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 Page 35, Rule 3, Paragraph vii, Section B. No person who writes about baseball shall be considered a Real Sportswriter unless and until he produces some kind of Midseason Report at the All-Star Break. This rule is and shall be mandatory for all time. 

 

The top three variations on the Midseason Report are:

 

1. Midseason Report Cards

2. First-Half Awards

3. Checking One's Own Preseason Predictions and Then Making New Ones

 

Numbers 1 and 2 there are just so cliché, plus nothing fascinates me quite like myself, so we'll go with Option Three. Are you ready?

 Part I: Team Record Predictions 

(Please don't write in and inform me that my predicted records don't level off to .500 for the league. I know this. It was intentional.)

 AL EAST

New York Yankees 103-59

Boston Red Sox 91-71

Baltimore Orioles 78-84

Toronto Blue Jays 76-86

Tampa Bay Devil Rays 69-93

 

To make me correct, the Yankees will need to go 60-16 the rest of the way. So let's get cracking, boys from New York! Also, the Red Sox would need to go 37-37 the rest of the way, which in my opinion is somewhat more feasible. It would be extremely difficult for the Red Sox to find a way to miss the playoffs (Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report gives them a 1% chance of doing so.) The Blue Jays and Orioles are just as bad as advertised, and the Devil Rays are, in fact, still the Devil Rays. I can't really put any feathers in my cap for those predictions; it's like predicting the sun will rise in the morning.

 

I still think the Red Sox will cool off, and I'm being stubborn about the Yankees, but I still think they're going to rip off a 24-4 stretch in August/September and at least win the wild card.

 

 AL CENTRAL

1. Cleveland Indians 93-69
2. Minnesota Twins 91-61
3. Detroit Tigers 86-76
4. Chicago White Sox 77-85
5. Kansas City Royals 66-96

 

I had the Tigers dropping back to the field more than they have. There's no sign of imminent collapse there, so they're a good bet to win 90-plus. Cleveland I had accurately pegged, but again, that's no stroke of genius on my part, as anyone in the know was aware they were much better than their record last season. Their level of play this season, incredibly, is actually about the same as it was last season.

 

Everyone (and by “everyone” I mean “the Raccoon Lodge”) is just shocked that Team Smartball is under .500 and sagging fast, but of course, we nerdy stat-geeks who haven't watched a baseball game since that Oral Hosenoser guy rang up a record 53 consecutive scoreless games or something... we knew the White Sox were going to collapse, because most of their stars were some combination of old, fluky and injury-prone.

 

This Just In: It is unlikely the Royals are going to win 70 games. There are really no predictions to be made going forward: Detroit and Cleveland are both going to win 90, and Minnesota could have another second-half run in them, but it's not terribly likely. That team got over-their-head performances from Mauer and Morneau last year, and with both of them back to earth this year, the Twinkies' lineup is full of mediocrities and worse.

 

 AL WEST 

1. Seattle Mariners 85-77
2. Anaheim Angels 83-79
3. Texas Rangers 76-86
4. Oakland Athletics 73-89

 

Well, my reports of the Angels' demise were greatly exaggerated, but I will accept high praise and cash, check or major credit cards for foreseeing the Mariners' strong season. Not that Bill Bavasi knows what he's doing—for heaven's sake, please don't think I'm saying that—the Mariners have a roster with very few weak points ($1, Willie Bloomquist) and some credible pitching have them right in that thing. I don't expect them to last; they're not as good as the clubs they're fighting with for the Wild Card and will probably fade down the stretch, ending up with right around the 85 wins I predicted for them.

 

That's the most beautiful, beautiful thing about predictions: If the Mariners finish strong and win the division, I can gloat about being right, because after all, I predicted they would win the division! And if they fade out and wind up at or just above .500? I can still gloat about being right, because after all, I pegged them for 85 wins! This is how you build the illusion of credibility. Are you kids taking notes?

 

And of course, when the A's get hot again and win 88 or 90, I'll just skip right over that in any postseason reviews. I'm impressed with the A's. They had the injury problems I and most others foresaw, and then some, which is why I had them with only 73 wins, but they made me look like a fool for accusing them of having no depth, and they play crazy good defense. With a pitching staff that doesn't log many strikeouts, the A's have allowed the third-fewest runs in baseball (after Boston(!) and San Francisco), granting that their park assists a great deal with that. And Dear Billy: I'd have thought you'd know better than to still have Jason Kendall on your roster, much less in the lineup. I'd have thought you would understand the concept of sunk costs. Fun fact: Jason Kendall, who is, by far, the worst player in major league baseball, is the highest-paid player of two franchises! I'll remind you of this again in a bit.

 

Yes, I saw the Rangers' collapse coming. Their pitching is as bad as Washington's, and AmeriquestIncorporatedCorp Field isn't a nice place to put a bad pitching staff. Jon Daniels, that's just mean-spirited to everybody involved. You owe us all an apology.

 

 NL EAST 

1. Philadelphia Phillies 92-70
2. Atlanta Braves 87-75
3. New York Mets 86-76
4. Florida Marlins 72-90
5. Washington Nationals 58-104

 

+1 for predicting the Mets' struggles, with a few injuries exposing serious depth issues with the pitching staff, but I must admit, I thought Jose Reyes regressing to the mean in a big way would account largely for the sink to 86 wins I predicted, not the total collapse of Carlos Delgado.

 

-1 for picking the Phillies. What the hell was I thinking? I liked the pitching depth and thought several of the guys in their lineup (Rollins, Burrell) may have better-than-expected years, even with regression from Ryan Howard, and they have Chase Utley. But injuries really decimated this pitching staff. The thing I didn't account for was, that was at least predictable, as the Phillies had stockpiled injury-risk guys like Lieber and Gordon (and Cole Hamels, though obviously he's held up wonderfully so far. Warning to fantasy owners: Cole Hamels is the NL's Francisco Liriano. It's not a question of if he'll lie down on James Andrews' operating table, it's when.)

 

Everything else in the division is spot-on, of course; just about everyone on the planet had Mets/Braves/Phillies/Marlins/Nationals, in that order, and that's how they stand now, and that's how they'll stand come October. This is a division where the separation between each team is very well-defined, making it a no-brainer for predictions.

 

 PCL CENTRAL 

No, wait; that's the NL Central. (ba-doom CHING!)

 

1. St. Louis Cardinals 86-76
2. Chicago Cubs 80-82
3. Cincinnati Reds 79-83
4. Milwaukee Brewers 74-88
5. Houston Astros 70-92
6. Pittsburgh Pirates 66-96

 

I liked my gambit of picking the Cardinals, and they'd be in the hunt if Albert Pujols hadn't suddenly decided to merely impersonate a typical Rafael Palmeiro season this year, instead of impersonating Albert Pujols like he usually does, and if Chris Carpenter's arm hadn't finally given way. Seriously, if those two things hadn't happened, the Cardinals would likely be in first place right now.

 

Such as it is, the Cubs were a mediocre team on paper in April, and they're still a mediocre team both on paper and on the field now. Unless they make some kind of bold move—and yes, here I'm thinking of someone who's name begins with “A” and ends with “dam Dunn”—they just aren't going to catch the Brew Crew, because they aren't as good as the Brew Crew.

 

As for the Beer Boys, I was sour on them because: 1. They had a lot of injury-prone/underachiever types around, and pegging them for 85+ wins seemed like a lot of wishcasting; 2. I didn't expect Prince Fielder to become a clone of his father and/or Ryan Howard quite so quickly; 3. I didn't expect the pitching to be quite so deep. I still contend that the people who predicted the Brewers would be in or near first place weren't really thinking it through, but they've stayed healthy, gotten strong performances from most of their roster, and here they are. The Scrubs could still catch them if they happen to randomly get hot in the second half, as I do think the Brewers are a team vulnerable to a second-half stumble, as they have several guys who may be playing over their heads.

 

Yeah, that's Cincinnati—currently the worst team in baseball—I had winning 79 games. My bad. I'm sorry. I'm a moron. But I hear all 17 of the remaining Reds fans are scintillated by the anticipation of which mediocre middle relievers Krivsky will be able to reel in for such AAAA roster fodder as Adam Dunn and that, whatyercallit, Junior guy.

 

I don't need to comment any further on Pittsburgh or Houston, do I?

 

 NL WEST 

1. San Diego Padres 90-72
2. Arizona Diamondbacks 86-76
3. Los Angeles Dodgers 84-78
4. Colorado Rockies 81-83
5. San Francisco Giants 71-91

 

Pretty much as advertised. The Padres are really good, probably the best team in the NL, and the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles are really good too, thanks largely to Paul DePodesta and thanks hugely to Russell Martin, a legitimate MVP candidate. I'll write more about this soon, but according to Win Shares—which I respect as one of the best defensive evaluation tools out there—Russell Martin is the very most valuable defensive player in the National League.

 

The Rockies are mediocre, and the Giants are terrible. Raise your hand if either of these things surprises you. ...Anyone?

 

So let's gloss back over things:

 

 DIVISIONS THAT ARE STILL NECK-AND-NECK: 

AL Central (Tigers and Indians). I'm taking the Indians.
AL West (Angels and Mariners). The Angels will take this by at least 7 games, maybe more.
NL East (Mets and Braves). The Mets are where they are despite a ton of injuries. They'll pull away.
NL West (Padres, Dodgers and Diamondbacks). The Padres are the best team, but not by much; this is a situation where the team that makes a deal for an impact player will be putting itself in the driver's seat. This should frighten you if you're a team that happens to be managed by Ned Colletti (“Kemp, Loney and Billingsley for Griffey? Fax the paperwork!”)

 

 DIVISIONS THAT ARE SOMEWHAT IN QUESTION, BUT NOT ALL THAT MUCH 

NL Central (Brewers and Cubs). The Cubs could catch up, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

 

 DIVISIONS WHERE IT'S TIME TO GO HOME, THE PARTY'S OVER 

AL East (Red Sox and a cloud of dust).

 

 WILD CARD RACES 
In the AL, we have the Red Sox, Indians and Angels winning their divisions, giving us only two wild-card contenders, the Tigers and Mariners. There are four teams—Yankees, Blue Jays, Twinkies, A's—that are all bunched together, 6 games behind the Jungle Cats and Sailors. From that group it's almost certain that at least one of them is going to put on a major run, most likely the Yankees, who are actually better than all of these teams, even Detroit, by run differential. That's why I'm stubbornly giving it to the Yankees.

In the NL, as usual, everyone except the comically inept Pirates, Reds, Astros and Giants are still alive. Well, except Washington, but Washington's playoff hopes ended around March 3. Literally everyone else in the National League except those five teams are within 5 games of each other. The full list, removing our projected division winners (Mets, Brewers, Padres): Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies. From these, the Marlins and Rockies suck, the Diamondbacks' run differential is actually -30, and the Phillies aren't going to get it together. That leaves us with Atlanta, Chicago and the Orange County Dodgers. The latter two have much better run differentials than the Braves, and I don't see any particular reason to expect Atlanta to overcome that. The Cubs have the advantage of getting to load up on the Pirates and Astros and Reds; the Dodgers have the benefit of having a better team. It's about an even fight, but I'm giving it to the Dodgers.  

PLAYOFFS 

My World Series picks haven't changed. Yankees over Padres. Yes, I'm the only sportswriter in the world still predicting the Yankees will win the World Series. Remember: Wild cards are hot!

Next time out, we'll go over my individual award picks and make fun of how silly I was.