The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Revised Predictions at the All-Star Break

The All-Star break is upon us now. That means there are no games tonight, but there’s the home run derby. Tomorrow night, there’s only one game, but pretty much everyone who’s anyone is playing in it, so you can’t miss that. Wednesday night is a sad night though, at least for us fans. There will be no games on Wednesday night (unless of course you’re able to find a minor league game in town or on the tube). If you’re looking for something to do, why not go to church? Here’s a fun one that you can find out a little bit about before you go (don’t get all worked up, it’s just for fun).

Back to baseball though… we’re just a bit past the mid-way point in the season, and the All-Star break gives us some time to look back at what’s happened so far this year and to try to make an attempt at predicting what will happen over the remainder of the season. Today, I thought I’d take apart my early season predictions and see how things are looking (in case you don’t believe me, here are my initial predictions from the archives). Tomorrow I’ll look at my original forecast for awards and on Wednesday I’ll provide some analysis on the Marlins start to the season. Now let’s get into the division commentary (and I apologize in advance if the smoke from the local wildfires has caused enough of a haze in my mind to influence my picks)...

American League East
In April, I picked Boston to win the division. As it stands right now, New York is leading by seven games. At this point, I can’t pick against the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers look like a mortal lock to win the division again this year, and if the team falters even ever so slightly, we’re likely to see Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, or at worst, Kris Benson find his way to the pinstripers before the postseason.

The big surprise in this division to date is the Devil Rays. Just about everyone, other than me, picked the Rays to finish last (as they always have). Granted, I only picked the Rays to finish fourth in the division (they’re currently third), but coming into the year, no one expected to hear Juan Pierre say “they’re the best team in Florida right now” after the conclusion of the Marlins – Devil Rays six game interleague set. It remains to be seen whether the Rays can keep up their solid performance of late over the remainder of the year, but they do have some great young talent. Carl Crawford will be on display in Houston tomorrow, but the Rays best young prospect, B.J. Upton, is still in the minor leagues (although likely not for long). The Rays could become a team of the future (although they’ll probably need a few more good arms to really accomplish that). If they keep winning like they did in June, soon we’ll be comparing the 2004 Devil Rays to the 2003 Marlins (another team that started atrociously slowly but came on strong… and you know how that ended up; no, I’m not saying the Devil Rays will find their way into the playoffs this year, but they could be exciting to watch, which is a definite improvement).

American League Central
Cleveland and Detroit have both surprised in the early part of the year (positively), but neither is really a threat to win the division at this point. Both clubs are more than five games out and don’t really have the depth or the experience to make a serious run.

Kansas City has been a huge disappointment this year. Carlos Beltran is already gone and the team is 15.5 games out of first place. The only remaining questions for the Royals this year are who will be traded and who will be traded next.

The race for the division title comes down, as it seemingly always does, to the Twins and the White Sox. At the break, the Sox have a half-game lead over the Twins. Look for both clubs to make some moves before the trade deadline, but I doubt there will be any blockbusters (although the Sox acquisition of Freddy Garcia was pretty big, if just for name recognition).

I’ll stick with my pick of the Sox though.

American League West
Originally I picked Anaheim, and I’m still doing that today. The Angels are only 2.5 games back in the division and nearly everyone, from the Rally Monkey on down, has been hurt so far this year. If the Angels are healthy, they’re my pick. And if Randy Johnson or another top tier pitcher is really available at the deadline, don’t put it past Arte Moreno to go and get him for the Halos.

Texas has been the surprise of surprises this season. Somehow they are in first place at the All-Star break. I don’t recall seeing anyone pick them to finish higher than last place, and given how poorly the Mariners are playing this season, even a monumental collapse wouldn’t put the Rangers in the cellar this season.

National League East
The Phillies were and are my pick to win the division. What I didn’t really see coming was the surge by the Braves. As the trade deadline approaches and the races start to heat up, the Braves are the real wild card left in this thing. No one is really sure if the Braves are buyers or sellers (there have been rumors of Andruw Jones, J.D. Drew, and Russ Ortiz being traded away by the deadline). If the Braves make a move or two and solidify their 25-man roster, they could make a serious push for the division title or the wild card.

The Marlins are still in the hunt and I’ll stand by my pick for them to finish second in the division, but you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for more insight on the Fish.

National League Central
The Astros aren’t looking like the team I thought they’d be at the start of the year. Despite acquiring Carlos Beltran last month, it looks like the ‘Stros are an also ran this year. They’re 10.5 games back already, and don’t be surprised if you see Carlos Beltran and Roger Clemens playing in different uniforms by August 1st.

St. Louis is another surprise team, and in a big way. Coming into the season, nearly everyone (myself included) thought that the Cards would run a distant third in the division to the Cubs and Astros, but so far this year that hasn’t been the case. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite; everyone else in the division is trailing the Cardinals by a big deficit. St. Louis goes into the All-Star break with the biggest lead (7 games – tied with the Yankees) of any team in any division. Whether they can hold onto that lead, I’m not sure. With the Cubs coming back healthy, it could be a good race. It’s not going to be Houston though, so I’ll pick the Cardinals (I just can’t bring myself to pick the Cubs).

National League West
Three teams are within two games of first place right now, and the race is too close to call, but the real story in this division this year (other than that Bonds guy) might be the Diamondbacks fall from grace. Arizona is twenty-seven games below .500 and 18.5 games out of first place. 2001 World Series champion manager Bob Brenly has already been fired (allegedly for mis-using his bullpen and causing injuries – in addition to the losing) and aging veterans (i.e. Randy Johnson) are reportedly on the trading block.

Bonds’ Giants have also been a surprise this year. Despite being written off as recently as May, the Giants have turned things around and are now only one half game out of first place in the division, and if the playoffs started today, the Giants would be the National League’s Wild Card representative.

The Dodgers are leading the division right now – ever so slightly, and my pick at the start of the year, San Diego, is only two games back. This race is too close to call, so I’m going to hedge my bets. San Diego or whoever makes the biggest deadline deal will win this division.

Wild Card
Initially, I picked Oakland and Florida to win the Wild Card titles in their leagues.

In the American League, I still like Oakland, although Boston currently has a one game edge on the A’s. Anaheim and whoever ends up on the short end of the White Sox – Twins race are also all right there. However, over the past three seasons Oakland has proved to be a second half team. They’re always helped by the wheelings-and-dealings of GM Billy Beane and I’m convinced that they know something about training and conditioning (particularly for pitchers) that other clubs don’t. We’ll see if that holds up this year.

In the National League, the Marlins are 3.5 games back of the Wild Card lead right now. That isn’t a whole lot of ground, but there are six teams ahead of them. Included in those six are Milwaukee and Cincinnati, both of which are likely to fade away by mid-August. Also ahead of the Fish are San Diego and Atlanta. I think both of those teams will either position themselves for a run (by adding talent with deadline deals) or give up on the season (by trading for prospects) by the end of the month. So the Wild Card race could come down to just the Giants, Cubs, and Marlins.

If it comes down to that, as painful as it is for me to admit, you have to give the edge to the Cubs, solely based on starting pitching. After Jason Schmidt, no one on the Giants staff intimidates you. With the Cubs, there are seemingly guys in double and triple-A that you wouldn’t want to face. The Marlins chances are dicey at best. As the team is presently constituted, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough there to get them to the post-season. They’re a little bit short on pitching and a little bit short on hitting, and last season’s timely hitting phenomenon has seemed to slow down to a more normal pace.

World Series
Originally I had Anaheim facing off against the Marlins in the World Series. I’ll still stick with the Angels, but instead of the Fish, I’ll take the Phillies to represent the National League in this year’s edition of the Fall Classic.

I could be wrong though. We’ll see come October. My initial predictions were close, but not quite on the mark. Anything can happen in these next few months though…


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