With September just around the corner, it's time for some late season predictions. I don't necessarily believe all of these will happen, but there exists the possibility that they could happen. A few months from now I'll check back and see how these turned out. Enjoy, and feel free to check out my 2011 edition and the follow-up.
1. Mike Trout will not win the AL MVP award
I can see the wheels falling off in September for the 21 year-old, much as they did for Alex Rodriguez when he was the same age back in 1996. Miguel Cabrera and his monster power numbers will play the role of Juan Gonzalez, while teammate Albert Pujols will steal some votes the same way Ken Griffey Jr. did.
2. Houston wins fewer than 50 games this year
The struggling 'Stros already have 40, but have won just eight times in the past two months. That's right, their record since June 28th is an impossibly bad 8-47! Houston, we have one of the worst teams in baseball history. Hey, at least Jose Altuve is playing well.
3. Baltimore is going to finally hit the skids
All summer long I've waited for the Orioles' to crumble like last year's Pirates. It hasn't happened...yet. Starting tomorrow night, they play 26 of their final 32 regular season games against their AL East rivals. Have fun.
4. Hanley Ramirez reaches 30 home runs for the first time since 2008
HanRam's overall numbers are still disappointing, but his bat has caught fire since he landed in LA more than a month ago. After blasting seven home runs in his previous thirteen games, raising his season homer total to 22, I like his chances of slugging eight more dingers over the next five weeks.
5. Justin Verlander repeats as AL Cy Young champion.
Only four pitchers--Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, Roger Clemens (twice) and Pedro Martinez--have ever won consecutive Cy Young awards in the American League since the award's inception in 1956. Verlander will have stiff competition from Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, David Price, and the currently unhittable Felix Hernandez, but I believe Detroit's ace will reel off a dominant September. I could see him winning all of his starts from here on out.
6. The Red Sox avoid their first losing season since 1997
All Boston has to do is go 19-12 from this point forward (appropriate given that 100-year old Fenway Park opened in 1912). That seems like a tall order for a roster gutted by injuries and one of the biggest trades/salary dumps of all time, but there have still been encouraging signs (aside from Pedro Ciriaco's spirited play). Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are coming around, Jon Lester is pitching like an ace again and Andrew Bailey should get the closer role back after Alfredo Aceves' latest meltdown. Besides, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that a "team" that has underachieved all season long (their pythagorean record is five games over .500) could start playing up to its ability. Even if they don't, it's not like this September could possibly be any worse than last year's, right? Don't answer that.
7. Josh Beckett (5-12, 5.21 ERA) is going to turn his season around with the Dodgers
After moving out of Fenway and the AL Beast to a pitching-friendly venue in the weaker league, what's not to like? For what it's worth, his career ERA against NL opponents is nearly a full run better than it is against American League competition.
8. Bryce Harper goes 20/20
The 19 year-old needs six four-baggers and seven thefts to hit 20 in both categories, no easy feat given that he has just six and five, respectively, since June 29th. If he hadn't spent most of April in AAA he'd be a shoe-in for those figures, but the late start and summer slump have depressed his overall numbers. Not even a blazing finish will be enough to overtake Wade Miley and Todd Frazier in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
9. Josh Hamilton bats .300
His average hasn't been that high since July 18th, but at .292 entering play today the .306 career hitter is well within reach of his third .300 campaign in five years. If he stays healthy, I think he's going to get hot in September.
10. Buster Posey knocks in 100 runs
The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year needs 20 more ribbies to become the first NL catcher since Javy Lopez in 2003 to amass 100 RBI in a single season.
11. Nobody on the Houston Astros finishes with 15 home runs
Jed Lowrie (14), Justin Maxwell (12) and J.D. Martinez (11) are all close, and even with with Lowrie expecting to play again this season I don't think any of them gets to 15.
12. Joe Mauer gets traded
The Twins placed the face of their franchise on revocable trade waivers. He's still owed $23 million per season over the next six years, and until last weekend contracts of those proportions seemed unmovable. But after Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford shipped out of Boston, anything is possible. Mauer, a former MVP and three time batting champ, should draw interest from somebody.
13. Adam Dunn won't break Mark Reynolds single season strikeout record
The chase is on; Dunn has whiffed 186 times to date and is 40 Ks away from making baseball history. Considering that the White Sox still have 33 games left on their slate, and that Dunn fans approximately 1.5 times per game, he's on track to to accrue around 235 strikeouts, give or take. But if Chicago can wrap up the division early, Robin Ventura figures to give the Big Donkey some much needed rest down the stretch, especially since Dunn has sat out just one game all season. On a somewhat related note, I'm going to say his .206 batting average stays above the Mendoza line even though September is traditionally the worst month of his career (DH'ing should help keep him fresh).
14. David Ortiz will not play again in 2012
No need to rush his recovery from an Achilles injury that's limited him to one game played since July 16th.
15. Nobody in the NL will strike out more than 200 times
A National League batter (Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs are the culprits) has whiffed at least 200 time in each of the past four seasons, and in 2007 Ryan Howard fell one short. The streak of futility ends this year, mainly because Reynolds switched leagues and Stubbs spent time on the DL. Danny Espinosa's 150 Ks top the Senior Circuit.
16. Both Los Angeles teams make the playoffs
Currently leading the second wild card by one game over Los Angeles, St. Louis won't be able to fend off the hard-charging Dodgers down the stretch. The Redbirds can hit with the best of them, but I don't think their starting pitching is going to hold up. I'm especially skeptical about Kyle Lohse (notorious first half pitcher), Jaime Garcia (fresh off the DL), Jake Westbrook (overachieving) and Lance Lynn's replacement, Joe Kelly (rookie). Basically every member of the rotation not named Adam Wainwright, who could wear down towards the end of his first season back from Tommy John surgery. As for the Angels, they are simply too talented not to make the playoffs. Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, C.J Wilson, and Ervin Santana will all hit their stride in September, while Albert Pujols continues to mash and Mark Trumbo emerges from his August swoon.
17. Detroit will catch Chicago in the AL Central
Since falling six games below .500 on June 6th, the Tigers have heated up (44-29) with the weather and played well all summer long. They look like the formidable team everybody throught they'd be during the preseason. Plus the last thirteen games of their schedule couldn't be any softer, with four alternating series against the terrible Twins and Royals to close out the season.
18. Eric Hosmer (.240/.310/.369) will get hot
A sophomore slump has besieged the future Joey Votto, but Hosmer is simply too good of a hitter to keep this up for another month. I'm emboldened by the fact that he's batting .340/.396/.511 since August 14th.
19. The Reds will win 100 games and have the best record in baseball
Hard to believe the same roster (sans Mat Latos and Ryan Ludwick) finished four games below .500 a year go. Cincy's bullpen is incredible, their starting rotation has stayed healthy and the lineup has continued to produce with Votto sidelined. A few weeks ago I was all in on the Nationals, but they've gone 8-7 since and will miss Stephen Strasburg when he's inevitably shut down.
20. The Braves blow their postseason berth, again
Just like last year, Atlanta has had a stranglehold on the wild card all season long, but will once again be done in by their shoddy starting pitching. Outside of Tim Hudson, the rotation has lacked consistency. Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm's combined success in August is unsustainable, and when/if they regress the Braves are doomed. I called/jinxed their meltdown at the beginning of August last year, so let's see if lightning strikes the same spot twice.
23. Ichiro Suzuki leads AL position players in games played for the third year in a row
Despite the fact that he turns 39 years young in October, Ichiro has remained an Iron Man into the twilight of his career. His hitting has picked up a bit since joining the Yankees, and I expect Joe Girardi will keep finding ways to get Suzuki into games (defensive replacement, pinch-runner, etc.) even on days when the latter doesn't see his name in the starting lineup.
24. 23 year-old Madison Bumgarner finishes higher than rotation-mate Matt Cain on the NL Cy Young ballot
It's amazing how similar their numbers are right now; their stat lines are essentially interchangeable:
Cain-13 wins, 2.82 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 182 IP, 164 Ks, 2 CG, 4.56 K/BB
Bum.-14 wins, 2.93 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 178 IP, 165 Ks, 2 CG, 4.58 K/BB
Both have issued 36 walks, surrendered 19 home runs, and sport identical 1.8 BB/9 rates. Last year Cain finished eighth in the voting while Bumgarner finished 11th, tied with teammate Ryan Vogelsong. All three were behind Tim Lincecum (sixth), who would have to put together a scoreless innings streak on par with Don Drysdale/Orel Hershiser just to receive consideration.
25. Chipper Jones will draw a walk in the last at-bat of his career
Sorry, no Ted Williams-esque finale for Atlanta's 40 year-old third baseman. But walks are valuable, too. Jones should know; he's drawn nearly 1,500 of them throughout his illustrious career.