With less than two months left to go in MLB's regular season, the races for the eight playoff spots have started to heat up.
Many teams picked up key pieces at the trade deadline, whether it was hitting for San Francisco and Philadelphia, or pitching for Texas and Cleveland. Barring something crazy, the rosters are set for the contenders.
Of the six division leaders, only one, Philadelphia, has a lead of more than four games. I think it's safe to say that many of the playoff spots will be hotly contested until the final couple weeks of the season.
And yet, yours truly is going to grab his crystal ball, hope it has no cracks in it, and gaze into what the future will hold for the MLB postseason. At the very end, I'll also give a World Series prediction, though I admit it won't be anything shocking.
As many people figured, the AL East race has come down to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The Tampa Bay Rays gave it a good run the past couple years, but it appears as though they've decided to rebuild for the future.
The Red Sox and Yankees are currently dead even in the race for the division crown, so this is pretty much a coin flip.
I'm taking the Sox because their starting pitching is better and their offense is what everyone assumed it would be in the pre-season: one of the best in the majors.
I'm not sold on their bullpen, as Papelbon is making a habit of making the last innings of games nail-biting for Boston fans. The injury to Clay Buchholz is concerning, but I'm going to guess that he returns in the middle of September and will be there come playoff time.
As for Yankee fans, stop crying and go a little farther in the article, your team is coming up.
The Detroit Tigers have finally started to play like the AL Central favorites they were at the beginning of the season, while the Cleveland Indians have come back down to earth after a torrid start to the season.
The Tigers possess arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. The guy's stuff is lights out almost every start. They also went out and grabbed a couple of quality arms during the trade deadline to help out the rest of the rotation and bullpen.
Offensively, Miguel Cabrera would probably be the AL MVP if the AL East wasn't included in the voting, while Jhonny Peralta has had one of the best seasons of his career.
As for Cleveland, I wasn't a fan of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal considering Jimenez is an average pitcher apart from his amazing first half last year. I'm not sure he makes them good enough to contend this season. Still, Indians fans should be happy as they've still overachieved this season and should have a bright future.
The AL West was by far the toughest call in the American League. Both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are quality teams with talent everywhere on the field.
I'm going with the Rangers simply because their offense is one of the best in the league. The team is batting .276, which is crazy, and they've scored the third most runs in the AL. The Angels, meanwhile, are near the bottom in many offensive categories.
While the Angels pitching is among the best in the league, and they have a Cy Young candidate in Jered Weaver, the Rangers are also in the top half in most pitching categories, making them the more well-rounded club.
Texas also went out and made some moves to really help their bullpen in trading for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. The Angels stood pat.
Honestly, I don't really think it matters who wins the AL East, because whoever doesn't is going to win the Wild Card by a pretty decent margin. Both teams are currently up on the Angels by 7.5 games.
The Yankees have all the talent in the world despite some injury problems and big questions in the starting rotation outside of CC Sabathia. Barring an epic collapse in the last 50 games, they'll be playing in October.
The big thing these guys need to figure out is who will be starting in the playoffs, as the last time I checked Sabathia wasn't capable of going every game. Maybe he'll channel his inner Christy Mathewson, who knows?
Moving to the NL, I'm going with the sure thing in the NL East, as the Phillies have a commanding 8.5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves.
These guys have the best rotation in the majors with a trio of aces in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Oh yeah, Roy Oswalt isn't too shabby either.
They also went out and grabbed a key right-handed bat in Hunter Pence to help protect Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup. I don't think it's coincidence that the Phillies reeled off nine straight wins after they acquired the former Houston All-Star.
Some people may have the Cardinals winning the division, but not me. Nah, they've had their time at the top of this division. It's also apparent that the Milwaukee Brewers are making a real push to make the playoffs, and it would be a shame if they were unsuccessful.
Everyone knows about their offense with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun leading the way, but the underlying aspect about the Brewers this season has been their starting pitching. Zach Greinke has come off the DL and been as good as hoped for after some initial struggles, while Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum have been sneaky good.
Acquiring Francisco Rodriguez early in the summer and his acceptance to be the setup guy have allowed the Brew Crew to go on a tear as of late.
As for the Cardinals, I think injuries have damaged them too much. Chris Carpenter hasn't been able to be the Cy Young-caliber pitcher, and Adam Wainwright's absence is going to hurt them when the crucial games arrive in September.
Hey, I had to spice things up just a little bit. While Cleveland and Pittsburgh captured America early this season, it's going to be the surprisingly good Arizona Diamondbacks who actually make the postseason.
Many people expected the San Francisco Giants to pull away eventually and run away with the NL West, especially after they acquired Carlos Beltran, but the D-Backs have refused to back down and are currently just a half game in back of the defending champs.
Their balanced offensive attack, which currently has four players who have 10-plus home runs and 10-plus stolen bases, is led by sleeper MVP candidate Justin Upton. Pitching wise, Ian Kennedy is having an incredible year, going 14-3 so far.
So, am I saying that the defending champs will not be there defending their title in October? Well...
No, I couldn't do it. The Giants pitching is simply too good for them not to make the playoffs.
Yes, they have serious issues offensively, which is mainly why I don't see them winning the division, but I think Carlos Beltran will eventually start making an impact for them, which will ultimately be enough for them to catch the current wild card leaders, the Atlanta Braves.
My main reason for the Braves not maintaining their lead is the injury sustained by who was by far their best pitcher, Jair Jurrjens, who is expected to be out for the next few weeks with a strained right knee. Losing a guy like him will give the Giants and other wild card teams a giant (pun intended) opportunity to improve their standing.
I will admit that I'm not too confident about this selection, as the Braves are one of the more well-rounded teams in the NL, but rarely do all the favorites hold up.
Like I said, not too crazy a prediction. They're the two best teams in the majors, and I don't see much reason not to pick these two incredibly balanced and talented teams in the Fall Classic.
As for why I have the Phillies winning, it's simple. Great pitching beats great hitting. It's been proven many times, especially last year when the elite rotation of the Giants shut down a solid Rangers offense, even though the Rangers rotation wasn't bad at all.
I also think this potential series would create some memorable matchups. You'd have the trio of aces facing the trio of MVP candidates in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. Then there would be Jon Lester going against Ryan Howard, with Howard looking to take advantage of the short porches in Fenway.
Regardless of who ends up surviving 'til the end, these MLB playoffs are shaping up to be something special with there being so many good teams duking it out amongst each other.