The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Mid-Season Report Card: Pretty Good on Division Leader Picks, Terrible on Wild Cards

With the mid-season All-Star break coming up this week, it’s time to assess how I’m doing with respect to my pre-season picks back in April.  For 2017, I predicted the two World Series teams from the 2016 season, the Cubs and Indians, would again repeat as league champions, something that rarely ever happens.

Here’s a recap of my 2017 pre-season picks:

AL East – Red Sox; AL Central – Indians; AL West – Astros; Wild Cards – Blue Jays and Mariners

AL pennant winner -- Indians

NL East – Nationals; NL Central – Cubs; NL West – Dodgers; Wild Cards – Giants, Pirates

NL pennant winner – Cubs

World Series winner -- Indians

Well, so far the both the Cubs and Indians aren’t exactly shoo-ins to repeat, but they are still within striking distance of their division titles.  However, they have both been getting stiff competition from teams posting surprise performances this year—the Brewers and Twins. 

On the other hand, my other picks for the six division winners are currently spot on, except for the Cubs.  The Indians have a slim lead over the Twins, while the Red Sox, Astros, Nationals and Dodgers are doing quite well right now as division leaders.

My picks for the wild-card spots are another story, though.  None of my four pre-season picks—Blue Jays, Mariners, Giants or Pirates--are in contention for a playoff berth at this point.

The Astros appear to be the runaway winner of the AL West, as they are 16 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels.  It’s hard to imagine them losing this lead, but stranger things have happened.  For example, the 1914 “Miracle” Boston Braves went from last place in the National League on July 4th to win the pennant by 10 ½ games.  The Angels, Rangers and Mariners are in a fight for second place in the West, but all are playing under .500.

The AL East-leading Red Sox are in a relatively tight race with several teams.  The Yankees held the lead for quite a while before hitting a seven-game losing streak in mid-June, but are currently in second place.  The Rays are running third, as the Orioles and Blue Jays haven’t fulfilled pre-season expectations, largely because of their starting pitching woes.  The Red Sox’s free-agent signing of pitcher Chris Sales was their best decision of the off-season, especially since David Price has missed most of the first-half of the season.  The Yankees have been riding the bats of rookie outfielder Aaron Judge and second-year catcher Gary Sanchez, while their starting pitching has over-performed; but it’s questionable whether they will hold up for the balance of the season and gain a wild-card berth.

In an even tighter race, the Indians currently lead the AL Central, but have yet to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.  Their pitching leads the American League in almost every important statistic.  The Twins, currently second in the division, have been the surprise team in the American League, holding the division lead for almost four weeks during mid-May to mid-June.  Yet it’s hard to explain why they have been in contention, since their run differential (runs scored vs. run allowed) is negative 54, as compared to the Indians positive 76.  The Royals had a fantastic June with a 17-9 record and are currently neck-and-neck in the run with the Twins for second place.

The Dodgers are one of the hottest teams in the National League at the moment, as they currently lead the West Division, ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Dodgers’ rookie first baseman, Cody Bellinger, has been a huge spark on offense, and ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been the typical Kershaw of past years—still at the top of his game.  The D’backs’ Zach Greinke returned to his form from 2016 after a poor showing last year, while Paul Goldschmidt continues to make his case for being the best first baseman in the league.  Consequently, Arizona is making a strong case for one of the NL wild-card positions.  The Giants seem to have fallen off the map when their ace, Madison Bumgarner, went on the disabled list early in the season.

The Brewers are the biggest surprise team in baseball so far, leading the NL Central.  While they have been re-making their team the past couple of years with a slew of younger players, they weren’t expected to peak this year.  The past several years have seen the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates battling it out for the division title, but they are struggling to stay above .500 this season.  If the Brewers happen to run out of gas during the second half, there will be a scramble among the four teams to claim the title.  Many people are not yet counting out Joe Maddon’s Cubs to make a rebound, especially if they make an acquisition for a top-flight pitcher at the trade deadline.

The Nationals don’t have much stiff competition this year in the NL East.  The highly-touted Mets’ pitching staff, which spring-boarded them to the playoffs the past two seasons, has faltered this season, largely due to injuries.  The Braves are currently in second place, although they won’t likely challenge the Nats during the second half.  The Nationals are winning despite not having an effective closer on the team.  It probably won’t seriously impact them until they get to the playoffs.

The wild card situation is where most of the suspense will be during the balance of the season.  It is shaping up for a crap-shoot, but at this point I would bet on the Yankees and Royals in the American League and the Cubs and Diamondbacks in the National League.

The odds for my prediction for an Indians-Cubs repeat in the World Series look pretty slim right now.  But, as they say, there are still a lot of games to be played.

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