Predicting MLB’s second half: Shohei Ohtani’s stats, Jacob deGrom’s ERA, a Cubs fire sale and more

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DENVER — The first half of the 2021 MLB season was a lot of fun, if you were able to focus on the actual games being played — and the incredible young, entertaining stars playing those games — and tune out things like sticky substances. 

What’s in store for the second half? As always, the unknowns are the very best part, but those are difficult to predict because, well, they’re unknowns. 

So today, let’s take a look at what might happen going forward by looking at what actually happened in the first half. 

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MORE: Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo lead list of All-Stars who could be dealt soon

Jacob deGrom has a lower ERA (1.08) than Bob Gibson’s iconic 1.12 in 1968.

Will that last? No, and here’s why: Every time someone makes a run at Gibson’s mark, we get a new appreciation for just how incredible the Cardinals’ right-hander was in 1968. Now, deGrom almost certainly will make a challenge like nobody has since Dwight Gooden in 1985 (1.53 ERA) or Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56) and 1995 (1.63), but the bet is still that he falls short. Look at his last three starts of the first half, as an example. He was still very good — 29 strikeouts and 12 hits allowed in 20 innings — but the hits were bunched or went over the fence, and he allowed seven earned runs (two, then three, then two). That’s a 3.15 ERA over those three games. 

Know what Gibson’s “worst” three-game stretch was in 1968? It was 2.52, and he had a couple different three-game stretches with that identical ERA. He didn’t allow multiple runs in three consecutive starts all season. 

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And then, there’s this, too: Gibson threw a ton more innings, so individual runs didn’t make as big of an impact on his ERA. He had a higher margin for error. He finished with 304 2/3 innings on the season, and deGrom had just 92 in the first half. That’s not a criticism of deGrom, of course — it’s a different game now — but a reality of the challenge for someone chasing a mark of excellence like Gibson displayed.

Here’s an example: deGrom allowed five total earned runs in back-to-back starts (June 26 & July 1) and his ERA jumped nearly half a point, from 0.50 to 0.95. Gibson allowed five total earned runs in back-to-back starts (July 30 & August 4) and his ERA barely inched up, from 0.96 to 1.08. 

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The White Sox have the best winning percentage in the AL

Will that last? Yes, and here’s why: When you consider everything that the White Sox have had to deal with this season — injuries to half of their starting position players, in Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Yasmani Grandal — it’s downright incredible that the ChiSox have the best winning percentage in the AL, at .607 (just technically ahead of the Red Sox and Astros, at .605). 

“After the break, we get two bats back,” shortstop Tim Anderson told SN at All-Star media day, “and we’ll keep that wheel moving in a positive way. We’ll be just fine. We’ve been doing great even with all these injuries.”

Yeah, that’s an understatement. 

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Jimenez, who tore a pectoral muscle trying to make a catch in spring training, is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte. Robert resumed baseball activities a few weeks ago on his journey back from a torn hip flexor. Madrigal’s out for the season and Grandal’s several weeks away, still, but expect the White Sox to be active at the trade deadline.

The Blue Jays are outside looking in at the playoffs

Will that last? No, and here’s why: The Jays have their work cut out for them if they want to make the postseason for the second consecutive year, which would be only their second back-to-back showing since 1993. They enter the second half with a 45-42 record, eight games behind the Red Sox and 4 1/2 back of the second wild-card spot, currently owned by Oakland (they’re 6.5 back of the Rays, who own the first WC berth at the moment. 

So why are the Jays positioned to make a move? Their lineup is solid, anchored by four All-Stars — Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and Bo Bichette — and they’ve already made moves to shore up one of their biggest weaknesses, the bullpen. Rookie Alex Manoah has been a big addition to the rotation, with his 2.80 ERA in eight starts. They’ve traded for relievers Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards in separate deals, and those two right-handers have been brilliant so far — 6 1/3 combined innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts. And they aren’t done adding. Though I wouldn’t say I expect it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them push for the division title, not just a wild-card spot.

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Oh, and Vladdy Junior? He doesn’t lead the majors in homers at the moment — he’s five behind Shohei Ohtani — but he will by the end of the season. And we’ll use any excuse to show that All-Star Game home run again. 

Shohei Ohtani is an incredible player, doing unprecedented things

Will it last? Yes, and here’s why: Yeah, he’s really this great as a hitter, and he’s really this great as a pitcher. And, sure, his home run pace might slow down a bit, but the only thing keeping him from 45 homers as a hitter and 150 strikeouts as a pitcher in 2021 is a potential injury, and we’re all hoping that doesn’t happen.

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This, folks, is his new normal. 

Kris Bryant plays for the Cubs

Will that last? No, and here’s why: Admittedly, we’re not going out on a thin limb with this projection. Bryant is the biggest name who is almost certain to be traded before the July 30 deadline; if anyone wasn’t sure about that, the point was driven home during the All-Star Game broadcast, when Joe Buck asked Bryant about it on live television. Yeah. Jed Hoyer, the president of baseball operations and key decision-maker for the Cubs, admitted the club was in sell mode after their recent disastrous 11-game losing skid. 

Bryant probably won’t be the only player moved. Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo, like Bryant, are free agents after the season. Closer Craig Kimbrel and catcher Willson Contreras each could become free agents after the 2022 season, and they could certainly be moved, too (Kimbrel’s more likely than Contreras). 

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Aaron Boone is the Yankees manager

Will it last? Yes, and here’s why: I realize this is going to make lots of Yankees fans upset, because they’ve been calling for Boone to be fired for a while now. And if the question was, “Will Boone be the Yankees manager in 2022?” the answer might be a bit different. But it’s just hard to see this club making a change at this position during the season. At the moment, they’re three games over .500, eight out in the AL East and 4 1/2 out of the second wild-card.

A lot of the issues with this roster — construction, health, etc. — are not Aaron Boone issues. It’s hard to look at the current situation and see the in-season firing of Boone “lighting a spark” or whatever in the hopes that the club starts playing better and makes the postseason. And what other reasons are there for making an in-season change? 

The Giants have MLB’s best record

Will it last? No, and here’s why: Look, this isn’t to say the Giants will collapse and revert back to the team everyone expected them to be in spring training (a .500-ish squad). But let’s be honest, expecting this feel-good story to continue at the same rate in the second half seems like a little much, right? Veteran catcher Buster Posey is on the IL. So is veteran third baseman Evan Longoria. So is veteran first baseman Brandon Belt. Sensing a pattern? 

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They’ll be right there in the chase with the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West, and it would be stunning to see them drop out of the playoff mix. That would be more stunning at this point than the way they’ve exceeded offseason expectations so far. 

The Mets lead the NL East

Will it last? Yes, and here’s why: The rest of the division, quite honestly, just isn’t very good. Look at it this way: The Mets lead the NL East with 47 wins and a .540 winning percentage. Here are those numbers for the other division leaders … 

  • Brewers, NL Central: 53 and .576
  • Giants, NL West: 57 and .640
  • Red Sox, AL East: 55 and .604
  • White Sox, AL Central: 54 and .607
  • Astros, AL West: 55 and .604

Yep. Right now the Mets are on pace to win 88 games, and they own a 3 1/2-game lead in their division. In any other division, they’d be at least 3 1/2 games back themselves. The Phillies, their closest competitor, are basically the exact same .500ish team they’ve been the past three seasons. The Braves just lost their best player, Ronald Acuña, for the season. With another bad week, the Nationals will likely shift into sell mode. 

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And, it would be stunning to see the Mets stay quiet before the trade deadline. They have the opportunity to win a division title, and with a rotation led by Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, they absolutely could win multiple series in October. And new owner Steve Cohen is all about making moves with eyes on October. 

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