June 1st means that we are effectively one-third of the way through the season. The old adage is that a team spends the first third of the season figuring out its identity and needs, the second third getting what it needs to fill the holes, and the final third making a run at the playoffs. If that is true then the next two months will be defined by the moves teams make to help with the final push. Each division remains close with multiple teams in contention…this is shaping up to be a fascinating season. Here’s another prediction reboot as I evaluate my pre-season picks and give my take on each division:
Order has been restored in the East and as improved as the Orioles are and as fun as the Blue Jays have been, this is and will continue to be a three-horse race between the Sox, the Yanks, and the Rays. The interesting thing about this division is that the Red Sox and Yankees are virtually identical: good offenses, star-studded line ups, veterans who are underproducing, and big questions marks in the back half of the rotations. The Rays are the opposite…they are the AL version of the Giants: pitching, pitching, pitching, and hope for some runs. Still going with my original predictions: Red Sox take the division and the Rays win the Wild Card.
I continue to admit that picking the Twins was one of the worst predictions I have ever made! That said, this division presents a conundrum to many around baseball. Are the Indians for real? They seem to be playing above their heads, especially in the pitching department, and the gap has closed between them and the rest of the division recently. Detroit continues to be the primary adversary to date, and the Twins and Royals are essentially done. That leaves Chicago. They appear to have righted the bullpen issues that plagued them early and I have to believe that their offense will heat up as the weather continues to warm. My money is still on Chicago to get hot and take this division, but I have little confidence in any prediction I can make about the AL Central.
The AL West is extremely close and incredibly mediocre. Each team has 27, 28, or 29 wins. First and last are separated by 2 wins (2.5 games). The big surprise has been the Mariners who could be in first place by tonight if things go right. As impossible as it might seem, given their atrocious offense, they might be able to stay in this slowest of races. The Western divisions are probably the two that will be most affected by mid-season trades. Whoever makes the best moves here will probably prevail. Last year it took 90 wins to take this division, right now the winner is on pace for 87. That’s not great. My thoughts: I have the most confidence in the Rangers to pull off a difference making move, but I am not ready to change my original pick. The A’s will make a move too, and they will also see their starters go on a crazy run and win 15 of 17 at some point this summer to separate themselves from the pack. Oakland prevails.
One of the best stories of the year has to be the Marlins. They were my NL Sleeper pick back in January and they are making me proud! That said, I still can’t help but think the Braves will overtake them. And now with the news about Hanley Ramirez and his bad back, I feel even more strongly that the Marlins will fade. It will be close though. The Braves squeak by for the Wild Card and the Phillies ride their four horsemen to the division title.
I have to admit that I am starting to believe in the Cardinals. However, not much has changed here as far as my opinion about this division. Still think the Brewers are the team to beat, still think the Reds are/were overrated, still think the Cubs and Pirates are actually close to contending and could be annoying down the stretch. The Cardinals though are really going to make this interesting. Their offense is great as much because of the Allen Craigs and David Freeses and Ryan Theriots even though much credit goes to the big three of Berkman and Holliday and Pujols (who WILL break out soon). If they make a significant pitching move, it could be enough to make the playoffs. I don’t think Milwaukee can make a big move (ala Jose Reyes) because they lack the prospects (after their two big offseason trades). They will have to do this with what they have. That could be the difference. Nonetheless, I still stay the Brewers take the Central.
So, the Rockies lose their best pitcher for the season and everyone concedes the division to the Giants. The next day the Giants lose their best player for the season and meanwhile no one really notices that, hey, the Diamondbacks are winning the division! The loss of De la Rosa and Posey means the West is wild and wide open. However, it is pretty safe to say that the Padres and Dodgers aren’t going to join the party. The Rockies are in danger in burying themselves, but even down an important arm I think they are too talented to go away and die. The Diamondbacks are good, young, and talented, but their pitching is a far cry from what the Giants have. I expect the Giants to make significant move and I hope it involves Eric Surkamp and Thomas Neal, not Zack Wheeler or Brandon Belt, and I think that move will be helpful. But at the end of the day, no one in the West pitches like the Giants. It might only take 88-91 wins to take this division and I think the Giants can manage that even sans Buster. Sticking with my boys: Giants win the West.
As you can tell, not much has changed in my opinion here in the last month. Still a long way to go and as we head into trade season much will be illuminated. As it was last year there are a lot of good teams, but no GREAT team and so anything seems possible. It’s going to be a crazy summer!