The All Star Break is generally considered to be midway point of the MLB season. It’s weird because teams have already played anywhere from 91 games (Detroit) to 97 (Tampa Bay and the Dodgers). For those of you out there who aren’t exactly mathematicians, that’s more than halfway through the season. The mathematical midpoint of the season was a couple of weeks ago making it weird that people consider the season to be halfway over now, but if you think about how little sense this makes too long, you’ll get a headache, so let’s just move on.
The All Star Break is a good time to make predictions about the rest of the season. With the four day absence of baseball (the All Star Game doesn’t count), people are pretty desperate for anything related to actual baseball. Also, the sample size of nearly 100 games is large enough to extrapolate semi-meaningful information, making it easier to make logical and smart picks for the rest of the season.
Before you think that I’m just some idiot who doesn’t know how to make these predictions, I’d like to direct you to the two columns that I’ve written on here so far that deal with making picks. Here’s The World Cup Preview: https://sushionsports.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/the-world-cup-preview/. In it, before the tournament started, I pick three of the final four teams correctly, I pick the winner correctly, I do reasonably well picking the order of finishers in each group, and I predict that Brazil will collapse against Germany in the semifinals. Here’s The Knockout Rounds Preview, in which I get 13 out of the 16 games correct in addition to doubling up on what I predicted before the tournament started: https://sushionsports.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/the-knockout-rounds-preview/. Read through the articles; you might be entertained, but you’ll also see that I wasn’t too bad.
Now I’ll admit that the last 130 words were pretty much just an excuse for me to brag about my successes, but still, can’t I be proud? If I made a 200 dollar bet on Germany to win it all before the tournament started (if gambling were legal), that 200 dollar bet would have returned 1100 dollars (according to Bovada). Not a bad profit.
All this aside, I like to think that I’m capable of foreseeing a few things, especially something as (relatively) predictable as MLB.
We’ll swing through the division winners and wild cards and move on to the major award winners before finishing up with the playoff picks.
Something you might want to know before we get started: this column is really, really, really long. Don’t worry: I won’t be offended if you read part of it and come back later to read some more. Anyways, after that 430 word preamble, let’s get started!
AL East: Baltimore Orioles
This is easily the most wide open division in baseball. All five teams are still in it, and no one would be particularly surprised if one team pulled off an incredible second half to win the division. I’m going with the safest pick in the Orioles.
For one thing, they’re already in first place, giving them a cushion over the rest of the teams.
They’ve also got some great hitting. Adam Jones has been spectacular as always, Nelson Cruz is having a breakout season at 34 (PEDs, anyone?) and they’ve had a surprise contributor in Steve Pearce, who’s been very good since he was brought up. Even Chris Davis isn’t too bad, although he’s certainly not at the heights that he reached last season.
The biggest reason is that they’ve got the least noticeable flaws of anyone in their division. Their only problem is a slightly leaky rotation, stemming mostly from the struggles of their prized free agent, 50 million dollar man, Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Blue Jays have been struggling since their hot start to the season and have no consistency at almost any part of their roster. Edwin Encarnacion got injured and will be out for a few weeks. All they have to do is find another guy who has 26 homers and 70 RBIs through the All Star Break because, you know, those types of players grow on trees.
Boston’s been completely unable to hit.
The Rays are shaking off a slow start but are still in last place. It’s impossible to pick them because of the risk that Andrew Friedman decides to rebuild their farm system by trading away David Price (who’s had an incredible two months worth of starts) and Ben Zobrist.
New York’s been dealing with injuries everywhere, (no surprise as the average age of their 25 man roster is probably around 48) they have no infield, their prized free agents haven’t worked out, and the only one that did, Masashiro Tanaka, is on the DL for at least six weeks.
If Toronto adds a big name player through the trade market as they’ve been rumored to be trying to do, it could change the whole outlook of the race. Outside of that, there’s nothing else that could make the division change much. The Yankees have too many holes to fix and Boston can’t find seven quality hitters to replace everyone in their lineup other than Brock Holt and David Ortiz. Tampa Bay never adds payroll and, if they made a splash, it would be more likely that they trade away David Price rather than trading for reinforcements.
The decision to choose the Orioles to win the AL East doesn’t stem from confidence in them as much as the lack of any serious competition.
For the sake of completeness, at the end of each division, I’ll put down my picks for the rest of the division. For the AL East, I’ve got Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston, then New York.
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
Again, who’s going to compete with them? The Twins and White Sox are still rebuilding, they definitely can’t. Cleveland’s pitching has fallen apart outside of Corey Kluber. Kansas City can’t hit because of the hugely disappointing seasons from Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Norichika Aoki, and more. There are really no serious contenders other than the Tigers for the AL Central crown.
Detroit isn’t winning it almost by default like the Orioles are; rather, they have a very good team on their own.
Despite trading Doug Fister over the winter for 40 cents on the dollar (Fister has a sub-3.00 ERA this year for the Nationals) they have a deep pitching staff. Justin Verlander’s been a disappointment this year, but there’s potential for a comeback. Remember, Verlander won the MVP only three years ago, in 2011. They’ve got Rick Porcello, who had one of the strangest box scores in recent memory, with a complete game shutout with no walks and no strikeouts. Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer are both high strikeout pitchers with good ERAs. Even Drew Smyly, the guy who they gave Fister’s rotation spot to has been pretty good. That’s a pretty intimidating playoff rotation.
Their lineup is even better than their rotation. They’ve got Miguel Cabrera, looking to capture a third straight AL MVP, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler. They’ve got a surprise star in JD Martinez who has absolutely mashed this year.
Overall, Detroit has such a deep team (outside of its shaky bullpen) that it’s impossible to go against them.
I think the rest of the division will go Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota.
AL West: Oakland Athletics
The best team in the majors got even better after trading for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel of the Cubs. Oakland’s rotation is so deep that despite having multiple injuries to starting pitchers, they had to send down a guy with a 3.55 ERA (Tommy Milone) because they didn’t have a spot for him in the rotation. That’s some serious depth.
Their lineup is loaded as well, with Josh Donaldson following last year’s breakout season with 20 homers and 65 RBIs so far this year and Brandon Moss having already hit 21 homers and knocked in 66 guys. They’ve got the best catching platoon in the game with Derek Norris (who should have started the All Star Game over both Matt Wieters and Salvador Perez) and John Jaso. Yoenis Cespedes, who just won his second consecutive Home Run Derby, bats third. Quite simply, the Athletics are loaded.
The best thing about Oakland is how deep they are. They’ve got good players up and down the roster, from 1 through 25. This depth makes them less susceptible to injuries.
The Angels and Mariners are both good teams, but none have the depth of the A’s. We’ll delve a little deeper into those two teams in about three or four paragraphs.
Texas and Houston are both garbage and inflate the win totals of the three teams lucky enough to be in the same division as them.
Anyways, Oakland’s easily the best team in the majors and should win their division.
After Oakland, I think it’ll be Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, then Texas.
AL Wild Cards: 1. Los Angeles Angels (if you want to be picky) of Anaheim 2. Seattle Mariners
Most important question: why do the Angels feel the need to tack on “of Anaheim” to the end of the name? It sounds a little stuck up if you ask me (which you didn’t, but whatever).
In actual baseball, the Angels are a team built for the regular season with a loaded lineup, a passable rotation, and a train wreck of a bullpen. Luckily for them, the market is saturated with relief pitchers and it shouldn’t be too hard. In fact, they’ve already gotten started, grabbing Joe Thatcher from Arizona and swapping their failed closer, Ernesto Frieri, for Pittsburgh’s failed closer, Jason Grilli. I think they’ll comfortably end up with the first wild card spot in the AL and breath down Oakland’s neck for the division crown near the end of the season.
The choice for the second wild card spot is tricky. I don’t particularly like any of the AL East teams, skill-wise, and Cleveland and Kansas City are all young teams with flaws (pitching outside of Kluber and having a passable offense respectively). That leaves only the Mariners. I’m okay with that. They’ve got Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano. Their biggest hole is the lack of production from right field and first base. Their DH spot has also been shaky. If they can solve a chunk of that problem by acquiring Marlon Byrd, Josh Willlingham, or someone like them, they’ll be in good position to make a run.
Now, if you were paying any attention at all, you may have noticed that I picked three AL playoff teams to come out of the AL West. This is because of they play in a division with the Astros and the Rangers. The two Texas teams are among the worst in baseball. Their crappiness gives the rest of the teams in their division a boost up.
NL East: Washington Nationals
I’m a Mets fan but even I can say that this division is really really bad. I mean, you’ve got the retirement home Phillies, the lots-of-young-guys-but-not-quite-there-yet Marlins and Mets, the perpetually underachieving Nationals, and the never-quite-puts-it-together Braves.
The Phillies certainly won’t be winning anything this year, outside of shot at a top 5 draft pick (they currently have the seventh-worst record in the MLB). The Marlins started off hot but are finally coming down from that high. They’ve got no shot. The Mets are 45-50 but have been unlucky; they should be 50-45 with just league average luck. Still, they’re a young team and are more likely than not to do worse in the second half. They’ll be good in 2015 and beyond, just not this year (I’m gonna keep telling myself that, hoping that it’s true). The Braves are overachieving, leaving just Washington. I’ve always thought for the past three years that Washington has a really good team. They simply have no holes. Every position is manned by a capable player. I think that this is the year that they finally put it together and that they’ll easily win the NL East.
I think the rest of the division goes Atlanta, New York, Miami, and Philadelphia.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
Here’s another division (along with the NL and AL Easts) that no one seems to want to win. Four out of the five teams are within 3.5 games of the division lead so this division is completely up-for-grabs. We can easily rule out the Cubs because they’re continuing to build for the future, but outside of Chicago, the four other teams are more or less even.
In the end, I’ve got to pick St. Louis. They’ve got great pitching and their hitting should bounce back eventually. They’ve got a ton of injuries to key contributors such as Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, and Jaime Garcia. Still, all of them (except for possibly Garcia) will be back by September, in time for the stretch run.
Cincinnati is dealing with injuries of its own. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Sean Marshall are all banged up. However, the Reds should find it harder to compensate for their injuries. Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to be a particularly good team this year, but after a surprisingly good start, they’ve cooled off considerably. Pittsburgh is doing the same thing it’s always done: having a far better record than their stats would suggest. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to drop off a cliff in the second half.
The best reason for the Cards is that they’ve done it before. They know what it takes to win the division. In a division with five lackluster teams, that’s the best reason to pick one of them.
I think the Reds will come in second, the Brew Crew will be third, the Buccos will take home fourth, and the Cubs will be comfortably in last.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s tough to go against a team that’s spending 238 million dollars. It’s also tough to go against a team that’s so loaded that elite, major-league ready prospects are stuck in the minors because the players in the big leagues are all too good to be sent down.
Three of the six worst teams in MLB reside in their division, pushing them up a few games. The only competition comes from the Giants, who, after a scorching start, have stunk for a month or two.
I think that the rest of the division will be, in order of finish, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona, and San Diego.
NL Wild Cards: 1. San Francisco Giants 2. Atlanta Braves
The NL Wild Card race should be relatively uncompetitive this year. There are five teams that (according to my predictions) won’t win their division but are still competitive: San Fran, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. The three NL Central teams should all beat up on one another, leaving the Giants and Braves standing. Additionally, the Giants and Braves have easy divisions and should be able to capitalize on that by taking advantage of the weaker teams they’ll face.
AL MVP: Mike Trout
Honestly, who else could it be? Miguel Cabrera has won the past two AL MVPs over Trout, largely due to old-school thinkers who don’t value advanced stats at all compared to the old stalwarts of RBIs and home runs. This year, however, in addition to thrashing Cabrera in advanced stats (as always), Trout is beating him in the regular stats as well, other than RBIs where he’s losing by two, 75-73. That difference is offset by his dominance in other categories. That combination, along with finally being on a playoff team, is why Trout should take home his first MVP.
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton is, quite simply, a beast. He boasts enormous power; with 21 home runs, he’s tied with Troy Tulowitzki for the NL lead in the statistic. He leads the league in RBIs, with 63. He hits for average and gets on base a ton. He’s getting better production now that he’s playing with some good hitters, like Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Casey McGehee, and Garrett Jones.
Still, the NL MVP is wide open. You could make a convincing case for Tulowitzki, Paul Goldschmidt, and Andrew McCutchen. Picking this race is pretty much a crapshoot but Stanton’s my best bet based on his immense power and his capability of turning in a monstrous second half.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
King Felix is the obvious choice here. Chris Sale hasn’t pitched as many innings and David Price is still overcoming his poor start to the season, and he might get traded to an NL team. There are worries with Scott Kazmir and Garrett Richards that their seasons are outliers. Masashiro Tanaka got hurt. Justin Verlander stopped being Justin Verlander. There’s just not a huge amount of competition in the AL this year. That shouldn’t take away from Hernandez’s achievements, though. Through 144.1 innings, he’s got 154 strikeouts, a 2.12 ERA, and a 0.90 WHIP. If you care about wins, he’s got 11. He’s been the best pitcher on a playoff contender, and as long as neither he nor the Mariners suffer a prolonged second half swoon, he should win his second Cy Young in a landslide.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Just like with the MVP races, the real intrigue comes with the NL. Does the award go to someone with a breakout season (Julio Teheran)? Does it go to an extreme outlier season that probably won’t happen again (Johnny Cueto)? Does it go to someone who missed a month of the season but is undeniably the best pitcher in the game (Kershaw)? Or, does it go to someone who’s been consistently spectacular all year (Adam Wainwright)?
I choose Kershaw, and here’s why:
- Best pitcher in the game
- Plays for a guaranteed playoff team
- The innings gap between him and the rest of the starters will be far less noticeable by the end of the season
- He’s been unbelievably good so far this year
That’s more than enough for me. In case that wasn’t enough, Kershaw is more likely to win because he plays for a guaranteed playoff team while Wainwright (the probable runner-up) plays for Saint Louis, a contender for a playoff spot, but by no means a slam-dunk.
A stat that shows the huge gap between Kershaw and Wainwright: Kershaw has pitched 41.2 innings less than Wainwright but has 11 more strikeouts. That’s called dominance.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu
This doesn’t have much intrigue either. It was shaping up to be a great race between Abreu and Masashiro Tanaka, but Tanaka got hurt, putting an end to that discussion.
Something reasonably important that I’d like to point out is that Tanaka is 25 and Abreu is 27. Wait, so why are these guys considered rookies again?
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton
I racked my brains for ten minutes and couldn’t think of a single rookie in the NL worth noting, outside of Hamilton. There’s not much competition in this race either. Regardless, Hamilton is a well-deserving candidate. In addition to his well-documented speed (he’s got 38 stolen bases so far this year), he’s hitting .285, albeit with a pedestrian OPB of .319, quelling concerns that he wouldn’t be able to get on base to get steals in the big leagues. He’s even got 38 RBIs, a lot for a leadoff hitter. Hamilton is a solid choice for the NL ROY, despite there not being anyone else worth noting to compete with him.
- Los Angeles/Seattle
AL Wild Card Game: Seattle
The Angels are probably a better team overall than the Mariners, but they don’t have the shutdown ace that Seattle has in Felix Hernandez. King Felix should shut down Los Angeles in the wild card game, giving Seattle the victory.
ALDS: Oakland, Detroit
Oakland should easily put away Seattle with its superior pitching and hitting, along with its depth throughout the roster. The only position that Seattle is better than Oakland at is second base, where Seattle has Robinson Cano, compared to Oakland’s four-way platoon of Alberto Callaspo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Punto, and Eric Sogard. Outside of that position, the Athletics are better in every way.
Detroit should do the same to Baltimore, beating them with their combination of elite hitting and above average pitching. Baltimore doesn’t have great starting pitching which should doom them in a playoff series.
This sets up a rematch of Oakland-Detroit. Detroit has won the past two years, but neither team is the same. Justin Verlander’s not as good as he used to be and Doug Fister was traded to Washington, so the Tigers are at a slight disadvantage in pitching.
The two teams are just about neck and neck in hitting. Detroit has more star power, but Oakland has solid players up and down the order.
The place where the Athletics have a huge advantage is in the bullpen. Joe Nathan hasn’t been good at all closing for the Tigers, while the A’s have good setup men in Dan Otero and Luke Gregerson, along with an All Star closer in Sean Doolittle.
Oakland’s clearly a better team than Detroit, and that’s why I think they’ll exorcise their past demons to finally move on to the World Series.
NL Wild Card Game: Atlanta
As in the AL matchup, the team with the best starting pitcher will nearly always win. Julio Teheran is better than all of the Giants’ pitchers, like Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum. Because of that advantage, I think Atlanta will beat San Francisco.
NLDS: Los Angeles, Washington
Los Angeles should thrash Atlanta with its incredibly deep rotation and its elite lineup, especially as Julio Teheran, Atlanta’s ace, won’t be able to pitch the first game of the series if he pitches in the Wild Card game.
I think Washington will avenge its loss to the Cardinals from two seasons ago. Although St. Louis has the best pitcher in the series, Adam Wainwright, Washington hasn’t been wracked by pitching injuries, with Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez, the likely members of their playoff rotation, all healthy. Even if one of them does get hurt, the Nats still have Tanner Roark as a solid backup plan.
NLCS: Los Angeles
Although Washington has great pitching, they can’t compare to the playoff rotation that the Dodgers can roll out: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, and Hyun-jin Ryu. The strength of the Nationals is pitching; take away that advantage and they’re suddenly not so intimidating anymore.
This sets up a California World Series between Oakland and Los Angeles, a matchup which should be a treat for all.
The World Series: Oakland
I went back and forth between the two teams about a thousand times before finally deciding.
Despite having less than a third of Los Angeles’ payroll, I think the Athletics will win the World Series.
The Dodgers have a ton of star power and are very top-heavy, while the Athletics have some stars, but have a ton more depth. Los Angeles is an incredible regular season team, and an incredible postseason team, but what happens if an important player gets injured. Then what happens? We’ve already seen that worst-case scenario with Oakland’s pitching staff and they rose to the occasion.
Also, I feel like, in every World Series, there’s one random player who makes a huge difference. Oakland has a ton of those guys. The Dodgers? Not so much. That’s a big reason why I’m picking the Oakland Athletics to win the 2014 World Series.