MLB Standings: Who Makes the Playoffs?
The All-Star break has historically been known as a nice three-day break where the media and fans can settle down and get a good look at where each team stands as they head into the unofficial second half of the season.
I've done just that, and am glad to share my predictions for what teams will be sporting Division Champion (and Wild Card Champion) t-shirts at the end of the season.
Obviously, some of these choices you may not agree with, and if you don't, feel free to comment and we can get a debate going!
AL East's Current Leader: New York Yankees, 56-32
To nobody's surprise, the New York Yankees are the cream of the crop so far in all of baseball, and seemingly in their rightful spot at the top of the American League East.
They're the only team in baseball with 28 wins on the road and at home, which is just a testament to the fact that they do, in fact, play consistent baseball wherever they play.
They've been led offensively by Robinson Cano, who is having a career (not to mention MVP-caliber) season, hitting .336 with 16 homers and 58 runs batted in.
Their 56 wins comes with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira having quiet, yet still productive seasons, and with a bullpen that, besides Mariano Rivera, is leaving Yankees fans with much to be desired. Of all the teams currently in a playoff spot, the Yankees have the highest bullpen ERA at 4.14.
Predicted Winner: Much to the dismay of the typical Yankees fan, I'm going to say that there won't be an 2010 AL East Champions banner hanging over Yankee Stadium.
The Tampa Bay Rays are now red-hot again, winning eight of 10 coming into the All-Star Break. They've been winning with their proven pitching, and their offense isn't too far behind the Bronx Bombers.
A couple things to note: The Rays have 12 games left against the league-worst Baltimore Orioles, while the Yankees only have six. Not to say those are automatic wins... but let's be honest, it's about as close as you can get.
Also, in the final week of the season, while the Yankees are in Toronto and Boston, two teams that won't make the playoffs but are still very good, the Rays will be at home against the Orioles, and then finish up in Kansas City.
If Tampa is ahead, or dangerously close going into that final week, they certainly will have the advantage. I'm calling Tampa on this one, but I won't be surprised if the Yankees win. Honestly, who would be?
AL Central's Current Leader: Chicago White Sox, 49-38
The White Sox come into the break on fire, winners of eight in a row.
The South Siders seemed dead in the water, sitting at 24-33 on June 8th. Since then, they've gone 25-5. I don't think I need to tell you that's the best record in the Majors in that time span. They've done it thanks to a great bullpen, and big years from Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.
They were just dealt some bad news, however, as Jake Peavy is undergoing season-ending surgery. That leaves them a starting pitcher short.
Predicted Winner: I think the loss of Peavy will really hurt the Sox.
The Tigers are only a half-game out of first place at the moment, but I like Minnesota to take the crown.
Their offense is extremely underrated, featuring Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, and Jim Thome. That's a pretty scary five-some right there.
Francisco Liriano is having a nice bounce back year, while Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey are holding their own.
AL West's Current Leader: Texas Rangers, 50-38
Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero are having monster years in Arlington, which has helped propel them to a four-and-a-half game lead in the American League West. They have just acquired former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from Seattle for a package of young players.
If the Rangers weren't a contender before, they sure are now.
Predicted Winner: Texas was better than Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles before the Cliff Lee deal went down, and they're a few more paces ahead of those teams now.
The Rangers might be the first team to clinch a division championship this season, given the quality, or lack thereof, of the other teams in the AL West this year.
NL East's Current Leader: Atlanta Braves, 52-36
These Braves are hungry to earn a playoff berth in Bobby Cox's last season as manager.
Martin Prado has had an extremely impressive year, leading the National League with a .325 batting average. Troy Glaus has had a huge comeback year with 14 homers and 58 runs batted in. They have a four-game lead, even with Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth each out for extended periods of time.
They have a great rotation, which has a great mix of experience (Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe) and promising youth (Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens). Billy Wagner has felt no ill effects from Tommy John surgery, sporting 20 saves and a 1.21 ERA.
Predicted Winner: The Braves may be determined, but the Phillies are just too good. They've been struggling, yet still sit only four-and-a-half games out.
You gotta count on Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and others to put the Phils on their backs. Can Martin Prado, Troy Glaus, and Chipper Jones do the same, especially as the season grows longer? That's a little questionable, to say the least.
NL Central's Current Leader: Cincinnati Reds, 49-41
One of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this year has been the Cincinnati Reds.
They're first in the NL in runs scored, and second in home runs. Joey Votto has been an unanimous first-half MVP choice with due reason. He's hitting .314 with 22 homers and 60 runs batted in.
Predicted Winner: I'm happy baseball is now "back" in Cincy, but let's get real.
If St. Louis was playing as well as they're capable of playing, the Reds would be about six games out of first place right now. A rotation anchored by Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and rookie standout Jaime Garcia, along with a lineup featuring Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, will not be stopped from postseason play.
NL West's Current Leader: San Diego Padres, 51-37
The Padres are built on one thing: Pitching. Their bullpen has been nearly untouchable, led by closer Heath Bell, who has a league-leading 24 saves.
Their rotation features a lot of players that the average baseball fan hasn't even heard of (Mat Latos, anyone?), but they're getting the job done with a NL-leading 3.25 team ERA.
Their offense hinges on first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who's hitting .301 with 18 homers and 56 runs batted in.
Predicted Winner: Besides A-Gone, there's no one else on this roster who can shoulder the offensive load. They've been a great first-half story, but unfortunately, they aren't built to do more than that. The pitching is too unproven to count on, and their offense will struggle.
I like the Giants (currently four games out) for three reasons: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito. Bats like Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey should be enough to carry these Giants to a NL West banner.
What About the Wild Card?
The American League's Wild Card representative will most likely be the Yankees. Could you imagine if a team at the Yankees' level didn't make the playoffs? They'd be the best team to not make the playoffs in sports history.
As far as the National League Wild Card goes, my money is on the Mets, and there's three reasons why.
For one, they're getting Carlos Beltran back after the All-Star break, which can do nothing but make them better.
Second, they're almost certain to go out and get a pitcher, and their pitching has actually been pretty decent.
And last but not least, I love this team's depth. They have Ruben Tejada to spot an infielder who needs a day off. They have Josh Thole to spot a catcher who needs a day off. They have Angel Pagan to spot an outfielder who might miss a few days.
Make sure to comment and let me know your predictions!