The week of the Major League All-Star Game marks an appropriate time to assess pre-season prognostications. It’s time to see who are the winners and losers so far.
From my pre-season picks, I have a couple of big-time losers, yet I’m holding my own on the rest. At the bottom line, my two picks for league champions are still among the favorites for a face-off in the Fall Classic. If I had placed a bet in Vegas before the season on who would be the World Series opponents, I’d be feeling pretty good right now.
Below is a recap of my pre-season picks (first number) and how they are currently faring (second number) in each of the divisional races.
AL East – Yankees (1, 4); Blue Jays (2, 3)
AL Central – Royals (1, 3); Tigers (2, 2)
AL West – Rangers (1, 1); Astros (2, 2)
NL East – Nationals (1, 1); Marlins (2, T2)
NL Central – Pirates (1, 3); Cubs (2, 1)
NL West – Diamondbacks (1, 5); Giants (2, 1)
World Series – Rangers and Giants
The New York Yankees are one of my biggest busts for winning a division title. It’s true their bullpen is one of the best in baseball, but unfortunately their offense is not getting the team into positions to leverage that bullpen capability. I don’t see the Yankees recovering during the balance of the season. However, the first-place Baltimore Orioles are proving in the AL East that huge offensive production can make up for mediocre starting pitching, as they are set records for home runs. Same story for the Boston Red Sox, who are currently edging out the Toronto Blue Jays for second place. It’s not implausible that any of those three teams could wind up winning the division. The Red Sox front office appears to be serious in their run at the title, since in the past week they have been aggressively filling holes in their lineup with trades.
Back in the spring, I was calling the Kansas City Royals the “new” New York Yankees, for their potential to be perennial World Series contestants. Consequently, I picked them to win the AL Central. Right now, however, they are ½ game back of the Detroit Tigers for second place. The Cleveland Indians, who have been on the cusp of breaking out of the middle of the pack in the division for the past few seasons, seem to have put it all together this year. Their pitching staff is far and away the best in the American League, as the team leads Detroit by six games. The Tigers were my pick for second place at the beginning of the season, and that’s where they stand today. The Royals will have to improve their run-scoring and starting pitching, currently third from the bottom of the league in both categories, to claim a playoff berth. The Royals’ relief pitching continues to be their main strength.
For my pre-season selections in the AL West, the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are making me look pretty good, since they are currently the top two teams in the division. Earlier in the season, the Astros appeared to swoon, but have recovered enough to outpace third-place Seattle Mariners by three games at this point. If one or both of those teams make some key roster additions at the July trade deadline, they could challenge the Rangers, whom I had picked to go on to win the American League pennant. However at this point, I still like the Rangers.
As my first and second picks, the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins are currently holding those positions in the NL East Division race. Manager Dusty Baker has been the steadying influence the Nationals needed. Daniel Murphy’s bat has been the surprise of the season for them. If Bryce Harper finally gets on track with last season’s slugging performance, the Nats, currently six games ahead of the second place club, could win the division going away. The Marlins and New York Mets are currently embroiled in a tie for second place. However, the Mets’ run production surpasses only the frail Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies in the National League. The Mets had the same problem last season, until late-season acquisition Yoenis Cespedes almost single-handedly carried them to the division title. Marlins manager Don Mattingly has his young team hungry for making their first playoff appearance in fourteen years. In the franchise’s only previous playoff berths in 2003 and 1997, they won World Series championships. Could they do it again?
I had picked the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the NL Central Division, but they currently trail the leading Chicago Cubs by 9 ½ games and the second-place St. Louis Cardinals by 1 ½ games . I had picked the Cubs to finish second, but still making the playoffs. Through June 19, the Cubs had held a 12 ½ game lead, but have since stumbled somewhat with an 8-15 record. The Pirates’ starting pitching has struggled so far and will have a difficult time challenging the Cubs for first place, since they have won only three of twelve games against the Cubs.
I went out on a limb and predicted the Arizona Diamondbacks would win the NL West Division, after they had picked up starters Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller during the off-season. However, the limb broke early in the season, and the team has practically imploded as they are currently in last place, trailing league-leading San Francisco by 18 games. Greinke’s and Miller’s inability to deliver as expected as well as a season-ending injury to all-star outfielder A.J. Pollock have been key factors in their demise. I had picked the Giants to finish in second place and ultimately advance to the World Series. They have proven to be one of the best teams in baseball even though they have suffered injuries to three in their starting lineup. The second-place Los Angeles Dodgers, behind solid relief pitching, rookie shortstop Corey Seager, and ace Clayton Kershaw, are playing well enough to be a playoff contender.
I think we’re headed for some tight division races during the remainder of this season. No team has built an insurmountable lead, including the impressive Cubs who have shown some vulnerability lately. The Red Sox have already set the tone for some key trades that will likely be forthcoming by contending clubs before the trade deadline expires at the end of this month. Sit back and watch, it’s only going to get better.