MLB Predictions at All-Star Break

July 10 is that annual meaningless event known as the All-Star Game, this year appropriately played in a meaningless place: Kansas City. It’s time to check on my spring predictions and see how I’m doing, plus venture out on a few more thin limbs.

American League:

East:  As predicted, it’s the Yankees’ division to win or lose. It’s time to give Joe Girardi a break; he’s done a better job of juggling injuries than anyone in baseball, and don’t feed me the “Yankees have more money” line–when 60% of your starters go down and you’re in first, it’s good managing. And it’s also time for the Derek Jeter haters to crawl under a rock; he’s having the kind of year that befits one of the five greatest shortstops of all time. Even better is Robbie Cano, MLB’s best second baseman. The Yanks will be hard-pressed to maintain the pace if Sabathia doesn’t come back strong, but the Yankees should be in the postseason. Downside: The albatross contract of the grossly overrated Alex Rodriquez (now the 5th best 3rd baseman in the AL) makes it hard to add pieces.
            As predicted, the Rays offense is woeful. Can someone explain the attraction of Carlos Pena? The pitching is very good, but I continue to think the Rays will come up short. The Blue Jays are the opposite–their pitching has been terrible and it’s time to hang the “bust” label on Kyle Drabek, who is at AAA where he belongs. I had them for second, but I don’t think so anymore. Do we believe in the Orioles? I do not; I think they’ll gravitate toward the bottom of the division in the second half.
            This leaves the Red Sox and I confess I’m as puzzled by them now as in April. I correctly predicted the Daniel Bard meltdown, shortstop woes, and a monster year for the sublime David Ortiz. The Sox are mixing in some nice young players and, if it was my team, I’d write off 2012 and go for flesh blood. If the Sox are committed to Bobby Valentine, make it his team. This would entail cleaning house and the obvious route would be to dump the poisonous Josh Beckett, the fragile-as-glass Jacoby Ellsbury, and admit that Adrian Gonzalez needs to be in a small market. No one will take Carl Crawford; so find a permanent spot on the DL for him. Then again, this roster has enough potential to win the division. I simply have no idea what this bunch will do, though if the past is an indication, they’ll finish out of the money.

Central: I think this will come down to a two-team race between the Tigers and White Sox, though the Indians keep lurking within striking distance. Miguel Cabrera has been a beast in Motown and Prince Fielder shows signs of waking up. As I predicted, though, Justin Verlander has been mortal this year, albeit a very strong mortal. The Tigers’ problem is simple, though: no one beyond Verlander is better than mediocre, and that’s a charitable assessment. The Tigers look like their teams from the mid-1980s: good enough to mash their way to the postseason, but lacking the arms to seal the deal.
            The White Sox, as I predicted, are thriving now that Loudmouth Ozzie Guillen is gone. The Sox are a no-big-stars outfit, but they pitch well, they’re playing solid baseball, and they stole Kevin Youkilis from Boston, who will provide leadership. Don’t be surprised to see them take one of the wild card slots. The Indians will be entertaining but lack staying power. As predicted, both the Royals and Twins are awful.

West: I called it a two-team race between the Rangers and the Angels; whoever doesn’t win the division gets a wild card. The Rangers are, on paper, the best team in MLB. Yu Darvish has lived up to his billing thus far, though Matt Harrison’s emergence has been more important. Josh Hamilton shows signs of matching maturity to ability, which is bad news for pitchers everywhere. The rest of the lineup is fearsome as well. Are they an arm short? I suspect we’ll find out–in the World Series.
            That is, unless the Angels upset them, which could happen. I certainly didn’t think Albert Pujols would be an average player, but the Youth Squad (Trout, Morales, Trumbo, Bourjos) has been even better than advertised. I don’t think the pitching is good enough to win the Big Halo, but we’ll see. The Athletics and the Mariners? Neither is interesting enough to warrant an after thought.

National League:

East: The Phillies have shocked me by how bad they’ve been, and the Nationals by how good they’ve been. I said the Phils’ offense would be challenged, but my God! The problems goes beyond Ryan Howard’s injury woes. The Phils will be better now that Roy Halladay and Chase Utley are off the DL, but this looks like a lost year.
            So can the Nats actually win it? Maybe. Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmerman have matured faster than I predicted, and Stephen Strasburg looks stronger than I imagined after arm surgery. I still think they’re too young, but I’m starting to believe. On paper, the Braves should contend for the division or a wild card, but they remain as inconsistent as last year’s meltdown. I give Fredi Gonzalez until August 1 to have this team in contention, or you’ll see a new skipper in Atlanta to give Chipper Jones his final send-off.
            The Marlins have underachieved, just as I predicted. Gaby Sanchez was supposed to be a stud; now he’s in the minors, another victim of Guillen’s head games. I hate this team and revel in its misfortunes! The Mets, on the other hand, are among MLB’s pleasant surprises. Name a player on this team who isn’t David Wright. What a year R. A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese are having. I said in April that if the Mets didn’t lose 100 games, Terry Collins should be Manager of the Year. Wrap it! The Mets won’t make the postseason, but they’ll be fun and there hasn’t been much of that in Queens in the past few years.

Central: The Pirates are in first, which means you can start the Dusty Baker Death Watch in Cincinnati, where the Reds are again underachieving. The Reds ought to walk way with this division, but since they refuse to win this is a wide-open prairie of mediocrity, except for the Astros and Cubs, who are execrable. The Brewers simply lost too much to free agency and don’t have the personnel to win; they will dump salaries at the trade deadline. The reigning champion Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter for the season and without Pujols are offensively challenged, but can still be a factor. So could the Pirates actually win the Central? Nah! The competition is so poor that they might have a shot at .500, but the Reds should prevail in the end, though Baker might not be at the helm. Whoever comes out of the Central is first-round playoff fodder.

West: As predicted, it’s the Dodgers and Giants at the head of the pack. What we’ve learned about the Dodgers, though, is that Don Mattingly is no Joe Girardi; after a torrid start, the Dodgers have been unable to sustain injury challenges. Granted it’s hard to replace Matt Kemp, but a good manager finds ways to compensate and Mattingly has not yet proved his mettle. The door has opened for the Giants, whose pitching is formidable and its offense risible. These two should be 1-2 for the rest of the summer.
            The dark horse is last year’s division-winning Diamondbacks. Thus far, though, they have sustained my April comment that 2011 was a fluke built upon career years that won’t be duplicated. The Rockies are chronically short several pieces and so it shall be again this year. The Padres? No one cares and no one should.

World Series: I’m clueless about the NL champ. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Dodgers, but I do so with little conviction. In the end, though, I think this is the year the Rangers wear the bright, shinning badge. Second choice: the Yankees with Jeter as Series MVP. All of this means smart money is on the Pirates in a Cinderella upset witnessed by the 12,403 spectators who care in Pittsburgh.   

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