MLB: Bold Second Half Predictions for Every Division the Baseball

Chris Tripodi@christripodiContributor IIIJuly 14, 2011

MLB: Bold Second Half Predictions for Every Division the Baseball

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    As the second half of the MLB season begins, four of the six divisions have at least one team within a game of the leader and the other two, the NL East and NL West, are separated by no more than three-and-a-half games.

    2011 is shaping up to be one of baseball's most exciting summers in a few years and without further ado, here are six bold predictions for the second half.

Tampa Catches New York or Boston in the AL East

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    If the season ended today, both the Red Sox and Yankees would make the playoffs. Boston has a one-game lead in the division, while the Yankees are five ahead of the Rays and Angels for the Wild Card.

    Boston and New York have been trading places atop the division over the past few weeks and while both teams look dominant at times, their pitching staffs as a whole leave something to be desired.

    The Yankees have struggled to find a solid No. 2 and No. 3 starter behind C.C. Sabathia, while Boston's top three starters (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz) have all dealt with injuries this season. I won't even discuss the Red Sox other pitchers.

    On the other hand, Tampa boasts the division's best rotation and arguably the best one-two punch with James Shields and David Price at the top. Highly-touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson has been all the Rays could have asked for and more, while Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are solid back-end pitchers.

    Tampa's lineup isn't packed with stars from top to bottom like Boston's or New York's but with Evan Longoria healthy again and B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist producing as they should, this team has enough hitting to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees.

    In the end, I think both Boston and New York will represent the AL East in the playoffs but many people are already writing off the Rays thanks to their current five-game deficit. That's a mistake.

The White Sox Win the Weak AL Central

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    The White Sox have struggled all season, yet they sit just four games under .500 and five games back of division-leading Detroit.

    Key off-season acquisition Adam Dunn has struggled mightily under the weight of expectations, as many thought a move to hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field would provide a boon to his already prodigious power.

    Instead, Dunn is hitting just .160 with nine home runs, 34 RBI and a whopping 117 strikeouts!

    Dunn isn't the only big-name Chicago player to struggle at the dish, as Alex Rios is hitting just .213 with six homers and 21 RBI. A career .276 hitter and notoriously streaky player, Rios should be primed for a bounceback in the second half.

    The back of the White Sox bullpen has stabilized after early-season struggles and their starting rotation boasts six pitchers with No.1 or No.2 starter potential.

    I believe the White Sox are still the most talented team in this division and if they can put things together in the second half, I would not be surprised to see them in the playoffs come October.

The Angels Beat out the Defending AL Champion Rangers in the West

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    Despite having just a one-game lead in the division, many people just assume the powerful Texas Rangers will defend their AL pennant by making it back to the playoffs. But they may not even be the best team in their own division.

    I think losing Cliff Lee will be the Rangers' downfall, as they can't compete with the Angels' pitching. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren have been unstoppable in the first half with 21 combined wins.

    While Haren's pre-All Star and post-All Star splits say he's due for a dropoff, those splits were reversed last season. Weaver has been the AL's best pitcher since last season.

    The Halos' lineup is not too shabby either, boasting a potential 30-home run first baseman (Mark Trumbo), strength up the middle and a lineup with eight regulars hitting over .250. This is without including the recent addition of Mike Trout, Keith Law's No.1 prospect in all of baseball.

    The Rangers may still have Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre in the middle of their lineup but when your pitching staff relies on Alexi Ogando, who didn't start before this season, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, the Texas summer may not be so kind to you.

Atlanta Relegates the Phillies to the Wild Card with a Big Second Half

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    At the outset of this slideshow I said I would be making bold predictions. While the Braves are just three-and-a-half games back of the Phillies, it's difficult for many to think they can actually overtake them.

    But it's definitely not impossible. While I think both teams will make the playoffs, I think the Braves do have an outside shot of taking the division.

    Atlanta's pitching staff is extremely, extremely good. Of course, so is Philadelphia's, with or without Roy Oswalt.

    Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have been arguably the three best pitchers in the NL this season, with all due respect to Braves like Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. If Brandon Beachy hadn't gotten hurt, he would be in this discussion too.

    For all the stars the Phillies have on offense, they rank middle of the pack in most offensive categories and they don't really have any under-performing players or key injuries to speak of. Shane Victorino will be back soon enough.

    The Braves, on the other hand, have plenty of room for growth. Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla are hitting a combined .411 and Martin Prado has missed the last few weeks due to injury.

    Atlanta can count on Heyward to start hitting again and, while Uggla's average is a paltry .185, he still has 15 home runs.

    The real key for the Braves is rookie Freddie Freeman. Since a poor April, Freeman is hitting .293 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI in just over two months.

    If he keeps up that production and Heyward and Uggla bounce back, this Braves team will be very dangerous.

Pittsburgh Makes a Run at the NL Central Crown

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    Possibly the biggest surprise of baseball's first half besides the also-resurgent Indians, the Pirates sit just a game back of Milwaukee and St. Louis in the NL Central, tied in the loss column.

    Behind budding superstar Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, the NL's RBI leader among second baseman, the Pirates have quietly managed to stay in contention through 90 games.

    It has actually been their pitching, however, that has given them a fighting chance. All-Star Kevin Correia has 11 wins despite a 4.01 ERA, while Jeff Karstens and Paul Maholm both boast ERA's under 3.00.

    Joel Hanrahan has yet to blow a save in 26 chances and Daniel McCutchen, who was acquired along with Karstens and Jose Tabata from the Yankees in 2008, has pitched well in a set-up role.

    If the Pirates pitchers can continue to pitch the way they have, this team has a legitimate shot. The Brewers, Cardinals and Reds (four games back of the lead) all have more potent lineups and, maybe more importantly, issues in their rotations.

    The Cardinals miss Adam Wainwright, the Reds can't get their young pitchers in order outside of Johnny Cueto and Zach Greinke has struggled with his new surroundings in Milwaukee.

    I personally think the Brewers will win the Central, but let's not forget about the Pirates. I would not be surprised at all to see them within a few games of the lead when September rolls around and as anybody who follows baseball knows, anything can happen in a month.

    At the very least, they should be able to snap their streak of 18 straight seasons with a losing record. That alone is an accomplishment for this franchise.

Arizona Uses Their Bats to Pull Ahead of Pitching-Heavy Giants

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    The Diamondbacks can flat out hit the ball. Sure they score a half-run more per game at Chase Field (4.81 runs at home, 4.28 on the road), but they will get to play 39 of their final 70 games in their hitter-friendly home park.

    As if Arizona didn't have enough offense already, they just added a potentially big power bat to their lineup with the promotion of Brandon Allen to play first base.

    Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson have been revelations at the top of the rotation as well, and while Arizona's pitching can't compete with that of the Giants, they can score runs.

    The Giants can't. This was a lineup that struggled even before star catcher Buster Posey got hurt and they rank 27th in baseball in runs scored.

    Miguel Tejada leads San Francisco with a .241 batting average. That's misleading, as Nate Schierholtz, Freddy Sanchez and Cody Ross lack the at-bats to qualify for the team lead, but it's a damning statistic nonetheless.

    The team leader in home runs? Aubrey Huff with eight. Three of them came in one game.

    Their pitching as a team is awesome, with a 3.19 ERA and no starting pitchers with an ERA over 4.00. But sometimes you have to score runs in this game. While many think the Diamondbacks are a fraud, they have talent in their lineup and on the mound.

    Arizona is a more balanced team than San Francisco and as the summer heats up around the league, I expect hitting numbers to rise and pitching stats to suffer. Advantage: Diamondbacks.