School’s out, sun’s out, June is here.
The get-to-know-you period that accompanies the start of each season – the awkward evaluation period in which none of us really knows whether to trust what we’re watching – is over. Baseball season is on in earnest, and that means it is time to replace our faulty predictions from the preseason with new, equally faulty in-season predictions!
If you want to know what happens in June, um, watch the games.
But if you want to know what I think will happen in June (and therefore won’t happen in June), read on for some bold predictions.
The Reds will rise to the top of the NL Central.
Honestly, the easier, safer and probably more correct “bold” prediction is that the Cardinals go from worst to first in the weak and compact NL Central. But they were a lot of people’s pick in that division from the beginning, so let’s mix it up.
A Reds team that was supposed to win fewer games than the 2022 Bengals still finds itself within striking distance of the first-place Brewers. No MLB team has played fewer games against winning teams than the Reds, so their current competence might be a mirage. But Cincinnati has also shown some surprising fight. Powered by NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate Spencer Steer, a resurgent Jonathan India and the surprising TJ Friedl, the Reds have won more games they’ve trailed after the starter departs than any other MLB team.
Now they just need to, you know, not trail so often. The advanced stats indicate that starters Graham Ashcraft, Luke Weaver and Hunter Greene were all victims of some poor batted-ball luck in the month of May, and Greene was electric in six no-hit innings against the Cubs in his last turn. It’s an interesting young rotation, with more coming in the system.
Speaking of the system, this could be the month we get our first look at Elly De La Cruz, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-5 infielder who does it all -- hits hard, throws hard, runs fast. Bring it on. Maybe we’ll even get the return of Joey Votto this month, if the baseball gods smile down upon us.
The Astros will lead the AL West once again.
Ravage their rotation, shut down Michael Brantley, have José Abreu wait until his 51st game to homer. It doesn’t matter. The first-place Astros are an inevitability.
Ronald Acuña Jr. will steal 20 bags.
The last MLB player to swipe 20 bags in a month was Trea Turner, with 22 in June 2017. So we’re definitely due, and the new rules are of course cooperative with the cause.
Freed from the shackles of injury and recovery, Acuña is a great candidate to get there. He has logged an early NL MVP bid, entering Wednesday with a 157 wRC+, 11 homers, 22 steals, 48 runs and 30 RBIs. The scary thing is his expected numbers are all even better than what we’ve seen – a .344 expected average vs. a .323 actual AVG, a .643 expected slugging percentage vs. a .553 actual SLG and a .453 expected weighted on-base average vs. a .409 actual wOBA.
Acuña’s awesome start has generated a lot of interest, of course. But a 20-steal month as the weather and the season ramp up is just the kind of thing to attract even the most casual of eyes and alert the world that the Year of Acuña is indeed upon us.
The Yankees will reach first place.
Do I take pleasure in predicting that the barons from the Bronx will (at least temporarily) overtake the Rays and Orioles -- two of the absolute best stories in MLB?
No. I do not.
But I’ve seen this movie too many times. We grow comfortable – perhaps even giddy -- with the concept of the Yankees being something other than elite, and then they flex their muscles and fly to first. Record-wise, they’ve already shown enough life of late to crawl out of their ill-fitting fifth-place standing at the start of May, but I would argue they really haven’t played particularly well yet. They’re still way too reliant on Aaron Judge, another injury for Harrison Bader hurts, and, no matter what you think about the power of the pinstripes, it’s suboptimal that Willie Calhoun has been their No. 3 hitter of late. Furthermore, their June schedule is a bear, beginning with three games at Dodger Stadium and including series with the Red Sox, Mets, Mariners and Rangers.
But Luis Severino is back, Giancarlo Stanton is close and some regression to the mean for Tampa Bay and Baltimore is probably in order. First-place Yankees. It’s coming, and we’re all going to have to live with it.
The White Sox will get back into the AL Central race.
The South Siders desperately need a strong June to stave off talk of becoming Trade Deadline sellers.
The good news, of course, is that the Central is eminently winnable, even for a team that has struggled as much as the Sox. Liam Hendriks’ return is not just good for the soul but good for the saves, and Dylan Cease is still capable of getting on a roll to lead the rotation. The Sox had a winning record in May, and -- with improved health, luck, etc. -- they’re going to have an even better June.
Fernando Tatis Jr. will power the Padres back to relevance.
This Padres team is the most disappointing thing to happen to San Diego since Ron Burgundy read an insult on the teleprompter. Manny Machado is on the shelf, Xander Bogaerts is playing hurt, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have all been subpar, and the club’s bWAR leader as I write this is … Ha-Seong Kim?
These are not the Padres we were promised. But the NL playoff picture is very forgiving, and it wouldn’t take more than a couple good weeks to completely alter our perception of the Pads.
Tatis is just the man to make that happen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his impact has been muted after missing all of 2022, and the jeers coming from rival fans haven’t been muted at all. But Tatis’ .544 expected slugging percentage in the month of May is a window into what’s next – a true tear that reminds us what one of the most purely talented players in MLB can contribute in a sustained stretch. And while the Padres have a long way to go before they’re vying for the NL West, they’ll at least boost themselves back above .500 this month.
The A’s will have a respectable month.
Baseball history tells us there is only so long that a team can maintain a .200ish winning percentage before it bumps into some victories. So unless these A’s really are the second coming of such luminaries as the 1889 Louisville Colonels, 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys or 1899 Cleveland Spiders (who played 73% of their games on the road and lost 90% of those road games), they are bound for better days… even if they aren’t bound for a great many of them. In fact, they already beat the mighty Braves on both Monday and Tuesday.
By season’s end, the A’s will be known merely as a last-place team. Not the team with the worst record of the Modern Era.