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Big League Stew

Houston’s first 100-loss year and other midseason predictions

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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With the All-Star game in our rearview mirror, BLS stats guru Alex Remington issues 10 predictions for the rest of the regular season.

1. The Astros will finish with the most losses in baseball — the first 100-loss season in franchise history: During the preseason, I predicted that the Astros would lose nearly 100 games. After the first 92 games, I'm prepared to change my mind. I think they'll lose more than 100 games. Simply put, no team in baseball is even close to the Astros' collective ineptitude. They have scored only 358 runs, 19th-best in baseball, but they have allowed 464 runs, worst in baseball. Using a sabermetric formula called Pythagorean Wins, which estimates the number of wins a team ought to have considering its runs scored and runs allowed, the Astros have underperformed their run differential by five wins — they should be at 35-57, but they're actually at 30-62. Unfortunately, even if they had 35 wins, that would still be the fewest in all of baseball.

In their 50-year history, the Astros have never lost more than 97 games (which they did in 1975 and again in 1991). But they're just 35 losses away from that mark; at their current .326 winning percentage, they'll set a franchise loss record on Sept. 16. In fact, they're on pace for 109 losses, which would be the worst win total since the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, who went 51-111.

2. The Pirates will sport a winning record for the first time since 1992: Oh, what a luxury it is to play in a weak division with teams like the Astros. Buoyed by a blossoming superstar in Andrew McCutchen, the Bucs are a surprising four games over .500. They haven't been over .500 this late in the season since 1999, when a team led by Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Jason Schmidt and Kris Benson remained a game above .500 until Aug. 15, and managed a record of 67-67 after winning on Sept. 1, before going 11-16 in the rest of September and October. They haven't been four games over .500 this late in the season since 1992, the last winning season in franchise history. {YSP:MORE}

Their secret weapon has been pitching and a defense led by McCutchen. Though they've scored 354 runs, 22nd-best in baseball, the Pirates have allowed just 354 runs, 10th-best in baseball. In addition to Kevin Correia's All-Star season, the Pirates have received strong work from Jeff Karstens and All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan. The Pirates aren't a good team, but for the first time in over a decade, they aren't a bad one. I believe they can stay within sneezing distance of .500 all year, particularly because they have nine more games scheduled against the Astros.

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3. Jose Bautista will hit 50 homers for the second year in a row: Last year at this time, I predicted: "Jose Bautista will hit 35 homers this year, a career high he will never again come close to matching." Needless to say, I was, uh, very wrong. Joey Bats has come back to earth a bit since his torrid start to the season, when his OPS was a Bondsian 1.325, but his OPS is still 1.170, and he's still leading the majors in homers, walks, on-base percentage, slugging, and Wins Above Replacement. Really, about the only thing other than injury that could keep him from hitting 50 home runs again would be getting the Bonds treatment. (Or, if you prefer, the Tuffy Rhodes treatment.) Right now, he's leading the majors with 14 intentional walks, though that number could continue to rise if he keeps hitting this way. But the power goes without saying. Since Sept.  2009, Bautista has averaged one homer per every 10.3 at-bats. If he keeps that up, and continues to play in 91 percent of the Jays' games (and continues to receive approximately 3.6 at-bats a game), he'll hit 53 homers. I'm not betting against him a second time.

4. For the first time since 2008, Derek Jeter will fail to win the Gold Glove at shortstop: It feels like Derek Jeter's horrible defense has been an Internet meme for most of my lifetime, a sabermetric backlash against Derek Jeter's inexplicable pile of Gold Gloves and good defensive reputation despite a severe lack of mobility to his left.

Jeter came into the league in 1995, but didn't win the first of his five Gold Gloves until 2004, when he was 30. In the years since then, he has won four Gold Gloves in six seasons. The Gold Gloves have always been an absurd spectacle, rigged by laziness and complacency, and Jeter's five Gold Gloves signify nothing more than the fact that coaches in the league — the voters on the Gold Glove — think he plays the game the right way. Of course, Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, Alcides Escobar and Brendan Ryan are clearly much better fielders than the 37-year-old Jeter, who is hitting .270 for the second straight year, seemingly inconceivable for the man who inside-outed his way to .300 in 11 of his first 14 full seasons.

5. For the second time in his career, Carlos Pena will hit 30 home runs with a batting average under .230: In the preseason, I predicted that Pena would be the Comeback Player of the Year. Of course, at this point it's pretty easy to see Lance Berkman is going to win and everyone else is just playing for second. Still, Pena has been a lot better than he was last year, and appears headed for numbers very similar to his career totals. He's on pace for 35 home runs — which is actually his career average per 162 games — and though his .225/.339/.461 slash line is a bit lower than his career .239/.350/.487 mark, that discrepancy is more or less in line with the league-wide decline in offense this year. Pena is just a high-power, low-average guy. In his career, Pena has hit at least 27 homers in five different seasons, and he produced the following batting averages: .241, .282, .247, .227, .196. Though the 37-55 Cubs may wish they were getting more from their big first baseman, he's really given them about everything they could have expected.

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6. For the first time since his rookie year  — when he jacked 19 homers in 66 games — Adam Dunn will hit fewer than 20 homers: Dunn is a year and a half younger than Carlos Pena, and throughout his career has been a much, much better hitter. But this year has been an unmitigated disaster. Dunn is leading his league in strikeouts, which he hasn't done since 2006 (partly thanks to Mark Reynolds), yet is just tied for 47th in homers. This is sort of unfathomable territory for him. He was in the top seven on the NL's homer list every year from 2004 to 2010. The last time his ranking was this low was his rookie year in 2001, when he hit 19 homers in 2 1/2 half months and firmly established himself as one of the best power hitters in baseball. But 19 homers was just the 48th-highest total in the National League that year, because at the top of the list, Barry Bonds hit 73 homers, Sammy Sosa hit 64, Luis Gonzalez hit 57, and Shawn Green hit 49. So Dunn was in some tough company. However, this year, Dunn is looking like he drank from the wrong holy grail.

7. Ichiro will fail to pick up 200 hits or bat .300, for the first time in his American career: Last year at this time, I predicted that Ichiro would collect over 200 hits for a record-setting 10th straight season. And though it was one of his less impressive offensive seasons overall, he collected 214 hits. But I overreached with the last sentence: "There's no sign that will stop anytime soon." I'm afraid those signs are all over the place this year. Last month, when he was hitting .260, I wrote that he was still probably "a true talent .300 hitter who's simply getting unlucky," and he has picked up 10 points of batting average since I wrote that. But he is clearly declining. His power is all but gone: Though he was always mostly a singles hitter, he is now almost exclusively one. His speed is still impressive, as he's 23 for 27 in steals, but a 37-year-old man can't beat out infield singles the way a 27-year-old man can. And time is not on his side. He's currently on pace for 180 hits. Since he hit .270 through the team's first 91 games (playing in 90 of them), he'll basically need to hit .339 the rest of the way. He certainly can -- he hit .352 for the entire 2009 season -- but that's not easy to do, even for Ichiro, who has an overall batting average of .317 since 2008, the year he turned 34. And now he's 37. It's hard to see him managing to pull it off.

8. Matt Kemp will miss out on 40-40, but will finish with the first 35-35 season since Alfonso Soriano in 2006: Before the season in 2010, I wrote that Matt Kemp had as good a shot as any to put up a 30-30 season. I was right -- but it turns out I was a year too early. This year, the Bison is at 22 homers and 27 stolen bases, and it almost seems like a given that he'll finally join the 30-30 club. He's been an all-in-all offensive monster this year, but the two most notable improvements have been in his baserunning and walk rate. Last year, he was a deplorable 19 for 34 in steals; this year, he's 27 for 30. (He hasn't gotten caught since April 20; since then, he's successfully stolen 19 bases in a row, his entire season total in 2010.) Kemp could easily steal 40 bases this year, so the only thing that could possibly keep him out of the 40-40 club is his home runs. He has never hit 30 homers in a season — last year's 28 is his career high — and though he's on pace for 39 if he continues to play in every Dodger game as he has so far, I think he'll probably top out just short of that. But I think 35 homers is within reach, and if he does that, it will be the first 30-30 season of any kind since 2009, and the first 35-35 season since Alfonso Soriano did it with the Nationals in a contract year in 2006. Kemp absolutely has the talent. This year, I think the prediction finally might come true.

9. For the first time in his career, Dan Uggla will hit 30 home runs with a batting average under .230: Dan Uggla is having a Carlos Pena type of season. But that's actually an improvement, considering that he spent the first two months hitting like Adam Dunn in 2011. Recently, Uggla has started to turn it around — he still isn't hitting for average, but he's hitting for the power the Braves expected when they traded for him. In his last 17 games, Uggla has hit .230/.329/.574, with six homers and 21 strikeouts in 61 at-bats. Uggla has never been a high-average hitter, as his career average is .255, but he has spent so much time below the Mendoza line this year that the Braves would be overjoyed if he could get his average up to Pena's .225. If he keeps hitting like he has the last three weeks, that isn't out of the realm of possibility. He'd have to hit .277 from here on out. (It might not be much easier for Dan Uggla to hit .277 than for Ichiro to hit .339, but at least Uggla is 31, while Ichiro is 37.) Either way, Uggla is almost certain to finish the year with the lowest batting average of his career (his previous career low is .243), but he has a good shot at his fifth straight 30-homer season.

10. The Indians will miss the playoffs: It gives me no pleasure to make this prediction as the Cleveland Indians have been perhaps the best story in baseball all year. But they've relied on people like Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson to pitch over their heads, and an out-of-his-mind Travis Hafner to turn back the clock, and they've basically been treading water since their brilliant April. In May, June and July, the Indians are a combined 29-34. The Detroit Tigers are by no means a perfect team, but Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are better than anyone on the Indians, and underperforming regulars like Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello offer the Tigers a bit of room to dream on. Thanks to the AL East, the wild card is effectively not in play, so the only way for a team in the AL West or AL Central to get to the playoffs is to win the division outright, and the Indians just aren't as talented as the first-place Tigers. Of course, the division could hardly be closer, and neither team is flawless, and considering that the Indians already caught lightning in a bottle once this year, they may well be able to do it again. Just because they aren't as talented as the Tigers doesn't mean that they can't win anyway. But it's less likely. I don't think they get the job done this year.

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