While many prognosticators make bold and daring predictions before the season begins, this intrepid reporter waits to accumulate at least a half season’s worth of data before venturing forth with his bold, fearless, and daring predictions for what is to come in the second half.
Sure, I could have told you the Yankees would still be floundering this season due to a lack of pitching depth (I mean come on, did we really think Randy Johnson would make up for both Kevin Brown and Jarrett Wright?), the Washington Expos … err … Nationals would be sitting atop the National League East, and the Chicago White Sox would be the class of baseball.
Of course, that’s what makes preseason picks laughable and midseason picks bankable. Armed with 80+ games of knowledge, here are my picks for how the remainder of the season breaks down, division by glorious division.
Two months into the season, the Orioles were the class of this division and threatening to run away and hide. You just knew, though, that Boston and New York would sneak back into this, and sure enough, they did. In order for Baltimore to prevent a second-half fade, they must find a stud starter for their rotation.
Let’s start with the division that receives the most least deserving publicity. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were eliminated last October and the Toronto Blue Jays, though surprising, must be devastated with the loss of Roy Halladay for the next two months. That leaves three, the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox.
Offensively, they are even, if not better, than both the Yankees and Red Sox. However, with Curt Schilling returning from the DL in Boston and the Yankees heating up faster than the Bronx in July, Baltimore must acquire a front-line pitcher.
Look for the O’s to land either A.J. Burnett, or in a shocker, Jason Schmidt from the Giants. If either of those happens, you will see a three-way race for the title. For my money, Boston’s pitching depth is too much for the rest of this division, and they hang on for the division title.
Something tells me the White Sox will come back down to earth. While Mark Buehrle proved he deserved to start the All-Star Game for the American league and John Garland has turned into a great front-line pitcher, the innings will begin to wear down on this team. Losing three in a row to the surging A’s was a bit of a downer heading into the All-Star Break. Ozzie has his guys playing small ball to perfection, but their style of play may catch up with them in the second half.
The Twins have been an enigma all year. Johan Santana has proven to be mortal and Brad Radke has been inconsistent. A bright spot may be the emergence of Carlos Silva. The Twins may not have enough to catch the Sox, but they are a definite playoff contender. For the first time ever, the AL Central will produce two playoff teams, with the White Sox winning the pennant, but the Twins proving to be the deadlier team come postseason time.
Though the Angels suffered a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Mariners (the Mariners, for crying out loud!) right before the All-Star Break and their starting staff has an ERA over 7 in their last 12 games, the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, California, USA, Earth (you get the idea) are still too much for this division.
Oakland has been surging and they could be the team the Angels will have to watch. Oakland’s big three of Barry Zito, Rich Harden, and Dan Haren have helped Oakland get back to .500. With the reawakening of Eric Chavez and a solid sophomore campaign by Bobby Crosby, Billy Beane’s bunch is poised to take over second from the all-offense, no-defense Texas Rangers.
Kenny Rogers’ implosion on national TV may be Texas’ unraveling. This incident will affect his psyche, as well as cost Texas their best pitcher over 20 games. That is just too many games to be without your stud, especially with the dangerous Angels in this division. Anaheim will eventually pull away and clinch this division, and homefield, by mid-September.
What can you say about Frank Robinson and the Washington Nationals? The surprise team of this season just loaded up for the second half by adding Preston Wilson to a less than spectacular lineup. While Wilson has been having a nice season, let’s see what he does away from the Rocky Mountains. The Nationals have been a nice story, and Florida is an enticing second half pick (with their solid, yet oddly inconsistent pitching), but my pick here are the cockroaches of baseball, the Atlanta Braves.
Bobby Cox has worked his magic yet again, and Andruw Jones has finally realized his all-world talent, leading the young Braves to within shouting distance of the Nationals. With Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton due off the disabled list, and Chipper Jones set to rejoin the club, the Braves are poised to make a second half run. Yep, 14 years and counting, the Tomahawk will be chopping in October.
By far, the easiest division to pick, I would like to say Houston, with the never-aging Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettite, can make a strong run in the second half and upend the Cardinals. I would like to say that, but I would be a fool. The Cardinals are not only the class of this division, but the class of baseball. With few weaknesses, I just can’t see them losing much ground to the Astros. I won’t bother with the rest of the division, because outside of Derek Lee’s chase for the Triple Crown, there is not much else to pay attention to.
Let’s keep an eye on the Astros. Currently five games behind the Braves for the final wildcard spot, I have a feeling this team will stay hot and sneak into the playoffs. With Pettite healthy, you could see a liftoff come playoff time as the Astros again face the Cardinals in a showdown for the World Series.
Yikes. What a train wreck this division has become. The Padres went a blistering 22-8 in May and followed that up with a phenomenal 15-22 record heading into the All-Star Break. To illustrate how bad this division is, they actually distanced themselves from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Padres expect the bats of Ramon Hernandez and Phil Nevin back, as well as Adam Eaton, and should be able to put this division to bed. In addition, don’t be surprised if the Padres make a play for a solid bat in the outfield.
The truly snake-bitten team has to be the Dodgers. While most people will tell you every team suffers from injuries, what has happened to the Dodgers is just plain unfair. While not a great team to begin with, they definitely had enough to contend in this division before the losses of J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley, and Eric Gagne, to name a few. The West has to be won by someone, and the smart money is on the Padres.
Take these picks for what they are — brilliant, insightful analysis.
This article was reprinted with permission from Sports Central.