2011 MLB 1st-Half Surprises: Cleveland Indians Top the List

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2011 MLB 1st-Half Surprises: Cleveland Indians Top the List
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera will make his first All-Star appearance in Arizona

This is why they play the games.

Despite lofty preseason predictions and exorbitant payrolls, no team is immune to crippling injuries, ignominious bullpen collapses and bewildering “down years.”

With the 2011 All-Star Game only a week away, there is no better time to assess the baseball universe and its many surprising teams.

Here we address each division’s current standings, how they came to be and whether or not the current hierarchy was predictable.

For reference, we will parse Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview edition from April 4, a reasonably safe forecast for the 2011 campaign.

 

American League East

SI Rankings

1. Boston

2. New York

3. Tampa Bay

4. Baltimore

5. Toronto

 

Current Standings

1. New York

2. Boston

3. Tampa Bay

4. Toronto

5. Baltimore

 

Final Prediction

1. Boston

2. New York

3. Tampa Bay

4. Toronto

5. Baltimore

 

Analysis

No shocking surprises here, except Boston’s 2-10 April start and Carl Crawford’s inability to get on base.

The Yankees have capitalized on the Red Sox stumbling out of the gate despite being tagged as a group of geriatrics with questionable pitching.

Tampa has played respectably considering its stellar bullpen was scalped in the offseason.

Toronto and Baltimore are similarly struggling while they watch their young rotations learn on the job. Neither have had the offensive output they hoped would keep them competitive, and unfortunately, the AL East leaders won’t be letting up anytime soon.

 

American League Central

SI Rankings

1. Minnesota

2. Detroit

3. Chicago

4. Cleveland

5. Kansas City

 

Current Standings

1. Cleveland

2. Detroit

3. Chicago

4. Minnesota

5. Kansas City

 

Final Prediction

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Minnesota

5. Kansas City

Analysis

Cleveland? Funny seeing you here. The Tribe are the darlings of the first half, topping the Central due mainly to a sizzling 30-15 season launch.

Detroit, now just 0.5 games back, has turned around a slow start and is now unquestionably the offensive juggernaut of the division.

Chicago has nearly equaled the Tigers’ turnaround, rebounding considerably since sitting 11-22 on May 6.

Minnesota can point to Joe Mauer’s 24 games played and .244 average, coupled with Justin Morneau’s ailing wrist/neck for its dismal standing. The Twins’ pitching has been equally inept, with Scott Baker being the single starter holding an ERA under four.

No surprises with the Royals, who have already called upon several of their top prospects, who they hope can resuscitate the floundering franchise in the coming years. The safe bet is on Detroit’s bats propelling it to first, while Chicago and Cleveland will tussle to the finish line for second place.

 

American League West

SI Rankings

1. Oakland

2. Texas

3. LAA

4. Seattle

 

Current Standings

1. Texas

2. LAA

3. Seattle

4. Oakland

Final Prediction

1. Texas

2. Oakland

3. LAA

4. Seattle

 

Analysis

This was arguably a reach to tab Oakland as the AL West’s top club after Texas reached the World Series in 2010. Young, talented pitching is why many analysts vaunted the A’s before the season, but it just hasn’t been good enough to counterbalance their treacherous offence.

In order to turn this season around, which I believe they can, Brett Anderson will need to return to form and remain healthy, while Trevor Cahill will need to stabilize his recent on-off streak. The offence is just too thin to compete with Texas, but second place with the current offensive output would be impressive.

The Angels’ top-heavy rotation and low-voltage offense will keep them from contending, but if Vernon Wells can build on his recent hot streak and Torii Hunter can regain his usually reliable stroke, Anaheim should be able to linger around respectability this season.

Seattle has overachieved to this point, and there is little indication that it can keep pace.

 

National League East

SI Rankings

1. Philadelphia

2. Atlanta

3. Florida

4. Washington

5. New York

 

Current Standings

1. Philadelphia

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Washington

5. Florida

 

Final Prediction

1. Atlanta

2. Philadelphia

3. New York

4. Florida

5. Washington

 

Analysis

There was never any doubt that with three stallions leading the rotation, the Phillies would dominate National League play in 2011. Roy Oswalt’s subpar performance and ailing back haven’t been able to slow down Philadelphia, and it has an offense that is capable of propelling it to the World Series.

Atlanta has begun to show flashes of brilliance, but its bottom-five ranking in team batting average and on-base percentage are preventing the Braves from reaching their potential. The second half is where the Braves should be able to make a push once Martin Prado returns and Jason Heyward makes some much-needed adjustments.

Washington is taking steps in the right direction. Its management should be pleased, not only with its current standing, but a rotation that has overachieved, keeping 2011 entertaining while the top prospects mature in the farm system.

The Marlins have come back down to earth after a scorching start, and the Mets are arguably playing above their heads as well. If the Mets hold onto their trade chips, they will remain above Washington and Florida in the second half.

 

National League Central

SI Rankings

1. Cincinnati

2. Milwaukee

3. Chicago

4. St. Louis

5. Pittsburgh

6. Houston

Current Standings

1. Milwaukee

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Cincinnati

5. Chicago

6. Houston

 

Final Prediction

1. Milwaukee

2. Cincinnati

3. St. Louis

4. Pittsburgh

5. Chicago

6. Houston

 

Analysis

Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum have given Milwaukee a fearsome rotation to go along with a powerful lineup, and it will take some special pitching from the Cardinals to keep the Brewers from obtaining the division crown.

But, St. Louis can’t be counted out. Despite losing Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, and Albert Pujols not mashing National League hurlers at his usually prodigious pace, the Red Birds remain tied for the top slot in the division. It will take quality pitching from Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook down the stretch to keep the Cardinals in the hunt.

Pittsburgh has shocked many doubters by playing above .500 this late in the season. Now only 1.5 games back, the Pirates continue to get it done on the mound with the ninth-best ERA in baseball. At the plate, Pittsburgh doesn’t have much to stand on, and a slight digression in the second half appears likely.

The Cubs continue to torment their fans and there is no relief in sight this year, while Houston remains one of the worst teams in baseball. Improved starting pitching is desperately needed for the Astros.

Cincinnati is the biggest question mark in the NL at the midway point. As a team, the Reds rank in the top 10 in all the key offensive metrics, but erratic pitching and an inability to string together any sort of win streak has kept them hovering .500 all season. There remains the potential for this club to get hot and overtake the division, but it will require some inspired play.

National League West

SI Rankings

1. San Francisco

2. Colorado

3. Los Angeles

4. San Diego

5. Arizona

 

Current Standings

1. San Francisco

2. Arizona

3. Colorado

4. San Diego

5. Los Angeles

 

Final Prediction

1. Colorado

2. San Francisco

3. Arizona

4. Los Angeles

5. San Diego

 

Analysis

Surprise, surprise, Arizona is quietly having itself quite the season over in the NL West. I’ll admit to being a skeptic of the desert dwellers in the preseason, but Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy have combined for 17 wins, while the offense continues to slug its way to consistent victories.

San Francisco holds a three-game cushion on the Diamondbacks, despite ranking in the bottom five in team batting average, slugging percentage and runs scored. I wonder how Oakland would fare in the NL West? Something tells me the A's could really compete this year.

Colorado can’t seem to turn its omnipotent offense into wins, and the pitching just hasn’t been there thus far. The Rockies remain capable of getting hot after the break, and a few minor trades before the deadline might be in the works.

LA is just a mess on and off the field, while San Diego fans are just waiting to hear what kind of package the team can get in return for Heath Bell. This is a three-horse race that could come down to the wire. 

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