Because “know thyself” is an important maxim in life, I have no trouble admitting that predictions are, um, not exactly my strong suit.
Here in this space, over the course of the 2022 season, I predicted that the Rays would trade for Frankie Montas (nope), that Pete Alonso would three-Pete in the Home Run Derby (nuh-uh), that Juan Soto would NOT be traded (whoops) and that the Marlins would spend at least one day in first place (not even close).
So with this final monthly predictions piece of the season for September/early October, I have little choice but to change course and to follow the wisdom of the great 20th century philosopher George Costanza by doing … the opposite. That’s right: Just as Costanza got a job with the Yankees by going against his instincts, all of the predictions I present here are the opposite of what I think will happen. It is, sadly, my only hope of getting these right.
For starters, I picked the Braves to repeat as NL East champs at the beginning of the year, and, even though they trail going into September, they have played so well the last three months that I’m inclined to stick with that pick. That can only mean …
The Mets will fend off the Braves in the NL East.
With the Mets in first since April 12, I suppose this is an “opposite” prediction I can feel comfortable with. The Mets further proved their mettle by taking four of five from the Braves in early August, and their monumental three-game series in Atlanta on the last weekend of the regular season is sandwiched between series against the A’s, Marlins and Nationals. They’re in great position to finish the job.
But that last series between these two clubs, from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, looks like it’s going to be a must-watch matchup in baseball’s best division race. It will be interesting to see how Spencer Strider, whose emergence in the rotation has been so vital for the Braves, handles the late-season innings load in his rookie year and if Ronald Acuña Jr., who is still dealing with knee pain after last year’s surgery, can turn it up a notch. Anyway, like I said, I like the Braves, and I think they have what it takes to finish in first. That’s why they probably won’t.
Elsewhere in the NL …
The Brewers will oust the Padres from the playoff picture.
I won’t go so far against my gut as to suggest the Brewers will overtake the Cardinals in the NL Central, and I don’t have the heart to tell Phillies fans that their playoff drought will be prolonged by a September swoon.
But things could get interesting between Milwaukee and San Diego, especially given the overhang of the Josh Hader trade they made with each other and how that impacts the home stretch. As of now, neither team has benefited all that much, though, and with Hader having imploded in his first few innings with the Padres, you’d have to say the Brewers got the better end of the deal so far. In my heart of hearts, I think the Padres are the better of these two teams. But this “opposite” prediction might have merit in that the Friars are going to be facing a ton of pressure in the final month, given the way they collapsed last year and how much weight has been placed on their current window with the Soto acquisition.
Of course, another fascinating race in the NL has nothing to do with a playoff spot. It’s Albert Pujols’ race against time in the bid to hit No. 700. Pujols’ walk-off year has been enthralling, and I’d love to see him do it. Alas, my gut tells me he’s going to come up short. So …
Albert Pujols will hit No. 700.
He’s six away. In his Hall of Fame-worthy career, Pujols has hit six or more homers in a month 60 times. That’s five full calendar years’ worth of six-homer months!
So yeah, no matter what my gut says, maybe No. 5 really can pull off No. 700. I will point this out, though: The Cards finish the year with six games against the Pirates, who as of this writing have three lefties in the bullpen but none in the rotation. That could make the 700 chase a bit more challenging.
Oh, and then there’s that other huge home run chase. I feel confident that Aaron Judge will break Roger Maris’ American League home run record, which can only mean …
Aaron Judge will not break the American League home run record.
Even if his current pace is 63, Judge could be like every single hitter in MLB since 2001 and finish south of 60 (perhaps by matching teammate Giancarlo Stanton’s total of 59 from 2017 with the Marlins).
That would be upsetting for us fans of historical pursuits, but it’s certainly not inconceivable. The pressure is ratcheting up with each passing day, and, while the recent return of Stanton to the lineup should mitigate this issue, Judge has begun to see a decline in the percentage of fastballs in the zone.
But hey, even if Judge doesn’t hit 60 or 62, the Yankees’ standing atop the AL East sure looks safe to me, which -- uh-oh -- can only mean …
The Rays will take over the AL East.
Or maybe it’s the Blue Jays. But the Rays still have six games left against the Yanks, beginning this weekend in St. Petersburg, while the Jays have only three left. So if the Bronx Bombers were to completely blow up what was once a 15 1/2-game advantage, the Rays are the more likely team to take them down. The continued absence of Wander Franco hurts the chances of this actually happening, as does a brutal September schedule for Tampa Bay. But you know how the Rays roll, and lately they have indeed been rolling, with the lineup boosted by the in-season trades for David Peralta and Jose Siri and the returns from injury for Manuel Margot, Francisco Mejía and Harold Ramírez.
That would be a crazy shakeup in the East. But nothing is as crazy as the Orioles’ winning record. I would have to imagine the young O’s will come undone under the pressure of this unexpected playoff race. That can only mean …
The O’s will win a Wild Card spot!
As of now, they’d have to take one from the Blue Jays or Mariners. (We’ll assume, for this exercise, that the Yankees at the very least hold on to a Wild Card spot, OK?)
Of the two, the Blue Jays are the most vulnerable, if only because of the nature of the schedule. Baltimore and Toronto still play each other 10 more times, and the O’s are 6-3 against the Jays so far. Also, as with the Phillies, I don’t have it in me to predict that Seattle falls apart. So let’s put it in writing: The AL Wild Cards will be the Yankees, Mariners and Orioles.
Elsewhere in the AL …
The Twins will win the AL Central.
Only because I think the Guardians, whose pitching has been particularly fantastic in the second half and whose remaining schedule appears favorable, will win the AL Central.
But the Twins and Guards have eight more games against each other, including a lovely five-game set in Cleveland from Sept. 16-19. It could all come down to that. And with no tiebreaker games this year, the AL Central title (and quite possibly the only playoff spot to come from the AL Central) could come down to who has the head-to-head edge in the season series (for now, the Guards are ahead, 6-5).
(I could really go against my gut and pick the White Sox to win the AL Central, but they died to me the day they ran into the first-ever 8-5 triple play.)
While the AL Central race is close, the only real drama the AL West-leading Astros face is whether Justin Verlander, who is currently out with a calf issue, can nail down his third Cy Young Award. Verlander’s return to Cy Young form at age 39 and following Tommy John surgery is one of the absolute best stories of the season. This injury hurdle aside, I happen to think he’ll be the clear frontrunner at year’s end. That means …
An Astro other than Justin Verlander will be the Cy Young frontrunner at year’s end.
Even as Verlander enters the final month-plus as the heavy favorite for the AL Cy, the veteran’s injury complicates his bid. Elsewhere in the AL Cy race, Chicago’s Dylan Cease had an ERA over 3.00 in August (that’s still good, of course, but does affect his overall Cy case), and Toronto’s Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman plus Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan all have ERAs over 3.00 in the second half, with McClanahan currently on the IL due to a left shoulder impingement. Shohei Ohtani’s in the conversation, but voters might hold his smaller number of starts/innings against him.
Meanwhile, there’s Valdez, cruising along with 22 straight quality starts and just five runs allowed in his last 29 innings. To be clear, his Cy case currently pales in comparison to that of Verlander:
Valdez: 14-4, 2.63 ERA, 164 IP, 145 ERA+, 2.68 K/BB, 1.12 WHIP
Verlander: 16-3, 1.84 ERA, 152 IP, 208 ERA+, 5.92 K/BB, 0.86 WHIP
But if Verlander’s injury lingers or compromises him at all, the race could tighten.
Speaking of pitching prominence, it seems safe to assume 2022 will be the 10th consecutive season without a perfect game. As I’ve written, there are a few reasons why one of the longest perfect game droughts in history has continued this year, and I firmly expect that it will last through the year.
Welp, you know what that means …
There will be a perfect game!
Who will throw it? Look, I’ve already told you I stink at predictions, so I don’t know. But I do know that 65% of perfect games -- and each of the last four -- were thrown by right-handers. Which makes me think it will be a righty. Which makes it a certainty that it will be a lefty.