles this coming week. The Giants’ performance against the Dodgers has brought up concerns for me; their first series against LA, the Giants were swept, the second series the Giants won 3 out of the four-game set, and the Giants most recently were swept in a two-game series with the Dodgers. I just can’t say that I’m confident in the Giants’ longevity throughout the postseason, especially because, even if the Dodgers don’t win the west, I would still pick the Dodgers over every other National League team. Meaning, the Giants at some point would have to face them again, and I’m not sure how confident I am in that. However, I am specifically just naming division winners here. So, despite all of that, I am still picking the Giants to win the NL West, and take it one step of the way from then on.
It’s also important to note that the trade deadline is just under a couple of weeks away, so there will likely be a lot of movement all throughout the league.