OK, it's a light schedule this Thursday evening, so let's have a little fun now that we've crossed the quarter point of the season. It's still too early to read too much into the standings and statistics, but it's not too early to make some fearless predictions!
1. Bryce Harper will win National League MVP honors.
Funny guy there, Schoenfield. You said fearless. Picking the Republican presidential nominee? That would be fearless. Predicting Harper will win the MVP award is like choosing Reagan over Mondale.
OK, OK, you're tough. Here's a fearless prediction, then. Let's say Harper gets injured. Obviously, that would be depressing and awful, but it could happen. Then how about this scenario: Brandon Crawford, NL MVP. The San Francisco Giants shortstop has been tremendous so far, hitting .291/.371/.494 with his usual outstanding defense that ranks second only to Andrelton Simmons in Defensive Runs Saved. Right now, he's on pace for 20 home runs, 102 RBIs and 83 runs, despite hitting primarily at the bottom of the Giants' lineup. A shortstop with Gold Glove-caliber defense and that kind of offensive production in a pitchers' park? That's a strong MVP candidate.
2. Mike Trout does NOT win American League MVP honors.
Is that fearless enough?
OK, but here's why: The Los Angeles Angels aren't going to make the playoffs, and if you don't make the playoffs these days, you don't win the MVP award. So my fearless prediction: We're headed for another Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP debate. Besides the playoff thing, Trout has only 25 RBIs and MVP voters love their RBIs. Cabrera will probably end up with more ribbies and a higher batting average, and the Detroit Tigers are the better bet right now to make the playoffs. Cabrera wins his third MVP trophy in four years.
So the Tigers are making the playoffs?
Correct. But only as a wild card. Because ...
3. The Cleveland Indians will win the AL Central.
There you go, Schoenfield!
The Indians were my preseason pick and I'm not bailing on them just yet. They got off to a bad start and the defense is a big problem, but I still like the rotation -- Corey Kluber is going to be back battling Felix Hernandez for Cy Young honors by season's end -- and the offense is starting to come around, led by a terrific 1-2 punch in Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Plus, I'm not completely sold on the Tigers or Kansas City Royals running away with things, let alone the surprising Minnesota Twins. Let's see what happens to the Detroit offense once guys like Jose Iglesias and Anthony Gose slow down, and keep an eye on whether Justin Verlander can actually offer anything once he returns. As for the Royals, after hitting .306/.362/.450 in April, they've hit .257/.298/.394 in May and the rotation isn't really that good.
4. The Houston Astros will win the AL West.
And don't be surprised if they end up with Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto. The rest of the AL West looks very mediocre so far, with the Angels struggling to score runs, the Seattle Mariners struggling to score runs even with Nelson Cruz's monster start, and the Oakland A's bullpen having torpedoed their season. Remember what I wrote back in January: The Astros will be the surprise team of 2015. Back then, I wrote: "But there's another reason the Astros will improve. They were just 57-11 when leading entering the eighth inning and 61-8 when leading entering the ninth, as the bullpen had the worst ERA in the majors. The average team lost 5.9 games when leading after seven and 3.3 when leading after eight. New relievers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek should help here even if they're just OK."
Indeed, the Astros are 25-0 when leading after eight and 21-1 when leading after seven. The bullpen is good, the offense has scored enough runs, Dallas Keuchel has been an ace ... and Carlos Correa is on the way.
5. Cruz hits 46 home runs ... one more than Harper for the major league lead.
But the Mariners miss the wild card by one win. Just like last season.
You're just trying not to be a homer. Weren't they your World Series pick?
They were. But have you seen Fernando Rodney pitch? I'll say the Tigers and Royals both come out of the Central to win the wild cards. That wouldn't be unprecedented. The St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds all made the postseason in 2013 out of the NL Central.
Imagine a Kenley Jansen-Chapman combo to close out games!
That would strike a lot of fear in opposing hitters.
And look nice in the postseason, because the Dodgers' front office would instruct manager Don Mattingly to use Chapman for more than three outs at a time. And, yes, the Dodgers win the West. But the Giants will win a wild card.
Reasonable, but not exactly fearless.
OK. Mookie Betts, now hitting .250, will end up over .300.
You love Mookie.
8. Kris Bryant ends up with 30 home runs.
9. And the Chicago Cubs ... miss the wild card by one game.
I know. But I'm sticking with the Pirates to make the playoffs -- they were my preseason NL favorite and they're just starting to get going after a slow start. I don't know if they're better than the Cardinals, but I think they at least make the playoffs. Unfortunately, that could mean a rematch against Madison Bumgarner in the wild-card game. Sorry, Pirates fans.
10. The American League East ends in a five-way tie.
That would be awesome.
Gives me a headache.
Come on, can't you see Alex Rodriguez hitting one over the Green Monster to send the Yankees into the postseason?
Don't tell me the Yankees then get hot in October and go all the way.
No, no, no ... I'll stick with my preseason pick. The Pirates BEAT Bumgarner this time and then upset the Washington Nationals and Dodgers in the postseason. Then they beat the Indians in the World Series -- I just said the Mariners aren't making the playoffs, so I have to pick a new team. Gerrit Cole beats Kluber in Game 7, with Gregory Polanco's inside-the-park home run the only run of the game.
That would be a tough way to lose.
But definitely a fearless prediction!