7 bold predictions for July

July 1st, 2023

Just remember that you heard it here first. Right here, in this very space, one month ago, I told you that the Reds had a date with first place. Lo and behold, behind the electric Elly De La Cruz, the return of Joey Votto and me -- a blind squirrel finding a nut -- it happened. It really did happen.

How did the rest of my June predictions turn out? Well, they were pretty terrible, actually. But don’t rain on my victory parade with pesky little things like facts. I’m just here to have a good time and occasionally scratch off a winner.

Let’s try it again with these seven predictions for July.

1. There will be a Metsurrection!

This prediction makes no sense.

The Mets do not look like a good team right now. They are old. They have depth issues. Their defense is making basic blunders on the regular. Their July schedule begins with the Giants, D-backs, Padres and Dodgers. And with a $350 million payroll, taking on salary to augment this dud of a club at the Trade Deadline would seem an outrageous monetary move, even by Steve Cohen standards.

All of which is why, somehow, the Mets will pull themselves up off the mat midsummer. Don’t ask me how it happens, because I don’t actually believe it happens. Maybe it’s as simple as José Quintana joining a rotation that finds its form and points the way. I don’t know.

All I know is that baseball will make a mockery of our convictions. And I am so strong in my conviction that the Mets are D.O.A. that it’s a veritable certainty they’ll resuscitate themselves and get into the NL playoff picture. Book it.

2. There will be lots of trades!

This is a July predictions piece. The Trade Deadline is Aug. 1. If you want to get truly technical, maybe there won’t be many trades in July. Maybe there won’t be many trades at all, given the relative lack of inventory.

But ever since MLB went to one “true” Trade Deadline in 2019, we’ve seen a slew of swaps each year. That’s going to happen again.

The Cardinals are making this very interesting. They could think long and hard about dealing not just a pending free agent like Jack Flaherty but a superstar like Paul Goldschmidt. Other 2022 playoff clubs like the Padres and Mariners are in similarly tenuous positions. And I don’t have to tell you how interesting it could get in Queens if my above “Metsurrection” prediction doesn’t pan out.

It feels like Cody Bellinger could wind up with the Yankees if Aaron Judge is still ailing. It feels like the D-backs, Rangers and Reds will take advantage of their surprise momentum (I don’t know that it would actually help, but the Reds should give us the gift of Zack Greinke and Votto on the same team).

But look, a lot can change in MLB in four weeks. I’m going to stop short of making too many specific trade predictions until things get a little clearer. (The real truth is, I’m expecting my editor to have me file a Trade Deadline predictions piece, and I can only be wrong so many times in the span of a month.)

I’m willing to make one guess for now, though ...

3. The Angels will acquire a pitcher from the L.A. area!

We have already seen the Angels make aggressive in-season moves this year, promoting each of their top two picks from last year’s Draft (Zach Neto and Ben Joyce) and recently trading for Mike Moustakas and Eduardo Escobar. With the clock ticking on Shohei Ohtani and the longest playoff drought in MLB (tied with the Tigers), the Halos have to continue to capitalize on the opening that exists for them to not only vie for a Wild Card spot but perhaps even contend for the AL West crown.

Doing so will require a rotation upgrade. I was among those who had high hopes for this Angels’ starting group after it finished a respectable sixth in ERA last season and then added Tyler Anderson. Alas, Halos starters not named Shohei Ohtani, Reid Detmers and Griffin Canning have not gotten the job done.

This will not be an easy market to swing a deal for a starter, but the Angels have as much (or more) incentive as anybody. I ultimately don’t think the Guardians will trade Orange County native Shane Bieber, but Los Angeles natives -- and, more importantly, pending free agents on disappointing teams -- Lucas Giolito and Flaherty are another story. Giolito is having the superior season. If it takes post-hype prospect Jo Adell or the Angels’ catching depth to land him, so be it. Now’s the time.

4. The Orioles will take over first place in the AL East!

This is the second consecutive month in which I predicted a team will overtake the Rays. Despite what you might think, I have nothing against the Rays. In fact, I quite like the Rays. But the point of these predictions is to be bold, and what’s more bold than predicting the team that has been the runaway best in baseball since Opening Day gets sent to second place?

Alas, I could not have been more wrong when I predicted the Yankees would vault past the Rays in June. Judge injured his toe within about 84 hours of that prediction being published. That is the power of my predictions. No team -- or toe -- is safe.

But it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for the O’s to get ahead of the Rays this month, only because the two clubs have a four-game series against each other from July 20-23. The O’s have won three of the first five meetings. The Rays have looked more human as of late and can ill-afford any more rotation injuries. Baltimore has the better bullpen. Gunnar Henderson heated up in June, and Cedric Mullins has returned. This can happen!

But if any O’s hurt their toes in the next few days, I give up.

5. Mookie Betts will win the Home Run Derby!

This one doesn’t make sense, either. Betts does not look the part of a Derby champ.

Obviously, he’s a generational talent. He’s been an MVP. He’s won a World Series. His initials are literally M.L.B. He was born to play baseball ... and bowl. But Betts is 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. He’s taking on his first Derby challenge (at the behest of his wife) in a ballpark where it can be difficult to go deep. This event figures to spook Mook and leave him huffing and puffing while someone bigger and stronger (cough ... Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ... cough) takes the crown.

We’re here to be bold, though! So, much like when he picks up a 7-10 split, Betts is going to rise to the occasion in Seattle. He’s got those lightning quick wrists that will overcome his lack of physical size, allowing him to get in a nice rhythm to tie Miguel Tejada (2004) for the vaunted title of Shortest Derby Champ.

6. The American League will win the All-Star Game!

This is my gift to the National League. For the last few years, I’ve picked the Senior Circuit to get off the All-Star schneid and beat the AL (another tradition is annually looking up the correct spelling of “schneid”).

All that’s happened is that the NL’s losing streak has been extended to nine Midsummer Classics. The NL has only three victories since 1996 and six since 1987. Brutal.

For whatever it’s worth, the AL’s current streak began at the start of an odd stretch in which seven of nine of these games were played in NL parks. So the AL players have dominated on the road. Now the next two games are scheduled for AL parks.

What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. But now that I’m finally picking the AL (with Pacific Northwesterner Adley Rutschman the MVP), the NL is bound to finally prosper. You’re welcome, Rob Thomson.

7) The LSU guys will not go 1-2 in the Draft!

This is a deep and dynamic Draft class, and it is unquestionably fronted by two guys who just led the LSU Tigers to a national championship at the College World Series.

Right-hander Paul Skenes looks like a generational pitcher. He is a physically imposing presence with a polished power arsenal and a great personality. Dylan Crews is an athletic, hard-hitting outfielder with a quick stroke and the speed and defensive ability to stick in center. Either would be a respectable pick at No. 1 overall, and they stand a very real chance of becoming the first pair of teammates to go 1-2. Geaux Tigers!

But this is the Draft, where unpredictability reigns. It seems likely the Nationals will take one of the two at No. 2. Perhaps, though, the Pirates will surprise us at No. 1 by shying away from the risk that comes with elite arms and the Crews price tag and opt instead for Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford or a high school kid like Indiana outfielder Max Clark in order to expend some of that bonus pool money elsewhere.

Bonus) Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on or around July 23!

Just call it a hunch.