MLB Division Rankings and Playoff Predictions

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IApril 2, 2009

BOSTON - OCTOBER 05:  Jered Weaver #36 and Mike Napoli #44 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim celebrate the win after Game Three of the American League Championship Series on October 5, 2008  at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The Angels defeated the Red Sox 5-4 in 12 innings.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

One of the hardest things to do is decide which division in baseball is better than another.

Ranking all six against each other is much harder.

When I went through my team previews, two-by-two, before it all started, I sat down and tried to place the teams in order of finish in their respective divisions.

A part of me wants to say the way I’ve ranked the divisions is based on how hard it was to rank the teams within them.

The truth is though, that is a total lie.

The division I ranked last was by far the hardest to rank and that was probably because of its mediocrity last year.

 Either way, my criteria for ranking the divisions like I did follow these guidelines:

  • Strength of each division from top to bottom
  • Success against other divisions
  • Variety of different positions each team could finish and how many teams could win the division
  • Interleague records
  • And of course, on the field talent and improvement since last season

Along those lines, some things have changed in terms of my division standings. I didn’t want to make changes, but some things have happened since I actually did sit down and put everyone in their place.

You can view the final standings that I came up with, here, and compare them to my new and final standings. The divisions are now ranked by which I think is the toughest and the order of the teams is how I think they will finish. Place of finish last year is in parenthesis.

*Wild Card

WPT = Wins Per Team in 2008

1. NL EAST –79.2 WPT

Florida (3)

Philadelphia* (1)

New York (2)

Atlanta (4)

Washington (5)

I’ve got Florida shocking a lot of people to not only make the playoffs, but win this tough division. I think things click for them and they overtake the Phillies who give the East two playoff representatives. I have my doubts about the Mets, but both them and the Braves are good enough to win games.

2. AL EAST – 81 WPT

Boston (2)

Tampa Bay* (1)

New York (3)

Baltimore (5)

Toronto (4)

I also think this division produces two playoff teams. Boston has the most in my mind, especially with their low-risk investments in high-potential talent. Tampa Bay is for real, but I’m not sure they can repeat as division winners. I do not buy into the Yankees.

3. AL CENTRAL – 81.4 WPT

Cleveland (3)

Minnesota (2)

Kansas City (4)

Chicago (1)

Detroit (5)

I think it turns out to be a two-horse race, but the entire division is going to be a dogfight. Cleveland has the talent to win it; Minnesota’s pitching is scary good. Chicago has the horses to battle, but do they have the horses to battle all year?

4. NL CENTRAL – 83.3 WPT

Chicago (1)

St. Louis (4)

Cincinnati (5)

Milwaukee (2)

Houston (3)

Pittsburgh (6)

I think Chicago is the favorite and bad things would have to happen for them to not win it. St. Louis ,to me, could give them the biggest challenge and I think they’ve got a realistic shot at a Wild Card. Cincinnati is my biggest dark horse and I think their pitching could be scary good.

5. AL WEST – 81 WPT

Los Angeles (1)

Oakland (3)

Texas (2)

Seattle (4)

It may be a two horse race, but Los Angeles could end up taking it again. Oakland has made a lot of changes and should at least overtake Texas.

6. NL WEST – 75 WPT

Arizona (2)

Los Angeles (1)

San Francisco (4)

Colorado (3)

San Diego (5)

I like Arizona to edge out the Dodgers because of their pitching staff. San Francisco is on the rise but I don’t think they challenge yet.

Ranking the Divisions

I’m sure my rankings need defending, especially since I didn’t put America’s favorite division in first.

Let’s start from the bottom though.

The NL West to me is a two-horse race and their record last year suggests that they barely deserve one playoff team. It isn’t like the division is super-competitive like the AL Central is; it just isn’t very deep or good all around.

Arizona and Los Angeles are the definites, and San Francisco is on the fringe. While I like them, I don’t know if they have a realistic shot at winning the whole thing.

The division’s competitiveness with other divisions is very poor. Only the Giants against the East, and the Dodgers and Rockies against the Central had winning records. Colorado had the best interleague record at 7-8.

The AL West was a last minute change for me. I originally had them a spot higher, but I hate the fact that one division has six teams and another has four. To me that just makes things even more difficult.

There is less chance for them to have another good team, more chance for the team I placed above them to have one.

That’s really why they are a spot lower. I think Los Angeles and Oakland are the only two teams in this division that really have a shot. Seattle and Texas could both finish last and neither are very impressive to me overall.

The NL Central might take a bit of a step back for me. There is a reason they aren’t ahead of the AL Central and it is the exact reason they are ahead of the AL West. They have too many teams.

I think Chicago and St. Louis are the only two teams capable of winning the division. I think St. Louis and Cincinnati are the only two teams capable of winning a wild card. I think Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Houston are all capable of finishing last.

While they were probably the best out of all the NL divisions in terms of interleague, I think this division has just fallen that far back. Milwaukee won’t be as good, which essentially takes the fourth team they had contending out of the mix.

Then we have the AL Central, which is just a mess, but it could end up being a competitive mess. If things break one way for one team and break another for another team, anyone could win it. But I think there are only three teams that are actually capabel of winning it: Cleveland, Chicago, and Minnesota.

Cleveland actually had the most success against the East last year. In fact they were the only team to pull a .500 or above record against each division. Their downfall was interleague and the .500 record against their own division.

The Central though, as a whole, beat up on the National League. Almost 12 interleague wins per team, which is five better than the NL Central.

To me, that counts for something, and with Cleveland improving and Minnesota’s awesome pitching now a year older, they finish third.

Now we have the big debate about the East divisions and which one is better.

When you boil it down to everything, I think the NL is much deeper.

The AL East has three good teams that could win the division, maybe win the entire thing; there is no doubt about that.

But do Baltimore and Toronto really scare anyone?

I know Toronto finished just three wins behind New York last year, but they are just asking to fall down. They are missing two of their starting pitchers for one thing, and it seems like if they didn’t face the best teams, they didn’t play their best.

The biggest argument against the NL East will be their awful interleague record, especially the World Champion Phillies only winning four games.

But this division beat up on the West, as they should have, and their records against each other just scream in-house battle.

All four teams ,aside from Washington, have the potential to be scary good. We all know I’m on Florida, but don’t discredit the fact that they won 84 games in a division that the Mets and Phillies dominated in terms of the headlines.

Atlanta should be much improved and even Washington could be a tougher “punching bag” than the AL East’s two bottom teams.

To me, four good teams are better than two great ones and one possible great one, and I’d even put Philadelphia in that great column.

A lot of people think the Mets could even win it all, so that is just one more feather in their cap.

Tampa Bay and Boston are both very good; I might pick those two teams over the Phillies and Mets. But, this is overall from top to bottom, counting each team and taking everything into consideration.

It’s a tough call, but I think the NL East has grown a little bit stronger with the Braves getting better, enough to edge NL over the AL.

What’s changed?

Okay I actually didn’t change too much in the division standings, in fact the only change I made was in the AL Central. I basically flipped the Tigers and the Royals.

The reason is simple. Some crazy things that could only happen to the Tigers happened in the last month.

Gary Sheffield, which is hardly the reason, was cut and they’ve now moved Carlos Guillen again. That will take some pop out of their lineup, but they may be better off without Sheffield.

The big thing for me is that their pitching might have gotten worse before the season even started, thanks to what else, injuries.

How bad are you when two pitchers, who’ve never pitched above Single-A mind you, are better than everyone else you have?

That’s exactly the reason that manager Jim Leyland gave when he named 2007 first round draft pick Rick Porcello to the rotation and 2008 draft pick Kyle Perry to the bullpen.

With Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and Joel Zumaya starting the year on the disabled list, it seems as if they had no other choice.

Add that to Juan Rincon of all people in the bullpen? I know he had a fantastic spring, but color me skeptical.

This team just has too many problems for me to believe in at this point. I had to make a switch and I’m really feeling Kansas City enough to see them improve on the field and with their record.

Some other things haven’t made me change my standings, but have made me think.

Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson won spots in the Oakland rotation. They could sink and bring the Athletics down farther or swim and possibly push Los Angeles even harder than I thought. The A’s have also had some other issues going on with Joey Devine.

Kris Benson made the Texas rotation, never mind about Oakland being pushed farther down.

The Rays have been hit hard early with their injuries, but I’m not losing my faith in them. Their important pieces will be back soon enough.

Brandon Morrow is going back to the Seattle bullpen. I think that is for the best this year, at least in Seattle’s case, but this team isn’t playing for this year.

Will Ohman is a nice pickup for the Dodgers, especially after they didn’t bring back Joe Beimel.

Jeff Karstens beat out Tom Gorzelanny and others for the fifth spot in the Pirates rotation. If they click, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a run at both the Astros and the Brewers in that division. I still like Cincinnati and St. Louis very much, especially the way Chris Caprenter has pitched.

I’m worried about Jonathan Broxton closing games for the Dodgers, but the rest of their team is looking solid.

The Padres might have gotten worse with Edwin Mujica added to their bullpen, I’m just saying.

Washington has let Jordan Zimmerman into their rotation. I like a lot of their young talent but it’s just that, they are young.

A few Indians notes that you should be aware of: Fausto Carmona and Victor Martinez have both looked very good. Travis Hafner’s power is finally being put on display as of late and fifth starter Scott Lewis is making a lot of people concerned.

Dewayne Wise has won the center field spot for the White Sox, that doesn’t impact my opinion on them.

Playoff Predictions


1. Boston Vs 3. Cleveland

2. Los Angeles Vs 4. Tampa Bay


1. Chicago Vs 4. Philadelphia

2. Arizona Vs 3. Florida

I’m going homer with my Cleveland Indians beating the Boston Red Sox in a tough ALDS series, and with the Los Angeles Angels disposing of the Tampa Bay Rays. What does that say about my division rankings that both AL East teams get early exits? Nothing really, just that I’m a little crazy and that this is baseball.

I have the Philadelphia Phillies making a return to the NLCS with a win over the Chicago Cubs, poor Cubbies. My two young and surprising teams meet up with the Arizona Diamondbacks beating the Florida Marlins. The two lower seeds win, go figure. Again I’m crazy and this is baseball.


3. Cleveland Vs 2. Los Angeles


4. Philadelphia Vs 2. Arizona

I have the Angels finally advancing to the World Series after much disappointment. I think this might be the year with no one focusing on them. Who knows what a little competition and adversity might to do a team. I’ve got Arizona growing up before our eyes and making it past the defending champions for a trip to the World Series.

World Series

Los Angeles Over Arizona

Two of this decade’s greatest success stories meet up at the stage that they made all sorts of magical things happen. Arizona won in 2001 when they shocked the Yankees and Los Angeles rose to the top a year later when they defeated the Giants.

I’ve got the Los Angeles Angels winning it all because of their pitching. I think they are kept afloat until both Ervin Santana and John Lackey get healthy and the postseason sees the birth of a new star in Jose Arredondo as he closes things out for the Halos.


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