Push to the Pennant
With most teams anywhere from 4 to 7 games away from officially completing half their regular season games, I thought it was as good a time as any to make my second half predictions.
The All-Star Game’s completion usually signals the start of the trade season. That very small window from the middle of July through the end of July can change the game. A team on the outside looking in might be thrust into the play-off race. Or a play-off contender may pull off the most bone-headed trade in history and fall out of contention.
Either way, I’m not waiting. With half the season in the books I intend to make irresponsible predictions without knowing what each team will loom like come July 31st. And don’t lie, you’re doing the same thing.
Let’s start with the American League East. The Red Sox have a 0.5 game lead over the Yankees, and the Rays are 3.5 back. As impressive as the Rays are considering their payroll, the Red Sox have finally become the juggernaut we all thought they’d be. The Yankees have the best shot at overtaking the Sox, but I don’t see it happening. So my pick for the AL East is the Red Sox. And I expect them to win it by at least 5 games.
The AL Central is the strangest division in baseball. The Twins are playing better but are still so far back in the division they’re feet can touch the bottom (otherwise known as the Royals). The Indians and Tigers are perched at the top with the Indians holding a one game lead. Hats off to the Indians, but I expect them to fade by the end of July. They will remain competitive and within a good winning streak’s distance of first, but the Tigers are ultimately going to win the division. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball and should put them on his back the rest of the year.
The AL West is similar to the NL West of 2005. There is only one team above .500 in the division and that’s the defending AL Champion Rangers. Seattle is a nice story, but they just don’t have the talent yet to make a run at the division crown. The Angels are always a tough team to beat, but they’ve already passed the torch to Texas. Much like last year, I expect the Rangers to run away with it.
And that brings us to the Wild Card. For the fifth straight year the Wild Card will come out of the American League East. No other division will have a strong enough team. The Yankees will win the AL Wild Card narrowly over the Rays who will make it interesting down to the last week of the season.
Ok, if you haven’t done so yet, take a bathroom break, get a drink, or stretch your legs. It’s time to move on to the National League.
Much like the AL East, the NL East is powerful. The Phillies are the clear favorite and will run away with the division. Sorry Fredi Gonzalez, your redemption year with the Braves will be good, but not enough for a division title. The Marlins will get back to winning with Jack McKeon, but their terrible June will haunt them all season.
The National League Central is the best division in baseball. They edge the AL East slightly based on having one more division opponent and four teams at .500 or better. The Brewers have come a long way and will be in a dog fight to the finish with the Cardinals, but they will win the division by a narrow margin. The Reds, while still a good team, will finish third. And get ready for a celebration 18 years in the making, the Pirates will finish over .500 for the first time since ’92.
The NL West is really a two-horse race. While everyone, including myself, gave the Rockies a chance at the division crown, they haven’t capitalized on their talent. Kevin Towers at GM and Kirk Gibson at manager is a winning combination for the Diamondbacks. That and their bullpen is no longer standing at home plate holding the door open for the opposing team. The Giants have carried on admirably in the midst of an injury-plagued season and with the struggles of Tim Lincecum, but they will not repeat at division champs. The Diamondbacks will win it in a race with almost as much excitement as last year.
The NL Wild Card is coming out of the Central. The Cardinal will be rewarded for the turnaround they made from 2010 to 2011. The Braves will give us something to talk about, but they have nine games left against the Phillies. Six of which are in September, down the stretch.
So there you have it. My prediction that will surely be wrong. Bring on the Summer Classic and bring on the pennant races.