Our long national mid-summer nightmare is over, everyone. Baseball actually comes back as of 7:05pm ET tonight! The "second half" of the season -- call it the 43%, if you're saber -- starts now.
One Quick Thing -- Second Half Preview
One of the things I like most about the All-Star Break is that it gives baseball writers time for reflection. One of the things I like least about it, is that it also gives lazy writers a chance to post poorly-thought predictions and expectations for the upcoming slate of games. We speculate on trades, try to find hot and cold streaks, and basically play Nostradamus for a few days before getting back to the real work of, you know, reporting and analysis.
The best thing that we can do, if we're going to make predictions and wild, outlandish statements, is to try and be as amusing with them as possible. If not that, then let's try to back them up with data. So that's what I'll try to do with my take on a second half preview.
At Least One Historical "Record" Will Be Broken. By an Oriole. Or an Astro.
All right, let's get wild here. There are three records that I can see to be legitimately in jeopardy right now. One is a very interesting one: the record for doubles in a season, which is held by Earl Webb. Webb's mark of 67 is strong, and a full three doubles ahead of his next-closest competition. But Machado has a huge number, 39, heading into the break. With 66 team games left to go, Manny is on pace to strike 26 more doubles before the season ends, which would put him in second-place all-time, with 65.
Not good enough.
Keep in mind that Machado has also played every single game for his team this season, which could continue, but might not. While I'd love to see this hitting run continue, I'll put a personal 33% chance on it that he meets or breaks the record -- which is probably more than most people would give him, given the numbers. But a hot streak could put him up closer to the magic number of 67 in a hurry.
Machado's teammate Chris Davis is also looking for a record: to beat Roger Maris's "true" home run record of 61 in a single season. I don't see this happening, honestly, despite Davis's wicked power and improved approach. Davis, like Machado, has a pace that will drag him closer to the coveted mark -- if he keeps up his current pace, he'll crush 25 more, giving him a whopping 62 by the end of the season. But that too implies that Davis will play out every single game in the Orioles' schedule, and not get pitched around going forward. Crush has been special this year, and I'll put a 25% tag on him to finish out the season with more than 62 bombs.
But let's talk about a real record: Mark Reynolds' 223 strikeouts in a single season. Blake and I talked quickly about Chris Carter's unreal 38.6% strikeout rate this season, and if Carter stays healthy and sort-of productive, he could make a run at Reynolds' mark. Currently sitting at just 123 Ks, a full hundred behind the record, you might think that Carter's too far away to make a real run. But when you strike out in two out of every five plate appearances, anything is possible. Really, Carter just needs 250 or so PA to get 100 strikeouts, at his current pace. The Astros slugger has already gotten 334 PA in just 87 games already this season, so this record is definitely within reach if he stays in the lineup. And he faces Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez this weekend, so that's probably six strikeouts right there. I'll give him a full 45% chance to shatter the Reynolds record.
Let's Try to Predict a No-Hitter!
Okay, so here's the thing. No-hitters are happening at a pretty swift rate. This year, Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum have already tossed hitless games and I'd bet that there's a couple more left in the tank this season. Here's a few factors that I'd use to try and predict whether a team would be able to throw a no-hitter, just for fun:
For the opposing team (the team that is to be no-hit), I'd look for a team with a low batting average (because hits), a low OBP (to keep the opposing pitcher's pitch count low) and without an MVP candidate hitter in the lineup. Ideally, I'd like the opposing team to be playing on the road, and in a park that suppresses offense as much as possible. The teams that jump out as possible no-hitter candidates to me are the Astros and the Marlins, given how terrible they are. Granted, both of these teams feature a couple of slappy singles-hitters that could throw a team off, but they might be the best possible examples. The Padres, Mets and Cubs might also fit.
For the pitcher throwing a no-hitter, ideally you'd look for someone with a solid batting average against (because hits), good peripherals (because good is better than bad), and some level of efficiency (as pitch counts can be the enemy of no-nos). You'd also want him to be pitching at home, in a park that supresses offense, with a rangy defense behind him. And if it's a little chilly, all the better.
So, if I have to pick a team to be no-hit, my first choice is probably the Marlins. They're stuck facing a few teams, late in the season, who could really pick them apart. They're looking at 10 games against the Nationals, eight versus the Mets, six versus the Phillies, four against the Dodgers and three against the Tigers to close out the season. Each of those teams has one or more guy that I'd consider a good candidate to throw a no-hitter as an ace: Strasburg, Zimmermann, Harvey, Lee, Kershaw, Greinke, Verlander and Scherzer. While those Tigers pitchers may be resting during the last series of the season, guys like Harvey, Lee, and Strasburg are especially likely to keep running out there as the season wears on.
And Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg, as phenomenal as they've been -- aren't all that efficient. They use a lot of pitches to get to where they're going. So if I have to pick a pitcher to throw a no-hitter this season, I'll pick Cliff Lee, tossing one against the Marlins in the last month of the season. There's an off chance he'll get two starts against the team in September, one in Miami and one at home. Lee's not been noticeably worse in September compared to any other month, and his refusal to walk guys paired with his veteran ability to carry a pitch load will help him stay in the game. So if you have to bet on a no-hitter, why not bet on that one? (But don't bet on that. Please.)
- Matt Garza may be dealt to the Texas Rangers today (for a package rumored to be headlined by Mike Olt and/or C.J. Edwards), according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish.
- Also, the Rangers may be out of the Matt Garza derby, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish. Don't you just love trade rumors season?
- Cuban emigre Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is reported to be signing with a major-league club in the next few weeks, which is fun. Cuban players have been some of the most fun to watch recently (Puig, Chapman, Cespedes), so let's keep those expectations entirely unrealistic. Of course, this means sad news for Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, who will have to retire due to MLB's stringent "only one guy can have any particular first and last name combination at one time" rule. This rule was applied after years of Alex Gonzalezes confusing the hell out of me.
Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown
2013 Season Stat Line: .391/.422/.616 -- 8 HR -- 193 wRC+
Today's Puig Status: Clown(ey)in' around.
So that's it! Don't forget to follow up with feedback, and we'll see you tomorrow!
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.