BASEBALL SEASON APPROACHING THE ONE THIRD MARK – TIME TO MAKE SOME PREDICTIONS

21May13

Year after year, everyone tries to get the jump on all of the other prognosticators (I love that word), making their predictions for the baseball season before the six month journey even begins.

I must admit, I was drawn into this rat race last year, making my initial guesses (that’s right sports fans, in early April, they are nothing more than guesses) only one week into the regular season.  The results speak for themselves.  I only hit two out of six division winners correctly.  Granted, I was only three games from hitting five out of six, but who’s counting!

My biggest slip ups (okay, my biggest blown calls) were Oakland and Baltimore.  I didn’t expect either team to reach 70 wins, let alone reach the playoffs or win a divisional title.

I had correctly picked Detroit to play in the World Series against the NL West winner, but not against the Giants.  I didn’t even have San Francisco making the playoffs, let alone winning the crown in a four game sweep!

But that’s the great thing about sports.  Like most lessons in life, you get up off the floor, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and try again.

So here we are, ready to take another shot at this thing we call Major League Baseball.

What’s that?  Why did I wait until the end of May to make my picks?

Well, it’s simple.  I’m taking the “learn from your mistakes” portion seriously.  I mean, how many people actually think the Cubs have a “real chance of doing it this year” every April?  You’d be surprised how many.  I know, because they’re all over town in March.

Yet eight weeks into the season, you can usually find the team in the same general spot.  Let’s see, where are the Cubs right now?  Oh there they are.  Sitting in fourth place with a record of 18-25 and ten games out of first place.  What a shocker!

There are always a couple of teams that are safe bets to pick on April’s Fools Day.  Choosing Texas, Detroit and the Yankees to win the American League divisions will get you at least two out three right nearly every season, so what the heck.  Join the pack and climb on board the bandwagon.  There’s always room for another expert!

Let’s be honest for a minute.  How many of you actually picked Oakland to win the AL West last year?  I mean in April, not with two weeks left in the season!  The answer is probably close to the number of experts that did not pick the Dodgers to win the NL West.  Hmmmm!  Where did the boys in blue finish the season?

Okay, enough about history and philosophy.  Let’s get on with my picks.  You should know by now that I will not be doing a full team analysis of every team.  I’ll leave that to the experts that spend every waking moment digesting the stats.  I’m just a fan like you, and this is what I predict!

We’ll begin in the American League.  At the risk of riding that bandwagon I spoke of earlier, Texas, Detroit and the Yankees are clearly the teams to beat for the divisional titles.  That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.  It just probably won’t happen!

Out west, the Rangers are the safest bet in baseball to win their division.  Last year, while they were keeping their eyes on the surging Angels of Orange County, Oakland snuck up and stole the division away from them in the last week of the season.

Don’t expect that to happen again this year.  With the second highest team batting average and the second lowest team ERA in the American League, don’t look for them to fall to pieces again this year!

Oakland will remain competitive, but no magic wand this time.  One of these years Anaheim is going to figure out that you can’t wait until July to start playing baseball if you want to make the playoffs.  It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your stars.

Seattle is just happy that Houston has joined their division this year.  Now they won’t be called the cellar-dwellers anymore!

Last year, the White Sox took the early lead in the Central Division.  This year, it’s the Indians.  Can they keep it up all season, or will they fall back into Cleveland mode and let the Tigers take their projected spot on top?

I think we all know the answer.  Cleveland rode the wave of slugger Mark Reynolds’ blazing April to take the early divisional lead.  Unfortunately, they are now enduring what Arizona and Baltimore had to endure.  Strikeouts, strikeouts and more strikeouts.

Look, I enjoy a 500 foot home run as much as the next fan, but more than 200 strikeouts per year?  That gets old quick.  Meanwhile, the Tigers have the best team batting average in baseball and lead the majors in team strikeouts – by their pitching staff!  Those are the Ks you want!!

KC and Minnesota will do the usual “hang around for a while then fade” thing that they do every year.  Since neither team can afford a slew of stars, that’s all they’ll ever do.

Finally, we have the AL East. Everyone expected this to be a three team race, and it’s lived up to its hype.  However, most pros picked the Tampa Bay Rays to be there with the Yanks and O’s, not the Red Sox.  After all, Boston got rid of most of their starting lineup from last year, so how good could they be, right?

Well, right now they’re one of only six teams at .600 or better, so they did something right!  I guess having your top two pitchers remain undefeated for the first two months of the season is a pretty good strategy!

Still, the Yankees have had to endure a lot of injuries so far, causing their team batting average to drop considerably.  Their stellar pitching has done a great job of keeping on top while their hitters get healed.  How about their 43 year old closer?  What’s his name again?  Oh yeah, Mariano Rivera.  Since he announced that this is his final year, he has yet to blow a save.  Not bad!

Baltimore is poised to challenge the Yankees once again, but their pitching needs to improve if they have any hopes of staying near the top all season.  Tampa Bay can never be counted out.  Too bad Toronto can’t say the same thing!

Over in the National League, each division has three teams actively competing for the divisional leads.  Some may be surprised by which teams are involved in that last statement, but I’m actually not surprised at all.

In the east, everyone knew Atlanta would be battling Washington for the top spot.  After their dismal season last year, not many believed that Philly would be there with them.  I’m not surprised at all.

Last year’s collapse by the Phillies had as much to do with injuries to key players as anything else.  With a relatively healthy lineup this year, look for them to compete for a playoff spot for at least five months.

The reality, though, is that they won’t have enough to keep up for the full six months.  Their team batting and pitching are both in the bottom half of the NL, which is not going to get the job done.

Meanwhile, Washington has the second best team ERA in baseball, with Atlanta not far behind.  Whichever team figures out how to get their bats going first, and keep them going, will end up winning this division.  The Mets are the Mets, and will only avoid last place because the Marlins have taken over where the newly departed Astros left off last year.

The Central Division will be a battle between the same two teams that battled last year – Cincinnati and St. Louis.  Last year the Reds pulled away to win by nine games, only to fall in the first round of the playoffs.

Don’t look for the Cards to give up on the fight this year.  They currently have the best team ERA in baseball and the fourth best team batting average.  Something tells me they want the title back this year.

The real surprise is Pittsburgh.  Then again, if you were paying attention last year, they were in about the same spot at this time and everybody was saying “where did they come from?”  So you can’t be that surprised that they’re here again this year.  Just don’t be shocked when they falter down the stretch like last year!

Last, but definitely not least, we have the NL West.  Coming off their second World Series title in three years, everyone expected the Giants to be in the battle all season.  The big surprise is which teams they are in a battle with.

With the money that Los Angeles has spent, they were the odds on favorite to challenge San Francisco for the division title.  Yet, there they sit at the bottom of the division with the same record as (GULP) the Chicago Cubs!

I have a theory about that.  You see, the new management came in with the attitude of “Money is no object.  Let’s go buy a great team!”  The problem is, someone misunderstood that and went out and bought the Boston Red Sox.

Don’t understand what I mean?  Let’s take a look.  In a “blockbuster” trade last August, the Dodgers traded for hothead pitcher Josh Beckett, stud first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, injured outfielder Carl Crawford and some infielder named Nick Punto.  (Seriously, that’s how he was depicted in several stories last August!)

At first that looks like a great acquisition, until you look at the numbers and the production on their prior club.  Those four players will be paid as much as several teams in the league will be paying their entire 25-man rosters.  And for what?  A roll of the dice that it was really the Red Sox organization that caused these guys to become selfish, unproductive players?

Let me clarify one thing.  It killed me that Adrian was part of this package.  I’ve been a fan of his since his days as a Padre.  I loved that he was on the Red Sox and truly did not want to see him leave.

But clearly, things were not working for any of these guys in Boston.  LA could have picked the four of them up for half the price they ended up paying, but were too eager to buy a championship team.

For this reason, I am no longer going to refer to this team as the Dodgers.  Instead, they will be known from this point on (or at least until I get tired of saying it) as the Los Angeles Former Red Sox.

Wait a minute.  That’s too long of a name.  I know, let’s use the acronym (that’s initials, for you Yankee fans!)  From now on, they will be called the LAFRS!

Meanwhile, the Rockies are keeping up with the Giants and D-Backs for the time being, while the Padres are making sure that the LAFRS are staying in last place.

So which teams will make the playoffs?  Who knows.  But based on what we’ve seen so far, where teams stand with the DL and good old fashioned gut instinct, here is what I’m going with.

American League

Divisional Winners – Texas, Detroit and New York

Wildcard Teams – Baltimore and Boston

National League

Divisional Winners – Arizona, St. Louis and Atlanta

Wildcard Teams – San Francisco and Cincinnati

World Series 

St. Louis over Texas in six games

So there you have it.  Carve it in stone and go enjoy the rest of the season.  Just be sure to check back in with me around early August, so we can discuss why so many of these predictions aren’t working out as planned!!

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