With the second half of the Major league baseball season under way, here are some predictions as to what could end up happening when the regular season is all said and done. There will also be two bold predictions at the end, those of which would shock the sports world, and could happen if events fall a certain way.
The trade which brought ace journeyman (is that even possible?) Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers showed the world that Texas is in it for the long haul. Lee was the biggest prize this year that was on the trading block, and was almost hauled in by the Yankees until the Rangers snuck in and stole him.
Texas was in desperate need of a front line starter, something they haven't had in a long time, maybe ever, and they hauled in arguably the best starter in the American League. Not bad.
Now, is the trade deadline going to be quiet this year? Absolutely not. It never is. Look for teams to shore up minor weaknesses rather than making the monster deal to bring in a superstar.
The best player left is Adam Dunn, according to multiple reports. While Dunn is certainly an all-star caliber player, he's pretty one dimensional as he's a hitter who will hit home runs or strikeout trying.
After Dunn, there's a pretty steep drop off, and with so many teams still in contention to make the playoffs, there are sure to be more buyers than sellers in the coming days.
Typically in the MVP voting, it's a player who plays for a contending team and puts up top notch numbers, sorry Jose Bautista. Rarely is the award given to a player on a bad team (the last to do it was Alex Rodriguez in 2003).
So, we'll go with Detroit Tigers first baseman, Miguel Cabrera.
As if Cabrera wasn't already a star in the league, becoming sober and losing weight has made him the best hitter in the American League. He's posted Triple Crown type numbers hitting .344 with 22 HR and 78 RBI, placing in the top three in each category. His OPS (On base percentage Plus Slugging percentage) leads the American League.
On top of this, he's doing it for a contending team in a pitcher's park. While he's probably due for a slump at some point, look for the Tiger's first baseman to be the catalyst in Detroit's contention in the AL Central.
His main contenders will be probably be Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, another player who's having a much better season than many expected.
Most casual fans have never heard of San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Well, that is going to change this year.
Gonzalez has been the main reason the Padres have been able to win tight games, because he's the only player on the team that has any offensive firepower.
He is the only player on the team with more than eight home runs (19), 35 RBI (58), and who's batting over .300 (.303). And this is for a team leading its division. In Adrian's case, he defines "most valuable". Imagine if the organization had actually traded him like most insiders expected them to before the season began. Hello, cellar dwellers.
If the Padres are able to stay in the playoff hunt, and hopefully pick up a hitter during the trade deadline, Gonzo should win this award easily.
Determining the Cy Young Award is a bit tougher. In recent years, the winner has been on a bad team, but still managed to put up incredible numbers despite that. Zach Greinke of the Kansas City Royals won it last year, and the Royals haven't been good in well over a decade.
That's why I'm going with Florida Marlins ace, Josh Johnson.
Like Adrian Gonzalez, most casual fans haven't heard about this huge right hander. Had they turned to the All-Star game at the right time, they would've watched this guy mow down American League hitters like it was nothing.
Johnson is currently 9-3 with a league leading 1.70 E.R.A. with 123 strikeouts in 122 innings (do the math and that's a strikeout every inning). His team is hovering around .500, but will most likely not make a push to contend. His problem will be getting to around 17 or 18 wins, but if he does, due to his not-so-great team and complete dominance of hitters, Johnson should take it home.
Now, a lot of people may be asking "what about Ubaldo Jimenez?" Well, my reasoning is pretty simple in that where he plays will be an issue. It's no secret that Coors Field is a pitcher's nightmare. Add onto the fact that there's no way for Jimenez to go, but down after his amazing first half, and that he has control issues now and then could produce a bad start here and there. It will really depend on if Johnson can get to 17 or 18 wins while keeping his E.R.A. down and if Jimenez can get up to 23 or so wins.
I will say it's going to come down to one of those two. No one else has a shot, sorry Stephen Strasburg.
I said it once, but Cliff Lee is arguably the best starting pitcher in the American League. If he's able to propel the Texas Rangers to the playoffs for the first time since the late 90's, it'll almost be too good a story to not give it to him.
But just in case it isn't, here are some numbers to chew on. Lee is currently 8-4 with a 2.64 E.R.A. Good numbers, but not great I admit. Then there's the fact that he's thrown six complete games and has a WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched, or basically base runners per inning) of under 1 (.95). That's pretty solid.
His best stat, though, is he has 91 strikeouts and 6 WALKS in 112 innings. Just 6!! No starting pitcher has ever had that few amount of walks through this point of the season. It's unheard of. His strikeout to walk ratio is slightly above 15:1. If a pitcher is better than 3:1 that's considered excellent.
Barring an injury, or a run of bad starts, this is Lee's award to lose. Should it happen, look for either Tampa Bay starter David Price or New York starter C.C. Sabathia to pick it up.
This is simply the best team in baseball. Timely hitting, great starting pitching, the best closer of all-time, and solid fielding. I'm not quite sure what else to say. Sure, they'll have the Rays and Red Sox breathing down their necks, but that's what will keep them playing at such a high level. Once Mark Teixeira starts hitting like he knows how, this will be a tough team to beat.
This was the toughest division to pick for me. There are three evenly matched teams in the Tigers, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago White Sox.
Relatively quickly I eliminated the Twins. One of their best players, first baseman Justin Morneau is reportedly going on the Disabled List due to a concussion which will sit him out at least a couple weeks. With their other great player, catcher Joe Mauer not hitting as well as last year, and the lack of a true top starter, I expect the Twins to be fading by the time Morneau comes back.
With it down to the White Sox and Tigers, I asked myself "in a one game playoff, who would win?" The Tigers have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Justin Verlander, the best hitter of either team in Miguel Cabrera, and a solid bullpen and outstanding manager in Jimmy Leyland. Their rookies have also produced incredibly in outfielders Austin Jackson and Brennan Bosch.
While the White Sox are probably a more balanced team, Ozzie Guillen worries me, along with almost everyone, and they don't have that one guy that's feared by everyone (like a Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera) on their team aside from their manager, which isn't a good thing. Because of that, I take the Tigers.
Before the Rangers added Cliff Lee, many questioned whether they would be able to hold on to their lead. Now, I feel those questions have been answered.
The offense they possess is one of the best in baseball, lead by Josh Hamilton and the rejuvenated Vladimir Guerrero. Each have over 20 home runs and 65 runs batted in while batting over .325. Add solid hitters like third baseman Michael Young and All-Stars second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus, and no pitcher wants to face this team.
Their bullpen is a little shaky, but they're able to simply outscore teams on any given day. And with Cliff Lee averaging around eight innings per start, they might not need it.
Currently, Tampa Bay has the second best record in all of baseball. It just so happens that the team with the best record is in their division.
The Rays jumped out early on and were the best team for the first two months of the season. Then, like most teams, they hit a rough patch, but have been able to come out of it in great shape.
They have one of the better starting rotations in all of baseball led by All-Star game starter David Price. Third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Carl Crawford also started in the game.
Their success is truly going to depend on two struggling players in outfielder B.J. Upton and first baseman Carlos Pena. Both were major players when they made the World Series two years ago. They're going to need to get close to that same form in order for the Rays to maintain their superb record.
The main competition from the Rays will likely be the Boston Red Sox. The issue there is the highly-publicized string of injuries that have hit that team. While all of them are expected to be back at some point, it will still take each player a week or two to get back into the swing of things, and they're already 3.5 games behind the Rays as it is. I just don't think they can make up that ground.
If someone had said on July 17 the Atlanta Braves would have the largest division lead of any team in the majors, I would've called them crazy. Well, I was wrong.
Behind balanced hitting (four players with at least ten home runs), and some old arms proving they're not done yet in starters Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson along with closer Billy Wagner, the Braves have created some distance between them and the Mets and Phillies.
This being manager Bobby Cox's final season as their skipper, I expect the team to do everything possible to give Cox one last go at a championship. As long as the arms stay healthy, and rookie phenom Jason Heyward continues to play well, the Braves should be able to maintain their lead.
But what about the former 2-time NL champs, the Philadelphia Phillies. I could easily see them catching the Braves, but their pitching as a whole needs to improve as their bullpen has cost them many leads and their starters have not been as successful as in the past aside from Roy Halladay.
The NL Central race between Cincinnati and St. Louis will probably be the most interesting battle of two teams in a horrible division fans have seen in a long time. Both teams are even, but as I've already said in the AL Central, when it comes down to it, the team with the best hitter, pitcher, and manager will probably prevail.
The Cardinals have two of the best hitters in the league in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Both have at least 15 HR and 50 RBI while batting above .300. Pujols is a Triple Crown threat every season while Holliday is beginning to live up to his contract after a rough start to the season.
To go along with them, the Cards have two top line starters in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright, each with at least ten wins. The surprise has been rookie Jaime Garcia, who's become a reliable third starter. Combine them with a solid bullpen, a winning attitude (winning record six of the last seven seasons), and one of the best managers ever in Tony La Russa, and it should be too much for the Reds. They'll make them earn the division crown as I don't see them going away.
Adrian Gonzalez has already been talked about, so let's focus on the reason they're leading the NL West by three games: their pitching.
The Padres lead the National League with a team E.R.A. of 3.22, and none of their pitchers are well known. This is probably the principle reason why only one of their pitchers, closer Heath Bell, was selected to the All-Star game, and he had to wait for an injury before he could make it on the team.
None of their starters are over 30 years old and few have had experience being in a pennant race, but I actually think that will help them. No one, and I mean NO ONE, expected the Padres to be above .500, let alone leading the division.
If they falter, no one will blame them as they've already exceeded expectations, and I think the players know that. No pressure, other than their own. Plus, they have the benefit of being in a pitcher's park which should prevent major blowouts which could kill a young pitcher's mentality, especially late in the season.
I think it's realistic that a team like the Colorado Rockies, notorious for second half surges, could catch them, but sometimes the underdog pulls through. I think this is one of those times, especially if they can get another solid hitter to help out Mr. Gonzalez.
The fact that the Reds have the easiest schedule of anyone in the National League is going to really help them get through the rest of they year, provided they can take advantage of the horrible teams in their division. Of the Reds 71 remaining games, only 24 are against teams with a record above .500.
The Reds are also one of the most balanced and explosive offensive teams in the league. They have six players with at least ten home runs and three players with at least ten stolen bases.
Their pitching is at times shaky, though Johnny Cueto and rookie Mike Leake have been having spectacular seasons. When they get to the 8th inning with a lead, it's pretty much over. Arthur Rhodes is one of the best setup men in the league and Francisco Cordero is one of the game's most consistent closers. He's had at least 20 saves in the each of the past seven years.
He's in the top three of each major category, trailing Josh Hamilton by .004 in batting average and Jose Bautista by two in home runs, and leading the league in runs batted in by two over Vladimir Guerrero.
Yes, no one has won the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Yes, it's very dependent Cabrera's teammates getting on base so he can drive them in. Yes, he can't fall into an 0-for-30 type slump, which most hitters are bound to encounter at least once during the season. Yes, it's dependent on whether his competitors get hot at the wrong time.
If anyone can do it, Cabrera can. Pitchers have yet to start pitching around him like they have with Albert Pujols. He has the power to hit 45 home runs, even in a big park like Comerica, while also having the gaps that would allow baserunners to score from first on a double.
Wouldn't it be one of the better stories we've had in baseball in a while, too? A star who sobers up, and wins the Triple Crown? We as fans need a story like that. Maybe we'll get it this year.
There's one crazy thing about the National League this year. There is without a doubt no favorite. It's a crap shoot to be honest. If a team gets hot towards the middle of September, they can use that to take them all the way. The Rockies did it back in '07.
The Reds ability to do it will depend on one crucial thing: pitching. As I said, it's been shaky, but they have a guy on his way back who was dominant for them a couple years ago in Edinson Volquez. He's coming off arm surgery, but if he's able to provide them some quality innings either as a starter or reliever, he could be the piece they need to really make a run. They have the offense required to get hot as a team, they just need their pitching to get good enough so they can extend that run.