Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mid-Season Baseball Predictions

July first is here. With that comes the mid-season mark. What a first half it has been. Crush Davis in Baltimore, Puig madness in LA. The resurgence taking place in the Burgh, and in Boston. The fall (and now rise) of the star studded Toronto Blue Jays, and much more.

Now that June is in the rear view mirror, it's time to layout the second half and take a stab at who will be playing in October. Here are the standings as of right now. (Via ESPN)

It all starts in the AL East: It's the best division in baseball top to bottom. All five teams were over .500 a few days ago, and all five will likely be at least a game or two over .500 by the all star break. The Red Sox and Orioles appear to be the front runners, and I really like Tampa Bay (Davis Price back this week). All three teams have a solid lineup, and are getting some solid players back over the next few days/weeks. Baltimore just got Brian Roberts back, they get Nolan Reimold back Tuesday, and Wei-Yin Chen soon after. Boston will get their ace Clay Buchholtz back soon, and have been able to keep Jacoby Ellsbury and Big Papi in the lineup. I'll take Baltimore to take the division. They have the better bullpen, and will be a complete team if they can add a top of the rotation guy at the deadline. With that said, Boston and Tampa will be there up until the last day. I expect two teams to make the playoffs. Toronto won't be far behind, but really dug themselves a deep hole, and I question their pitching. They don't have the bullpen that Baltimore has, or the rotation that Boston and Tampa have. The Yankees injuries are starting to add up. They really need Jeter, Grandy, and any third baseman back ASAP.

The AL Central is much more clear. The Royals will hang around, but this is a two horse race. The Tigers and Indians will battle it out for the division crown, and I don't think the loser will make it. The AL East/Second place West teams are too strong. Ultimately, the Tigers should win this thing. Their lineup might be the best in baseball, and the rotation is stacked (Verlander has been great, and isn't the ace at the moment. That's saying something). They need (!!!!) to find some bullpen help, including a closer. Cleveland may be this years version of the 2012 Orioles. They don't really do anything great, but they come up with clutch hits, and don't blow games. With that said, the Orioles were extremely lucky to make it to the postseason, so I wouldn't bet on the Indians making it.

Remember how the AL West ended last year? Pure craziness. I think were in for more of the same. Oakland and Texas are so solid (and this year they get to beat up on the Astros). Once again this race should come down to the last days of the season. I like Oakland's rotation a ton. They don't have many weaknesses. They also can really hit the ball. Josh Donaldson has been a great find, and they have good balance up and down the lineup. Oakland does this every year. You can never put your finger on how they do it, but they do it. A's take the division. Texas will be in a dog fight for a wildcard spot. The Angels have the talent to make a run and get back into this thing, but they are nine out, and I cant see Oakland or Texas fading. Without a dominant rotation, I don't know if the Angels can make a run at it.

Final AL thoughts: Baltimore wins the East, just ahead of Tampa and Boston (Side note; Tampa and Boston finish tied, leading to the always awesome one game play in.). Detroit takes the Central by 10 games. Once the Tigers get the pen figured out, I believe they pull away. The A's take the West but it comes down to the final game. Rangers get the wildcard.

AL: Oakland, Baltimore, Detroit. WC: Texas, Tampa/Boston (I'll take Boston in the one game playoff, but it would come down to the pitching match up.)

The National League isn't as exciting, but does feature some very good races. Lets start with the NL East. The Braves are certainly the team to beat. They lead the division by 6.5 games, and the second place Nats have been insanely inconsistent. They get Bryce Harper back tomorrow, and that should be huge for the lineup. Washington has two pitchers (Strasburg/Haren) are in the top three for worst run support. If they start hitting, and stay healthy, they can make a run. In the end, the Braves should win this thing. Atlanta has a strong team, and after the loss in the wildcard play in last year, they know the importance of winning the division. The Phillies, Mets and Marlins are all toast.

While the AL East may be the best division top to bottom, the NL Central has the best teams at the top. The Pirates (Yes Pirates) have the best record in baseball led by their strong rotation, and the Cardinals and Reds aren't far behind. Let's start with the Bucs. The losing season drought is over. They're 21 over on July first, and play in the same division as the Cubs and Brewers. No way they don't finish over .500. The next question, can they make the playoffs? I say.... YES. The rotation is very good, and will get Burnett, and Rodriguez back at some point. They have depth, and Gerrit Cole is a stud. I really like the lineup too. Cutch isn't playing bad (.292 average), but he hasn't gone on that tear where he carries the offense for a few weeks like we know hes capable of. Marte gives the team a dimension they haven't had in the past, and Russell Martin has been a great signing, not to mention Pedro Alvarez is playing like a first round pick. Bad news for the Bucs? The Cardinals are simply a better team, in my opinion the best in baseball. The Cardinals pitching staff is just as good, and they have a potent lineup to match. I expect St. Louis to take the division. The Reds will be there all year long too. This race will be great to watch. Only the Nationals stand in the way of the NL Central getting three teams into the playoffs.

In the NL West, it's a pure mess. The Dodgers have been huge underachievers but are only four games out. Yasil Puig has given the team a shot in the arm, and so has Hanley Ramirez. The "first place" D-Backs are only three over, and there aren't too many believes. The Rockies need to get Tulo back, but have a shot. I like their lineup a lot. Cargo is an MVP candidate, and Cuddyer  has been a man on a mission. The defending champs just don't seem to have it this year, but remain only 2.5 out. Any team can win this thing, but I think it will come down to the Dodgers and Rockies. I like being bold, so I'll take the Rocks. That lineup, when healthy is lethal. In that park, their pitching "doesn't really matter." They can out slug anyone.

Final NL thoughts: I can't wait to watch the Central race play out. It should be amazing. It's great to have baseball back in Pittsburgh, and it will be fun to watch that team win that 82nd game, and beyond. The West will be a great race, but don't expect the winner to finish with 90 wins. 85 could get the job done. In the East, the Nats may be the only team that has a chance to steal a wildcard spot from the Central.

NL: St. Louis, Atlanta, Colorado. WC: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

-- Lee Kunkel

-- @Kunkel5