Nobody could have predicted that the Cleveland Indians would be atop the AL Central or that the Toronto Blue Jays would be the big winners at the trade deadline, but that’s what makes baseball so fun.
The MLB season is full of surprises and disappointments, and sportswriters across the country spend the better part of their lives trying to figure out what is going to happen, usually to no avail.
With less than two months left in the 2011 season, here is my best attempt at predicting what’s ahead.
Jiminez was less than stellar in his debut for the Indians Friday night. He went five innings and gave up five earned runs on seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven.
Still, he’s the de facto ace of the staff and the only one with big game experience (unless you want to count Fausto Carmona). With Cleveland just 3.5 games back of the Tigers, Jiminez gives them the edge the rest of the way.
It’s difficult to quantify just how dominant Verlander has been this season, but let’s give it a try.
A league-leading 16 wins and 188 innings. A K-rate that is fourth among all AL pitchers and a 2.30 ERA that is second.
Jered Weaver, C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett are all having terrific seasons, but there’s nobody else in baseball who’s as much of a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he steps onto the mound as Verlander.
Sabathia has had an inexplicably difficult time pitching against Boston with an 0-4 record and 33 hits in 25 innings.
The Red Sox offense might be the best in baseball, but Sabathia is also one of the best pitchers, and sooner or later he’ll dominate his arch rival just like he dominates the rest of the league. My guess is that it will happen in the playoffs.
Rodriguez recently made headlines for his reported involvement in a high-stakes poker game, and because he’s the player we all love to hate, he’s guaranteed a dirty introduction at every park he plays in.
He should be used to it by now though.
When did A-Rod suddenly become the fourth best Yankees hitter? The third baseman has had a poor season (by his standards) with a .852 OPS in 80 games, but this is still one of the best all-around players in baseball.
Look for Rodriguez to show why he’s worth at least some of the $31 million he’s being paid this season.
Adrian Gonzalez has been everything the Red Sox hoped for and more, but that still doesn’t make him team MVP. That honor goes to Ellsbury, who has evolved into a legitimate five-tool player and the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
In a season during which the Red Sox had to endure slow starts from both corner outfield spots, Ellsbury has been the rock in the middle and is now a legitimate AL MVP candidate.
The Red Sox acquired Bedard to add some depth to a quickly deteriorating starting rotation. The only problem is that the lefty’s innings total this season (96) is the highest its been since 2007.
Bedard has a long and checkered injury history, and it’s only a matter of time before he lands on the disabled list again.
The reason the Red Sox had to go out and get Bedard in the first place is because it was announced that Clay Buchholz had a stress fracture in his back.
Buchholz could conceivably be healthy by late September, but with the minor league season over, there won’t be anywhere for him to make rehab starts. I’m thinking the Red Sox won’t be too keen on starting a rusty Buchholz in a playoff series, even if the other options are Tim Wakefield and John Lackey.
The Red Sox stood firm at the deadline in their pursuit of a corner infielder, mostly because they already had one.
The 24-year-old Reddick has been brilliant in his first extended taste of big league action and currently has a .958 OPS in 45 games. Nobody expects him to keep this up, but even if he were to not drive in another single run, he’d still finish with more RBI than JD Drew.
The Yankees have gotten next to zero production from the DH spot in their lineup with Posada with failing to prove that he still belongs in the major leagues. The veteran catcher has a .681 OPS and more than twice as many strikeouts (63) as RBI (31).
Montero, on the other hand, is one of the best prospects in baseball and owns a .864 career OPS at the minor league level. Here’s betting that the Yankees won’t let this young sluggers at-bats go to waste much longer.
The Yankees didn’t make a single move at the deadline, mostly because GM Brian Cashman refused to part with any of his top prospects. That faith should pay off with Banuelos, a 20-year-old lefty who is dominating the minors and itching for a call-up.
It may not come until September, but Banuelos is fully capable of giving the Yankees what Joba Chamberlain did back in 2007 (24 innings, 34 strikeouts, 0.38 ERA).
If the New York bullpen becomes that dominant, then it won’t matter how many starts Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are making.
I know he doesn’t play for a winning team, but the fact that the Blue Jays have a winning record in the AL East should be a telling sign in itself.
However, he’s the runaway leader in virtually every offensive category with than twice as high as Ellsbury’s or Gonzalez’s. Curtis Granderson is having a great season, and Dustin Pedroia is on fire right now, but the award belongs to Bautista (1.102 OPS).
Speaking of MVP candidates, what about Ben Zobrist?
The Rays second baseman leads the league with 35 doubles and has a nice .278/.370/.496 line for a club that is still recovering from the loss of Carl Crawford. He won’t win, but he probably deserves to finish in the top five.
I’d be surprised if he’s in the top 10.
The Rays waited as long as they could to bring up superstar prospect Desmond Jennings, and the early results have been encouraging.
The 24-year-old already has three bombs in 14 games and owns a 1.040 OPS. It won’t be enough to get the Rays back in the playoff race, but the emergence of Jennings as a premiere talent should be one of the bigger headlines late into the season.
Justin Masteron’s career high in innings is 180. Josh Tomlin’s already doubled his career high from last season (73). Fausto Carmona’s career high is 215, set four years ago. Carlos Carrasco’s nearly tripled his career high of 44.2.
Suffice to say, this group of pitchers is not used to such a heavy workload. Considering each one is 27 years old or younger, the odds of them maintaining their current level of production down the stretch is unlikely.
Fister’s a nice pitcher and he gave the Tigers a solid seven innings last week. However, the righty also spent most of his time pitching in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field and owns just a 5.1 career SO/9 rate.
He may be an improvement over the likes of Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Brad Penny, but the addition of Fister won’t be enough to get the Tigers into the playoffs. At least he’s signed through 2015.
It feels like it’s been a quiet season for Ozzie. He hasn’t done anything horribly outlandish in almost a year.
This doesn’t feel right, especially with the rumors about this being his last season managing the White Sox. Something needs to happen.
The Twins decided they were close enough to being in the race that they didn’t have to sell off any of their impending free agents at the deadline. Just one week later and Minnesota sits 10 games out of first place with three teams in front of them.
Michael Cuddyer, Matt Capps and Jason Kubel could have been nice pieces for another team, but instead, they get to spend their walk years playing for a team on pace for 90 losses.
In 2007, Josh Beckett went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA and 194 strikeouts yet still finished second in Cy Young voting to C.C. Sabathia who was having a worse season (John Lackey finished third in case you’re wondering).
Weaver, meanwhile, is currently 14-5 with a 1.78 ERA and 150 strikeouts. If it weren’t for Verlander, Weaver would be the easy choice for Cy Young.
Trout has just 43 big league at-bats under his belt and only seven hits, but his talent is literally limitless.
There’s nothing the 19-year-old can’t do, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the Angels’ scouting department if he replicated one of the great seasons from Rickey Henderson, except with a little less speed.
The Angels are still very much in the race despite a roster built around Vernon Wells (.629 OPS) and Torii Hunter (.717 OPS), and if they make the playoffs, it’ll likely be thanks in part to Trout’s late season heroics.
Ackley could be a late favorite for AL Rookie of the Year if he keeps hitting like this (.309/.377/.544), but the 23-year-old second baseman still can’t lift the Seattle Mariners from the cellar.
A core of Ackley and Justin Smoak looks great on paper, but this franchise is still so far away from being relevant. Let’s put those Bret Boone dreams to rest for a little bit.
The Blue Jays finally called up Lawrie, the third baseman they acquired from Milwaukee in the Shaun Marcum trade.
Lawrie tore up the minor leagues and now gives Toronto another bat to complement Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Yunel Escobar and of course, Colby Rasmus. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this one of the five best lineups in the league.
The White Sox were willing to deal their star rightfielder in large part because they had his replacement waiting in the minors. Vicideo is a power-hitting prospect who slugged .448 in three minor league seasons and last year hit 20 home runs in just half a season.
He’s finally joined the White Sox in Chicago and already has five homers and an .840 OPS. That doesn’t leave much room for Quentin, who’s enjoying another fantastic season with a .856 OPS but only has one year left on his contract.
In one of the sadder stories of the season, the slugger formerly known as Adam Dunn has gone into witness protection. The 31-year-old DH has an impossibly high number of strikeouts (142) with just 11 home runs and would be lucky to crack a .600 OPS.
There’s still some time left in the season for him to find his swing, and I’m willing to bet that Dunn will be back to blasting 500-foot home runs very soon.
The Rangers were aggressive at the deadline in acquiring Koji Uehara, who had been untouchable in baseball’s toughest division, and Mike Adams, who had rediscovered the fountain of youth in San Diego.
Combined with closer Neftali Feliz and setup man Mark Lowe, the Rangers now have what looks look like the best bullpen in the league. It should be enough to get them back to the postseason.
The Royals officially slipped the switch on the youth movement this season, but the early returns are uninspiring.
Eric Hosmer, 21, has looked good at times and Mike Moustakas, 22, has the tools, but neither one is ready to be a franchise player. Ditto for 22-year-old Danny Duffy, who has been blown up in his 14 starts this season.
It will take some time, but the Royals will get there eventually.
Trevor Bauer is one of only two top-10 picks who has signed thus far, and he agreed to a four-year, $7 million major league contract.
That should be the bare minimum in negotiations for the other top picks, including Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy, Danny Hultzen, Bubba Starling, Anthony Rendon and Archie Bradley.
There wasn’t a single player who cracked that milestone in 2010 (Jameson Taillon was closest at $6.5 million), but 2011 was a deeper draft and possibly the last year that MLB will use a slotting system.
The Braves pulled off a heist by acquiring Michael Bourn without giving up any of their top pitching prospects, including Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino.
All except Vizcaino have major league experience, and all four should have an impact down the stretch for the Braves, making the best pitching staff in baseball just a little bit better.
Danny Espinsa is having a nice season, and Vance Worley is a great story, but Freeman should be considered the easy favorite for the award. The 21-year-old first baseman is second on the team with a .843 OPS and first with 28 doubles.
If there’s any competition for ROY it could come from teammates Brandon Beachy (3.49 ERA in 16 starts) and Craig Kimbrel (33 saves and 1.96 ERA).
Ramirez has had a down year for the Marlins, but this is still one of the best all-around players in the league. If there’s anyone who’s going to light a fire under him it should be Jeff Conine, who last week called Ramirez out for not taking the game seriously.
Ramirez is on pace to set career lows in every offensive category, so watch for him to heat up and prove his doubters wrong.
The Mets are clinging to third place in the NL East with a roster that seems better suited for a spring training game. GM Sandy Alderson made the decision to keep his franchise player and Reyes has been vocal about how he wants to stay in New York, however it’s hard to see why.
The Mets are in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and don’t have enough young pieces to contend any time soon. Wouldn’t Reyes rather spend his career winning baseball games?
Johnson took over as manager of the Washington Nationals when Jim Riggleman surprisingly quit in the middle of a winning streak. The Nationals have gone on a tailspin since, but it’s not Johnson’s fault.
He inherited a messy situation and doesn’t have the clout to bring together such a large group of young players. He’ll leave Washington tarred and feathered.
Strasburg made his first rehab appearance over the weekend after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason. His goal is a return to the major leagues this season, and if that happens, he will have to climb the Nationals minor league system where he will likely cross paths with future teammate Bryce Harper.
These are two very confident, high-strung individuals who will compete with each other for the next decade to be the face of the franchise. Their first encounter may seem friendly, but under the surface, these are two bitter rivals.
The Pirates were one of the feel-good stories of the 2011 season and emerged from the trade deadline with two bats (Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee) and a winning record.
However, after losing 10 straight, the Pirates are back to under .500 and don’t seem to have the fortitude to make it back into the race. It’ll be a disappointing finish for the lowly Pirates, but even a 70-win season should be considered an improvement.
The Cardinals may need a fifth starter and relievers more than they need a center fielder, but that doesn’t mean they won’t miss Rasmus.
John Jay is a suitable replacement, but he doesn’t have Rasmus’ speed or power. Plus, what happens next season when Lance Berkman and possibly Albert Pujols leave as free agents?
The Brewers cashed all their chips for a run in 2011, and so far the moves have paid off. Milwaukee leads the division by four games and is slowly widening the gap between them and the Cardinals.
With Zack Greinke pitching like an ace again and the lineup finally clicking on all cylinders, the Brewers may be the team to beat in the NL.
The Reds had a chance to upgrade their rotation and were the favorites to land Ubaldo Jiminez. However, Cincinatti balked at the asking price of top prospects Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
Now the Reds have to endure more starts from the likes of Bronson Arroyo and Dontrelle Willis while they watch their playoff odds slip away. The non-move may eventually pay off, but right now, the Reds look silly for not dealing away some of their organizational depth.
The Astros had a chance to completely retool their organization by dealing Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn.
GM Ed Wade landed a couple of blue chip prospects, but on the whole the return is not enough to make Houston relevant any time soon.
The Astros have to continue rebuilding by selling off starters Wandy Rodriguez and Bretty Myers and if they can find a buyer, first baseman Carlos Lee.
The Cubs only decided to trade Kosuke Fukudome at the non-waiver trade deadline despite a roster loaded with moveable players. They won’t make the same mistake the second time around and will look to move Carlos Pena, Jeff Baker, Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd.
Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are two more names to keep an eye on if anyone is willing to swallow the price tag.
The Giants were desperate for a slugger who could help fill the void left by Buster Posey and improve an outfield that probably didn't even have one decent starter.
Beltran is exactly the medicine that the doctor ordered—a switch-hitting, power-hitting outfielder with big game pedigree. Just see what he did in 2004 with the Houston Astros.
Justin Upton has had an unbelievable season and is a leading MVP candidate, but even he can't do everything alone.
The 23-year-old outfielder has 31 HR, 22 doubles, 68 RBI, 16 SB and a .298/.374/.547 line. Unfortunately, the rest of the team is too young and too inexperienced to stay competitive late in the season.
The Diamondbacks are just half a game back of the Giants, but they'll fade in September.
The Padres inexplicably held on to Heath Bell at the trade deadline even though they knew they wouldn't be able to re-sign him and that they had zero chance of winning.
The reasoning was that if they couldn't get a decent offer for Bell, San Diego would just take the two compensation picks.
Now it looks like Bell might accept arbitration, leaving the Padres with no picks and an expensive closer on a bad team. Whoops.
It's been a fun, yet excruciating, battling to watch, but the momentum against Frank McCourt just continues to pile up.
Owners from other sports are now calling for him to step down, and it may not be long before MLB flexes its legal muscles to force him out of Los Angeles.
When it comes to pitching, it doesn’t matter if you’re on a winning team or a losing team because when you’re good, you’re really good.
In Clayon Kershaw’s case, he’s really, really good.
The Dodgers lefty is 13-5 with a 2.79 ERA and a league-leading 177 strikeouts. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are both good candidates, but they’ll cancel each other out because they pitch for the same team. Kershaw should be an easy choice.
The Rockies have a habit of playing at their best when everyone doubts them most. They came out of no where to make a World Series run in 200, and had a huge second half in earning a wild-card berth in 2009.
Colorado won't make the playoffs this season, but they will show some life as they get ready to compete in 2012.
The top two MVP candidates in the NL are Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes and if you want to throw a third name into the mix, Justin Upton.
However, none of these three will be playing in the postseason, and the outdated baseball writers' handbook says to never vote for an MVP on a losing team.
That means one of the big boppers (Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard) will likely take home the award, even though none of them are having an especially sensational season. Silly voters.
The Athletics were surprisingly quiet at the trade deadline despite ample moveable pieces.
None of the three outfielders (Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus) were moved, even though they're all in the last years of their deals.
Ditto for Hideki Matsui, who would make a great pinch-hitter in the NL. Billy Beane is one of the most shrewd GMs in baseball so look for him to be active up until August 31.
If the season were to end today, the Giants would face the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs.
That would be a big time matchup between the two best starting rotations in baseball, but it's hard to envision any scenario in which San Francisco can win three games (unless Roy Hallday, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all get the flu).
The Giants would have better odds against the Braves, but that's not a matchup I see them winning either. Looks like we'll have a new World Series champion.
Assuming they win the division, the Rangers will play whichever team comes in second in the AL East. Whether that's the Yankees or Red Sox shouldn't really matter because the Rangers don't have the pitching to last a five-game series.
The bullpen is great and the offense is good enough, but a rotation headlined by C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ugando isn't going to get it done.
Everybody picked these two teams to begin the season, and thus far we've been right. The Phillies (74-40) have the best record in baseball and the Red Sox (69-43) are right on their heels.
However, the difference between the two teams is that Boston's rotation has fallen apart while the Phillies just keep getting better. The Phillies were already a better team at the deadline, and they added Hunter Pence, while all the Red Sox got is Erik Bedard.
It should be a great, competitive World Series, but it's Philadelphia's time to shine.