It seemed as though the month of July featured a whole entire summer’s worth of blockbusters…and we’re not just talking about The Dark Knight.
Starting with the Milwaukee Brewers throwing out everything but the kitchen sink to acquire C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians (in a deal that will only keep him there for the remainder of the season unless the Brewers are to resign him), there were trades galore until 4 p.m. on the last day of July.
The Chicago Cubs struck back the very next day following their NL Central foe’s mega-pickup of the reigning American League Cy Young Winner, spinning a deal for fireballer Rich Harden from the Oakland A’s.
And that was just the second week of July!
Other headliners traded along the way include Xavier Nady (to the Yankees), Casey Blake (Dodgers), Pudge Rodriguez (Yankees), and Mark Teixeira (Angels).
However, perhaps the two most notable names to switch teams were sent packing on the day of the trade deadline; one just seconds before 4 p.m.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez, both of whom are future Hall-of-Famers and members of the prestigious 500-home runs club, were dealt to the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.
Griffey finally gets the chance to play for a team in a pennant race with the White Sox, something he never experienced in seven-and-a-half years with the Reds.
The Red Sox said enough is enough with Manny’s shenanigans, and essentially gave him away to the Dodgers. They agreed to pay off the remaining $7 million that was left on his pricey contract, and even threw in two other players, who were shipped to the Pirates in a three-way deal.
On the bright side, the Sox received Jason Bay, who was a very good player on a very bad team in Pittsburgh.
Now that July 31st has passed and the fireworks have settled, let’s look ahead to October, beginning with the winners of each division and concluding with which team will win the World Series.
The pick: RED SOX
The AL East’s “Big Three” (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees) all took extremely different approaches when it came to making trades.
The Rays stood idle, deciding to stick with the guys who have kept them in first place through 107 games this season. Not a bad idea considering how well they have played.
On the other hand, the two wealthiest residents in the neighborhood made a few moves.
The Red Sox dumped Manny, who had become more and more of a liability, while the Yankees made the most noise of the three, acquiring 14-time All-Star catcher Pudge Rodriguez, underrated outfielder Xavier Nady, and reliever Damaso Marte.
Just because they were the busiest of the bunch before the trade deadline, it does not mean that the Yankees are on their way to another AL East title.
Their biggest weakness is still their starting pitching, which they failed to improve in any way.
Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, despite how consistent they’ve been this season anchoring the Yankees’ starting rotation (Mussina – 13-7, 3.56 ERA; Pettitte – 12-8, 111 K’s) and their years of experience (a combined 476 career wins between the two, 21 in the postseason), are both past their prime and not as scary of a one-two punch as they would have been about 10 years ago.
Joba Chamberlain lacks the experience to be considered a part of the same class as Roy Halladay or Josh Beckett, even though he has progressively shown improvement in every single start.
After that, the bottom of the rotation is just plain ugly.
The Yankees’ lineup will still manage to score a lot of runs and Mariano Rivera (26/26 on saves this season) will still shut ‘em down in the ninth, but their lack of depth in starting pitching will be the Bronx Bombers’ downfall.
The group of young upstarts who have held down first place in the AL East practically all year, otherwise known as the Tampa Bay Rays, truly have what it takes to claim this treacherous division by season’s end.
Their starting pitching could one-up that of the Yankees any day of the week, especially at the top, with the likes of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza. All three of these guys are budding young stars who have the potential to one day win a Cy Young.
The Rays are also a team that just simply finds ways to score runs; hence they lead the majors in stolen bases with 108.
With that being said, virtually none of the guys on this team know what it’s like to be in the middle of a pennant race – it’s a raw, inexperienced bunch. Can you say the same about the players in the Yankees or Red Sox clubhouses?
The intangibles just don’t bode too well for this highly talented Rays team.
That leaves the Red Sox. Look for the defending world champions to win their division for the second time in as many years.
Are the 2008 Red Sox a better team than the one that won the World Series last season? Right now I would say no, especially without Manny Ramirez batting behind David Ortiz in that lineup, and the fact that they can’t buy a win on the road, plus the struggles that their bullpen has experienced throughout the season. Get my point? That is why I will go ahead and cross them off my list of potential World Series winners. I do not see them repeating.
But, they’re still the Red Sox!
Their starting rotation is right on par with, if not better than, that of the Rays. Beckett, Dice-K and Lester provide a very formidable top three.
Jonathan Papelbon is still arguably the most feared closer in all of baseball.
Offensively, you can rest assured that the Sox will come up with their fair share of clutch hits down the stretch, as timely hitting has been a major key to their success over the years (anybody ever heard of David Ortiz?).
Terry Francona has a little bit more playoff experience than the managers of the other two “Big Three” teams, which is actually a really underrated factor that the Red Sox have going for them.
So when October rolls around, the Red Sox will edge out the Rays and Yankees in a photo finish that comes down to the last couple days of the regular season. If that doesn’t sound exciting, then you’re not a baseball fan.
The pick: WHITE SOX
I’m not going with the White Sox to win the AL Central just because they picked up Ken Griffey Jr. right before the trade deadline.
Honestly, I don’t think Griffey will have all that big of an impact on how this team performs down the stretch.
The reason I am picking Ozzie Guillen’s club to win this division is because they’re better than their two main competitors – the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers – in just about every facet of the game.
Let’s start with hitting. Who, in a million years, would’ve thought that Carlos Quentin would be leading the American League in home runs (with a whopping 28 thus far) at the beginning of August? He has been the White Sox most powerful offensive force all season long, but it hasn’t been a one-man show.
If you’re able to contain Quentin, you’ve still got to pitch to (or perhaps around!) Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Nick Swisher, Joe Crede, A.J. Pierzynski, and now Griffey. Talk about a lineup that can belt ‘em out of the park!
The White Sox rank first in the American League in home runs. Not too shabby considering they play in the AMERICAN LEAGUE!
Their starting rotation isn’t anything astounding, but it’s still very good stacked up against most other teams, especially in this division.
Though the rotation may be anchored by veterans Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez, two guys who are relatively unknown, Gavin Floyd and John Danks, have stepped up and played a significant role in Chicago’s winning ways.
Floyd leads the teams with 11 victories on the season, while Danks boasts a 3.31 ERA, the best of any White Sox starting pitcher.
As for the bullpen, most would agree that it is pretty solid as well. I still believe that the Twins’ Joe Nathan is the best closer in the AL Central, and probably one of the top three or four in baseball right now, but Bobby Jenks certainly isn’t chopped liver.
Often pitching the eighth inning, Octavio Dotel is one of the league’s premier set-up men.
Unlike their division foes, the well-rounded White Sox do not have many glaring weaknesses (for the Twins it’s slugging; for the Tigers it’s pitching), and that is why they will eventually take the AL Central by a decent margin.
The pick: ANGELS
This division is a joke.
The Angels have already wrapped it up.
This is a team that hasn’t lost in what seems like a month and flat-out dominated its interdivisional competition.
They currently hold a substantial 12 ½-game lead over the Texas Rangers, and don’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.
Without a doubt, the Angels have the deepest starting rotation in the majors. It is stacked from top to bottom, with every single starter on pace to win at least 15 games this season.
K-Rod is on pace to shatter Bobby Thigpen’s single-season saves record of 57, as he is currently at 45 saves – with 53 games remaining for the Halos. He has also been tabbed as the front-runner to win the American League Cy Young.
A year ago, the Angels’ downfall was the lack of a big bat to accompany Vlad Guerrero in their lineup. That problem has been solved.
During the offseason, they signed free-agent outfielder/Spiderman-wannabe Torii Hunter, who was a potent offensive force in his 10-year tenure with the Twins.
Then, a couple of days before the trade deadline, they added insult to injury for the rest of the American League when they acquired switch-hitting slugger Mark Teixeira from the Braves.
So much for not enough offense!
It’s a pretty safe assumption that the Angels are the most complete and balanced team in the American League at this moment in time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they won the AL West by 20 or more games.
WILD CARD –
The pick: RAYS
The team that sported the worst record in major league baseball a year ago will make the playoffs this season. What a story that will be!
* COMING SOON *
National League & World Series Predictions!