We’ve just passed the trade deadline in Major League Baseball, and the playoff race is really going to heat up in the upcoming weeks. I’ve taken a look at each division and provided predictions as to who’s in, and who’s going home.
This isn’t even close right now. Honestly, who thought the Toronto Blue Jays would be just as good in the standings as the New York Yankees? The Boston Red Sox have a clear hold of the division title right now. The only question in this division is, can somebody pull of a run similar to the Oakland 20-game wonder last year? Barring a miracle from the other 3 sub-.500 compadres, the Yankees figure to be the best team to do it. But they need some starting pitching and production from all aspect of the lineup, something they haven’t been getting thus far.
The Blue Jays are a mystery to me- one week they can hang with the best, the next week they’re battling (and mostly losing) to teams with worse records. Roy Holliday’s been good, no doubt, and Alex Rios has stepped up to carry this team up from the cellar. Still, even if this were the NL Central, they’d be too far back to do much.
The Yankees are also a mystery, but for a different reason. Aside from A-Rod, Jeter, and Jorge Posada, who’s really producing in that lineup? The glaring weakness is 1B, where Johnny Damon seems the best bet. I’d say New York’s a buyer in this trade market. But the starting pitching, hit by injuries, hasn’t lived up to expectations, and the bullpen isn’t nearly as strong as it could be.
The BoSox are one of the best teams in baseball….without lively bats from Manny or Big Papi. Mike Lowell leads them in HRs? Talk about a “didn’t see that one coming.” The bullpen is dominant, Okajima-Papelbon are downright scary to face. I cringed when my Braves saw it. It was painful. Oh, and the pitching’s been there, though overall it’s mediocre. Josh Beckett has been light out, but where’d Tim Wakefield’s knuckleballing expertise go? He’s an okay 8-7 right now, right? He needs to improve for the playoffs.
Prediction: It won’t matter if the Yankees DO pull of a long win streak, Boston’s too good to let a 10 game lead slip away this year. Count the Red Sox into the playoffs, with Toronto putting up a spirited fight for 2nd until the Yankees do pull of a run to cement them watching Boston celebrate.
This could’ve been a 4-team battle, one I was looking forward to. Well, at least there are 3 that are still in contention. The Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins all have many strengths and few weaknesses. The Chicago White Sox have done nothing but flop this year, and they’re more than out of it. They might be passed by a somewhat resurgent Kansas City Royals team for 4th place. How funny would that be?
The Detroit Tigers are failing most notably in one area: the bullpen. Especially middle relief. Joel Zumaya comes back in a month or so, and they badly need him. Todd Jones has done fair on the back end, with 22 saves. The starting pitching has been great, with a stellar season from Jeremy Bonderman in the works, and Kenny Rogers has returned to go 3-0. That could be thanks to an offense that’s one of the best in baseball, with Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Placido Palanco, and Carlos Guillen all names opposing pitchers have to be careful about.
The Cleveland Indians are also big, and to be feared. The bullpen here is solid, but not overwhelming, and Joe Borowski has done only a decent job in the closer’s role. Count on that as the Tribe’s first priority to upgrade. The lineup is built for speed and power, something leadoff man Grady Sizemore emulates quite well (one of 2 people with at least 10 HR, 50 R, 20 SB…the other is Hanley Ramirez). Travis Hafner’s been a dud mostly, but he still has managed 15 HR, it’s just the average. But with the new contract, his mind ought to be more focused for a big second half. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona have been great for the most part, with both getting rocked in 1 or 2 starts this year. And the back end of the rotation hasn’t hurt them, either. Overall, this is a major contender.
The Minnesota Twins have had their share of problems, but apparently shaving your heads can do something. Maybe. 8 games out of first, they still have a ways to go. Johan Santana, is well, duh. And this is the second half coming up. Be afraid. Joe Nathan has been good, when he has a save opportunity, but that hasn’t been too often. Justin Morneau has got his bat going, and Justin Bartlett has been a surprise to me on the basepaths (17 SB, including a streak of 7 games in a row). Joe Mauer, however, hasn’t done too much, and though we all expected his BA to be up there, did anybody see this drop in power? He has to step it up and drive in Bartlett and Luis Castillo when they get on. Morneau cannot get this team to the playoffs alone.
Prediction: This will boil down to a 2-team battle eventually, barring a major run by the Twins. The Tigers and Indians are so close, whoever won the season series has a major advantage right now. Just because I’m expecting Hafner to heat up, I’m picking the Indians to take the division crown, just barely over the Tigers. And yes, the Royals do sustain a 4th place finish.
This race is similar to the Central’s, in that it’s essentially a 2-team race with a dark horse looking in. The Texas Rangers are the only team you can truly count out right now, though Sosa has been fun to watch. The A’s need a run like last year, but right now it’s tight between the Angels and the where-the-heck-did-you-come-from Seattle Mariners.
Oakland has 2 glaring problems: the bullpen situation, and offensive production. They really want Huston Street back ASAP, though Alan Embree hasn’t been terrible in relief. The sooner they get Rich Harden back in the lineup, the better…I can’t see Dan Haren or Chad Gaudin keeping their current paces. However, those two can have very good second halves. The offense is what worries the management, I’m sure. Jack Cust has been amazing and then not in Mike Piazza’s absence, but where did phenom Nick Swisher’s bat go? Shannon Stewart came out of nowhere to contribute mightily to the production, and he’s their go-to guy on the basepaths. But how long can this up-and-down roster sustain them?
Seattle has Ichiro. But the offense also benfits from Richie Sexson’s power, Jose Guillen’s all-around ability, and Raul Ibanez’s RBI production. Felix Hernandez, after that injury, is back on track and looking dominant again. Miguel Batista has been productive, as well, with 8 wins. Who expected Jarrod Washburn to have the low ERA at 3.72? JJ Putz has been insane in that bullpen, which has done it’s job. The biggest problem can be pinpointed on pitching- it hasn’t stepped up to complement the bullpen and good offense. If they get big 2nd halves from 2 pitchers, watch out. I’m betting Hernandez has on, but can Batista get to 16 wins with his tendency to walk hitters? That 1.57 WHIP says no.
The LA Angels have been the top team in baseball for a time…though not at the moment. Still, the offense, led by Vladamir Guerrero, is just plain scary. Reggie Wilits has been a beast when he runs, and Chone Figgins has been scorching the last month. Orlando Cabrera is having an All Star-caliber season so far, too. The bullpen has Francisco Rodriguez, so enough said there. John Lackey has been dominant, and Kelvim Escobar has complemented him nicely, especially with that 7.39 K/9 ratio. There’s not much to dislike here.
Prediction: How can you go against the Angels? Well, how about a Seattle run with dominant pitching in the 2nd half? Yes, I’m picking Seattle to make a run and steal the show. Until mid-September, when they fade because the offense hits a rut. Count the Angels in the playoffs, with Seattle the team most fans rooted for for the underdog position.
AL Wild Card
It’s between the loser of the Cleveland/Detroit war, Seattle, and maybe Minnesota and Oakland. What shocks me is just how close the Mariners are; they’re 1 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the wild card position right now. So, who’s going to have the beter second half, the Mariners, or the AL Central loser? The best is in the west, as Seattle will find enough pitching to counter either Bonderman/Rogers or Sabathia/Carmona, and sitting 1 or 2 games back of the Angels won’t hurt so much after all.