July 12, 2006
MLB Midseason, Part II
First a couple notes:
The Devil Rays traded Aubrey Huff to the Astros earlier today. Huff will certainly give the 'Stros some extra power in their lineup - he's averaged over 100 RBI for the past three years (while batting in the putrid Devil Ray lineup!), although he has only 28 RBI and 8 HRs this year. One of the players the D-Rays got in return was Ben Zobrist, who I believe played for the Valleycats a couple years back.
Also, if you're a baseball freak like me, you should take ESPN.com's Baseball Trivia test. I got a 35, though I missed a couple that I should have got right. Compare your score to that of other players and ESPN baseball analysts.
Now that that's taken care of...
Yesterday I recapped the state of the division and wild-card races. You can look at the full standings here if you wish (am I nearing the record for the most links in a column yet?). So, without further ado, my official second half MLB predictions:
Right now the Red Sox are three games up on the Yankees, but they've been slightly lucky to get even that edge. Their run differentials are exactly the same, which means that they both would be expected to have the same record. But I can't see the Yankees staying with the Sox for too long - all those injuries have to take their toll eventually, and that starting rotation is not very good at all. The Sox have a good offense, a good pitching staff, and they've decided to actually play some defense this year. Look for Toronto to put together a nice little run sometime in August and pull within a couple games of a playoff spot, but then slowly fade out of the race.
Final Standings: 1. Boston, 2. New York, 3. Toronto, 4. Tampa Bay, 5. Baltimore
The Tigers have been beyond phenominal in what they've accomplished this year. They've cruised to a 59-29 record, the best in the majors. What's been amazing is that they've done it almost entirely with their pitching - their 455 runs scored is slightly above average, but they've only allowed 328 runs - the next-best in the majors is the Padres' 369. However, they are relying heavily on their young pitchers such as rookie sensation Justin Verlander or 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman. These guys are bound to hit a rough patch now and then, and Kenny Rogers has always performed much better in the first half than the second half. By contrast, the White Sox have achieved the second-best record in baseball mostly due to their hitting; they have pitched well, but they are the only team in baseball who has scored over 500 runs (520). The Twins are arguably the hottest team in baseball, but they're too far back to make a run; they're still 11 games back. The Indians, by the way, have easily been the unluckiest team in baseball - they're seven games below .500, despite the fact that they've scored 40 more runs than they've allowed.
Final Standings: 1. ChiSox, 2. Tigers, 3. Twins, 4. Indians, 5. Royals
The Rangers and A's are tied at the top, with the Mariners and Angels both within 2.5 games. Oakland actually has been lucky to get to where they are - they've allowed more runs than they've scored - but I think they're the favorites here for two reasons. First, they probably have the most talent in the division; you'll remember that just about every baseball expert picked the A's to win the World Series this year. Second, the A's have always been a second-half team; even in years when they seem completely out of it, they will make a monster run in August and be in playoff contention to the end. The one X-factor in this division is the trade deadline - the Angels definitely have the prospects to deal for an impact bat such as Alfonso Soriano, although they have been reluctant to do so in the past.
Final Standings: 1. A's, 2. Angels, 3. Rangers, 4. Mariners
Finally, we get an easy pick. The Mets obviously will run away with the division and will be assured of a playoff spot. The Phillies right now are in second place, albeit with a 40-47 record (which, by the way, wouldn't even be good enough for fourth place in the AL Central), and don't look now but the Braves have won seven of their last ten (and, despite being nine games under .500, have an almost even run differential). The Marlins have been surprisingly good, but I don't think there's enough talent there to do anything in August.
Final Standings: 1. Mets, 2. Braves, 3. Phillies, 4. Nationals, 5. Marlins
The Cardinals are four games up right now, and although that's certainly not insurmountable, it looks like they've moved past their cold spell and should play well enough the rest of the way to take the division. The Reds, Brewers, and Astros are all closely packed together for second place. The Brewers are somehow 44-46 despite having a -70 run differential, and those things tend to resolve themselves by the end of the season (i.e., the Brewers end up 72-90). And do you really believe in the Reds? Here's their five-man rotation: Aaron Harang (who?), Bronson Arroyo (can he really continue to be a Cy Young contender?), Eric Milton, Joe Mays (two Minnesota castaways), and Brandon Claussen (currently on the DL). And do you really see that rotation contending for the division title? This isn't the Big Red Machine hitting behind them either; currently Scott Hatteberg is their second-best hitter...
Final Standings: 1. Cardinals, 2. Astros, 3. Reds, 4. Brewers, 5. Cubs, 6. Pirates
The Padres are two games up on the Dodgers and 3.5 ahead of Colorado, and they have gotten great pitching from their rotation and bullpen so far. But right now, I have to go with my gut and pick the Dodgers. They have a +55 run differential, their young kids are performing well, and I don't think any of the other teams in the division are any better. Furcal has been a bust so far, but he has traditionally performed well in the second half. I don't think Colorado's pitching is as good as it has been so far - they've given up less than 400 runs (fifth in baseball) while playing their home games at Coors Field.
Final Standings: 1. Dodgers, 2. Padres, 3. Giants, 4. Rockies, 5. D-Backs
AL Wild Card:
This will be an incredible race. First, let's eliminate the teams in the West - they're 12 games back right now, and I can't see them making up that much ground. The Blue Jays aren't going to hang around long enough, and the Twins don't really have enough offense to make up the ground they have to make up. So we're down to the Yankees and the Tigers.
The Tigers are eight games up on the Yankees, and their pitching has been outstanding. The Yankees have to overcome a depleted offense, a mediocre pitching staff, and a pretty bad bullpen (excluding Rivera) and make up eight games on the Tigers - I can't see it.
AL Wild Card: Tigers
(Wait a minute - I'm actually going to pick the team that lost 119 games just three years ago over the mighty Yankees? The team with three guys under 25 and one guy over 40 in their rotation? Plus they have to play the Indians, Twins, and White Sox 19 times? Over the 26-time world champions? Sorry, I can't do it. I just can't. Let me state for the record that I'm anything but a Yankee fan, but that lineup...they're getting Matsui and Sheffield back (theoretically) in September...they get to finish their season with series @ KC, @ Baltmore, Tampa, Boston, @ Toronto, @ Tampa, Baltimore, and Toronto...forget it, I can't do it.)
AL Wild Card:
NL Wild Card:
Right now the Dodgers have the wild card, and the Rockies, Giants, and Reds are right behind them. But I don't think any of the teams in the West are capable of putting together a major run, and that's what it's going to take to win this thing. Using my division picks above, that leaves the Braves and Astros as the contenders. The Braves have the history, but Houston has Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettite. And in the end, that's all that matters.
NL Wild Card: Astros
Now that I have all the division races set, let's pick the playoffs:
Yankees vs ChiSox:
Now this would be a GREAT series. Frankly, both teams seem pretty much the same to me this year - Chicago's 1-2-3 starters will be Contreras, Buerhle, Freddy Garcia. The Yankees will throw Johnson, Mussina, Wang. The rotations might slightly favor Chicago, but their rotation really has underachieved so far this year, so it's not a huge difference. Both teams have amazing lineups - the Sox have scored 520 runs already, but the Yanks should have Matsui and Sheffield back by then. Both teams obviously have postseason experience. I think the bullpens will swing this series, and although Rivera is a little better than Bobby Jenks, I definitely like Neal Cotts, Cliff Pollite, etc. better than Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers, and Scott Proctor.
The Pick: Chicago
Oakland vs Boston:
This would also be a great series. Boston has a very good lineup, but I do think this could be the year that Oakland wins in the playoffs. Oakland's top three starters are great - they'll be getting Rich Harden back sometime in August, Zito is great, and Danny Haren is fairly underrated. Huston Street is a good closer, and I think that offense will put together just enough to win. Boston looks better on paper, but baseball's a funny game...
The Pick: Oakland
Houston vs New York:
The Mets are obviously the best team in the NL at this point, but I think they're better built for the regular season than the playoffs. They do have a great offense, but here's who they'll throw in the five-game series: Pedro, Glavine, Steve Traschel, El Duque (since Pedro can't throw on 3 days' rest anymore), then Pedro again if a game 5 is necessary. By contrast, Houston will throw Oswalt, Clemens, Pettite, then probably Brandon Backe or Wandy Rodriguez before Oswalt again. Do you completely trust the Mets in this matchup? I'll pick the Mets, but I'm not convinced...
The Pick: Mets
LA Dodgers vs St. Louis:
All these series are pretty interesting. This one I'm not sure how to figure out - LA's pitching isn't great (unless Brad Penny can throw like he did last night in the All-Star game), but the Cardinals' pitching behind Carpenter has been absolutely terrible so far. I think there's too much talent on that Redbirds roster, however.
The Pick: Cardinals
ALCS: Oakland vs ChiSox
I do like Oakland's team, and I was considering picking them to make a run deep into the playoffs. But this team has basically no playoff experience, the White Sox have a much better batting order, and I think Chicago has the upper hand in every pitching matchup except game 1 (when they face Zito). Plus, it's likely that Oakland has to go five games to take out Boston, and therefore won't have their staff in order and won't have a rested bullpen.
The Pick: Chicago
NLCS: St. Louis vs Mets
The two best teams in the National League meet in a best-of-seven duel for the ages. Most people will definitely like the Mets in this lineup, but let me run through the pitching matchups again (assuming each team could align their rotation however they wanted):
Game 1: Pedro vs Carpenter
Game 2: Glavine vs Mulder
Game 3: Traschel vs Suppan
Game 4: El Duque vs Carpenter (or Marquis)
...depending on if the Cards wanted Carpenter to throw on three days' rest. I'm not really sure the Mets have the upper hand in any of those matchups, and the Cards could also throw rookie Anthony Reyes or Jeff Weaver if either of them get hot by the end of the year. The bullpens are similar - both Jason Isringhausen and Billy Wagner have had their problems, but both are good closers. And both teams have very prolific offenses, but I see no reason to believe the Mets have a much better offense than St. Louis. And the Cardinals' defense is probably the best in the league.
The Pick: Cardinals
World Series: Cardinals vs White Sox
Actually, the Cards and White Sox are also very similar teams. Both teams have very good offenses, deep pitching staffs, and a servicable bullpen with an above-average closer. The Cards definitely have the edge defensively, but the Sox probably have the better lineup. Can the Sox repeat? Or can the Cards win despite being in the inferior league? With no real reason to go either way, I'll go with my gut...
World Series Champion: St. Louis