Thursday, July 2, 2009

Playoff Races on July 4th

It's July 2nd, but close enough.

The long-held conventional wisdom in baseball is that a team in first place on July 4th has the inside track on taking its division crown. So let's look at where the division races are, and where they might end up...

For each division I've given a summary of the standings today, who I think will win and why, a Captain Obvious Prediction (one everyone else will make), a Fearless Prediction (one no one else will make) and the Most Important Player Down the Stretch (self-explanatory).

AL East
Right Now- Boston is 2.5 up on the Yankees, and five up on Tampa. Toronto is hanging around, and Baltimore isn't.

Who Wins?- Boston is probably the best team in baseball right now, even despite Big Papi's struggles and Dice-K looking awful. They've got talent, pitching depth, experience, and grit, and teams like that usually win their division. Especially with the pitching depth.

Captain Obvious Prediction- A-Rod flames out as late August turns into the September stretch drive.

Fearless Prediction- Tampa Bay comes all the way back and wins the wild card. Which means the Yankees miss the playoffs for the second straight year after making the playoffs every year 1995-2007.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees third baseman. Hip surgery, steroids and ineffectiveness have been the stories so far in 2009 for A-Rod. With the Yankee offense maddeningly incosistent, improved production out of Rodriguez may allow everyone else in the lineup to relax and hit. But that won't happen unless it trickles down from their best player.

AL Central
Right Now-Detroit holds a three-game lead on both the White Sox and Twins. Kansas City is moving its way toward 'frisky' and Cleveland has the worst record in the AL.

Who Wins?- Detroit has a tough three-headed monster at the front of their rotation with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Edwin Jackson. Throw in Miguel Cabrera's .331 average and a few solid hitters, and the Tigers probably have enough to hold off the Twins and White Sox.

Captain Obvious Prediction- Joe Mauer wins the AL MVP award.

Fearless Prediction- Gil Meche will get traded to a contender. Given what's out there, he may be the jewel of the starting pitching trade market. If I'm right and he's traded.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Joe Mauer, Twins catcher. He's not hitting .400 as a catcher, I don't care how good he is. But he is REALLY good, and him and Morneau has the Twins in contention with the high-payroll Tigers and White Sox

AL West
Right Now- The Angels and Rangers are in a virtual tie, with surprising Seattle is in striking distance. Oakland is playing out the string.

Who Wins?- Anaheim. Always a very, very good team. The names change, but the results generally don't. Mike Scioscia would get my vote for the best manager in the majors.

Captain Obvious Prediction- Texas will fade down the stretch, just like every year since the Alamo.

Fearless Prediction- The A's will not trade Matt Holliday, opting instead to hang on to him and taking the draft picks when he walks in free agency.

Most Important Player- John Lackey, Angels starting pitcher. Lackey's health and effectiveness will go a long way in determining if the Angels reach the playoffs, and how far they go once there.

NL East
Right Now- The Phillies sit on top half a game ahead of Florida, with the Mets two back and Atlanta three back. Washington is historically bad.

Who Wins?-
The Phillies. They are clearly the best team, even if they aren't playing like it right now. They have alot of injuries, which the Mets do too, but they also have weird stuff going on, like not being able to win a home series and Jimmy Rollins hitting around the Mendoza line. In order to win, they really only need one of the following to go their way: Raul Ibanez returns and plays as well as he did prior to going on the DL; Jimmy Rollins starts playing around his career averages; the team starts dominating at home like it did last year; the bullpen gets healthy and used less. If all of those things happen, the Phils run away and hide in the division race.

Captain Obvious Prediction-The Nationals lose 110 games.

Fearless Prediction- The Mets finish in fourth place and as a result, replace GM Omar Minaya.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Jimmy Rollins, Phillies shortstop. When he scores, the Phillies win something like 60% of the time. But right now, he stinks.

NL Central
Right Now- Milwaukee is a game up on St. Louis, with the Cubs, Reds and Astros hanging around. Pittsburgh can't drop out despite trying to trade away all of their players.

Who Wins?- Milwaukee has a very good everyday eight, and Trevor Hoffman has been unbelievable, but how much longer can that starting rotation keep up? Matt Burns isn't going to outduel Johan Santana every night. Last year's team, with Sabathia and Sheets, would win this race, but I think St. Louis takes it on guile, Dave Duncan's magic with pitchers, and Albert Pujols.

Captain Obvious Prediction- The Pirates trade another actual commodity for a pile of junk in the name of 'building for the future.' Look up their trading Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs if you need guidance.

Fearless Prediction-The Brewers step up and add a high-ticket piece by the deadline in hopes of the type of jolt C.C. Sabathia gave them last season.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Ryan Braun, Brewers leftfielder. For the Brew Crew to make their second straight trip to the playoffs, they will need the 'Hebrew Hammer' to carry them offensively for stretches, the way Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez have done for their respective clubs.

NL West
Right Now- The Dodgers lead the Giants by seven, Colorado by eight and a half, and San Diego and Arizona by a hundred.

Who Will Win?-
If the Giants couldn't make up ground with Manny Ramirez out for two months, it's not happening once he comes back.

Captain Obvious Prediction-San Diego holds a fire sale, but can't move anybody because of injury or no-trade clauses

Fearless Prediction- Tim Lincecum wins his second straight Cy Young award in leading the Giants to the wild card.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch-Chad Billingsley, starting pitcher, Dodgers. The division race is over, so how the Dodgers' young ace grows up over the season's second half may be a prominent factor in how the Dodgers match up in a playoff series against another ace like Cole Hamels or Lincecum.

...So check back in on this entry as the season wraps up to laugh at me... Or laud my genius...

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