Major League Baseball’s season is more than halfway over, but the fun is just getting started.
From the surprising play of the Cleveland Indians in the American League to the Chicago Cubs’ emergence as darlings in the National League, there has been no shortage of storylines in the first half of the 2016 campaign.
But with two and a half months remaining in the regular season and the playoffs looming large, a lot could change. Do the Cubs have what it takes to finally end their 98-year championship drought? Can the Kansas City Royals return to form after a disappointing first half?
We’ll tackle those questions and more in our MLB second-half predictions. Let the debate begin.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION WINNERS
Sam: Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto looks primed to make another second-half comeback. The Jays gained a lot of momentum by going 8-2 in July, and they still have the most complete team in the division. The Boston Red Sox’s and Baltimore Orioles’ rotations will make it hard to overcome the Blue Jays unless either team makes a blockbuster deal.
Darren: Blue Jays. The Blue Jays’ rotation is solid top to bottom, and their potent offense can improve even more if Troy Tulowitzki hits his stride in the second half. The Red Sox adding another starter in Drew Pomeranz could make this a very tight race, but Toronto will pull through by a hair for its second consecutive AL East crown.
Sam: Cleveland Indians. Could the city of Cleveland win two championships in one year? This Indians team is really, really good, balancing one of the best rotations in baseball and some solid offense. They might have their best hitter, left fielder Michael Brantley, back by the end of July, too.
Darren: Royals. The Indians are the AL’s biggest first-half success story, but I’m not sleeping on last year’s World Series champs, who suffered key injuries during an underwhelming first half but have been one of the best second-half teams in baseball over the last few years.
Sam: Texas Rangers. The AL West isn’t very good, and the Rangers are. The Houston Astros might give them a run for their money, but the Rangers should be able to hold on to the lead.
Darren: Rangers. Jose Altuve could single-handedly lead the Astros back into contention, but Texas boasts a solid lineup and will get Yu Darvish back after the All-Star break. This is the Rangers’ division to lose.
AL Wild Cards
Sam: Red Sox and Orioles. The AL East looked like the weakest division heading into this season, but they just might deliver three playoff teams. Both the Red Sox and the Orioles have lackluster rotations and ridiculous lineups, and Boston just got a little help by landing Pomeranz. It’s unlikely either team would be an overwhelming favorite in the divisional round, but their respective offenses should take them into October.
Darren: Red Sox and Indians. Pomeranz’s history suggests he’ll be solid enough in the second half for Boston to ride its offense into the postseason. That could set up an exciting wild card matchup against old friend Terry Francona, whose Indians will falter in the second half but manage to fend off the Orioles for the final AL playoff spot.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION WINNERS
Sam: Washington Nationals. This might be the year the Nationals don’t puke all over themselves come September. The New York Mets are losing starting pitchers left and right, and the Miami Marlins aren’t quite good enough yet to contend for the division, so the Nats should have this one in the bag.
Darren: Nationals. Washington’s team 3.29 ERA is the best in the NL, and this team is 18 games over .500 despite Bryce Harper hitting .256 at the break. Unless the Mets’ rotation magically gets healthy (it won’t), the Nationals are the clear favorite.
Sam: Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are stacked and might even win the World Series. No one in this division is touching them. Next.
Darren: Cubs. Baseball’s best division in 2015 has taken a hit this season, as both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are barely over .500 entering the break. The only intriguing storyline here is if either club can land a wild-card spot.
Sam: San Francisco Giants. Like clockwork, the Giants pull themselves out from the shadows of the NL West’s basement every even year and win the World Series. And while I’m not 100 percent sure about their championship chances, they’re definitely the best team in this division.
Darren: Giants. Pitching reigns supreme in the NL, and the Giants have two of the league’s best in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a dark horse, but I’m with Sam — the even year trend is real, folks.
NL Wild Cards
Sam: Dodgers and Mets. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and a monopoly on good, young hitters, so they should have no problem keeping their record ahead of all the other wild-card contenders. And the Mets should be able to pull themselves together after the trade deadline. However, I’m not too sure MLB is allowed to have the playoffs without the Cardinals, so watch out for them.
Darren: Dodgers and Marlins. It’s called the “wild card” for a reason, right? The Mets will crumble in the Big Apple under the weight of
Bartolo Colon their pitching injuries, allowing the upstart Marlins to ride Jose Fernandez and an exciting young lineup to their first postseason berth since 2003.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT WINNER
Sam: Indians. I might end up hating myself for this because Cleveland teams seem to find spectacular ways to lose, but the Indians definitely look like the best team in the AL right now. Either way, it’ll probably be an Indians-Blue Jays showdown in the American League Championship, and it’ll probably be awesome.
Darren: Blue Jays. An Indians-Blue Jays ALCS would be awesome, but I don’t see Cleveland making it that far. Toronto will ride its terrifying lineup past the Rangers to the World Series, exacting revenge for last season’s ALCS departure at the hands of Kansas City.
NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT WINNER
Sam: Cubs. A Cubs-Indians World Series. What on earth am I doing?
Darren: Giants. That’s a good question, Sam. It seems foolish to pick against the Cubs, but there’s just something ominous about entering the playoffs with such high expectations (see: Warriors, Golden State). San Francisco’s even year magic extends Chicago’s title slump.
WORLD SERIES WINNER
Sam: Cubs. It looks like it’s (finally) the Cubs’ year. They might have some trouble getting past the Giants, but they’re better than the rest of the NL, and the AL isn’t as strong, either. If they don’t win it this year, I might actually start believing in curses.
Darren: Giants. San Francisco’s offense could be its undoing, but I just can’t see this team losing a best-of-seven series in which Bumgarner and Cueto start four games. The unprecedented even year streak stretches to four as the Bay Area takes home yet another title.
Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images