One of the All-Star Break traditions: Reassessing our predictions from the first half of the season. Some of mine have changed, some have stayed the same—and some were just damn wrong. Living in the West, I will take the contrarian position and roll from west to east in my choices.
AL West: That I chose Seattle to take this division (and I wasn’t alone) is both laughable and an indication of the hometown favoritism I try and avoid. That Anaheim is well in first place, in spite of injuries and age, is an indication both of the smarts of manager Mike Scoscia and a very weak division. Texas will continue to pound the ball as the summer months heat up, but so will their opponents, meaning that Anaheim wins this one going away. And Oakland will continue their tradition of contention without a championship, scrapping with Texas for second.
AL Central: What’s scary about first-place Chicago is that they’re really not hitting all that well yet. Their pitching and defense are carrying them, so when their bats really start to heat up—Swisher and Thome are already showing signs of life, and a now-healthy Konerko will only add to that mix—look out. Detroit’s too shaky right now to be a real contender, Cleveland’s already bowed out for the season, and the Twinkies are the only team that might challenge the ChiSox, though it won’t be enough.
AL East: Boston is still the favorite, especially with upstart Tampa starting to fade. The Rays will learn from their ups and downs on the season, since they’re young and resilient, but I think they lack the maturity (and possibly the stamina) for the long season and the stretch run to the pennant. They should give the Yankees a run for the money in the Wild Card, which brings me to . . .
AL Wild Card: Several intriguing possibilities here, including Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Oakland, or even Texas could surprise. But the Yankees will pull it out the way they always do, with the threat of trade-deadline deals to their vets and a possible big-money Steinbrenner deal to help them compete.
NL West: Very intriguing, as the Baby ‘backs have faltered, while Joe Torre is overmanaging the Dodgers into mediocrity. Why Ethier and Kemp aren’t hitting at the heart of the order, with Andruw “Windmill” Jones at the bottom, is as much a mystery as why it took a knock to Juan Pierre’s knee to get E and K in this lineup full-time. Torre’s hands are somewhat tied by the overpopulated, overpaid roster he was given, but there’s no excuse for not giving these young-‘uns the chance to shine. New hitting coach Don Mattingly will invigorate this offense, shake some sense into Torre’s lineup choices, and vault the Dodgers ahead of Arizona for the division. Fans of the Rockies, Giants, and Padres can say next year, next few years, and never, respectively.
NL Central: Baseball’s most populous division should bring the most excitement, and Surprising St. Louis has turned this into a great three-way race with Chicago and Milwaukee. For all their flashy trades, the Brewers don’t have the depth to support Sabathia, while Pinella may find a way to burn out the young, injury-prone arms he’s just been given. Hard to pick against the red-hot Cubbies, but LaRussa has done so much with so little for so long, that it’s hard to choose against him, either. But I give the nod to Tony, Pujols, and the lineup that daily grows stronger around him. Cincy, Pittsburgh and Houston are all overachieving this year--but they won't overachieve enough to compete in this, the toughest of NL divisions.
NL East: Here, too, I’ve got egg on my face from choosing the Metsies in a runaway. They’ve made things interesting thus far, and Jerry Manuel seems to have loosened up the boys, but Santana is pitching like Carlos Santana (who never did have a good fastball), Pedro’s gimpy and Wagner’s old. There’s much to like in their offense, but the pitching isn’t there to sustain it. Bobby Cox seems to have finally run out of magic pennant-winning pixie dust for Atlanta, and Florida will end up battling for second and possibly the Wild Card. Philly has looked strong all year long, and megaslugger Ryan Howard is just heating up, miffed that he wasn’t invited to the midseason classic. Washington will remain mediocre, or worse, for seasons to come.
NL Wildcard: So many good choices, including Chicago, Florida, New York, and Arizona. And here I have to go with the narrowest second-placer, and that’s the Cubs.
In sum, that means:
AL West Angels
AL Central Chicago
AL East Boston
AL Wild Card New York
ALCS: Boston over Chicago
NL West Los Angeles
NL Central St. Louis
NL East Philly
NL Wildcard Chicago
NLCS: Chicago over Philly
World Series:Boston in six and more heartbreak for Cubs fans
Keywords: Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, playoffs, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Second-half predictions, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, World Series