No, I’m not Sara Freder, so I won’t grant you insight into your future by using talismans and crystal balls for $39.99, but I figure I can look at the halfway point of a baseball season and figure who will represent both leagues in the playoffs.
Boston. It would be tough for them to lose this division, even with the Yankees in it. With a double digit lead, and the Yankees lacking a real pitching ace, it would take a collapse like 1978 for these Bo Sox to fall short. Unlikely with Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Dice-K, Beckett and a host of others battle tested and not at all afraid of the vaunted Yankee mystique.
Cleveland. At 49-32, this team has done a lot with lackluster work by Travis Hafner. But with CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore doing their jobs well, the team has a .352 OBP, 3rd in all of baseball behind Boston and the NY Yankees. This is a primary sabermetric tool to scoring runs and Cleveland will continue to do that. On the other side of the ledger, with Sabathia only walking a couple of handfuls of people, the Indians have allowed the fewest walks in MLB. While only in the middle of the pack in ERA, the Tribe should stay in 1st or 2nd in the AL Central.
Detroit. The Tigers are at it again. They are 4th in OBP, right behind Cleveland. They lead all of MLB in SLG% and thus also lead the MLB in putting runs on the board. However, many of their players are above their lifetime heads. Placido Polanco is a good little hitter, .302 lifetime. Not much power, but he’s struggled to put together 150 games in a season. He’s on pace for that. Does he continue to hit .330? Magglio Ordonez is another .300 hitter that is pounding it at .370. Will that continue? Realistically, those two will drop off 30-40 points and the Lion share of the scoring will have to come from Gary Sheffield and Pudge Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen.
Pitching is faltering, even with Justin Verlander no-no just recently. Their bullpen is shaky at best, with 39-year old Todd Jones still getting saves with a 5.85 ERA. Jones does not strikeout batters and that’s a problem for a closer. The Tigers have been looking for answers as their number of pitchers used reflects. Eventually, these two aspects – less offense and shaky pitching – will put them in second in the AL East.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 6th in OBP, 5th in Runs Scored and 1st in AL West. They still get mileage out of Vlad whose 31, looks older, and has been at it for a decade or more. He is a 1st ballot HOF if he does it for 5 more years. With pesky, versatile Chone Figgins, the Angels just do it well with Mike Scioscia running the show. They have better pitching, with Lackey, Escobar and Santana eating up innings as starters and likely the best bullpen, or at least a top 5 bullpen in baseball with a 25 year old K-Rod and Scot Shields as the forces.
The Angels have two problems: Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. The AL West is a marathon usually and Oaktown is 8.5 games behind. Seattle too is only 4 games out, but managerial shakeup with Hargrove gone means likely the Mariners will not contend. The Angels are not a uber team; so, Oakland’s manuevers could get them their. But realistically, the A’s have not got much out of 3rd baseman Eric Chavez, SS Bobby Crosby and C Jason Kendall. Those parts are producing miserably and even with another Big 3 in Haren, Blanton and Gaudin, the A’s are unlikely to surpass the Angels.
AL Playoffs: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles.
AL Championship: Boston vs. Detroit.
AL WS: Boston.
Chicago. Yes, yes, holy mackeral, the Cubs are going to play in the post season. They have the pieces (sans a durable right fielder) in the batting order: Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Theriot, DeRosa, and Floyd can produce runs. Zambrano, Lilly, Marquis and Hill can hold their own most nights in the National League – 5th in the NL in ERA and 2nd overall in Strikeouts of opponents.
Lou Piniella has done everything he could to manipulate this into a winning ballclub. In a weak division, Milwaukee is just not good enough. Aside from Ben Sheets and Prince Fielder, I don’t get a warm fuzzy with their players on the field. The Cubs have more experience in playoff runs with Soriano, Lee, DeRosa actually going on to play in the World Series.
New York. The city liked so much they gave them 2 teams. The Mets are star laden bunch. Coming up short last year to the mediocre WS-winning Cardinals had to put them on edge. Unfortunately, the Altanta Braves are only 4.0 games back. What gives? They have a 3.65 ERA which is 3rd in all of baseball. They have enough offense to win? Bullpen has been terrible. Aside from little lefty Billy Wagner and Pedro Feliciano, they have Mota (5.29), Sele (5.26), Shoeneweis (5.46) and Heilman (4.19) that have blown up a few games.
Mets will win – with Pedro Martinez on the mend for August/September push – but not by double digits.
NL West. It’s a good question: who will win this mess?
San Diego: 27th in OBP. 22nd in SLG%. 1st in ERA (3.03 ) by a half-run over everyone else.
LA Dodgers: 11th in OBP. 23rd in SLG%. 5th in ERA (3.73).
Arizona D-backs: 25th in OBP. 19th in SLG%. 8th in ERA (3.92).
Pitching wins championships. San Diego has veterans in Maddux, Wells and Hoffman to go with Jake Peavy. Their lineup is mediocre at best, they play decent defense and their home park is best suited for 3-2, 2-1 ballgames with a good bullpen which they have.
NL Playoffs: Chicago, New York, San Diego and LA Dodgers.
NL Championships: New York and Chicago.
NL Series: Chicago. (Biased ain’t I?)
Boston v. Chicago: Boston in 6. Cubs still sans a World Series title….