7 Bold Predictions for the MLB Pennant Races
It's crunch time, folks. We've reached the stretch run. With a month left until the 162nd game is played, we are officially in the pennant race.
Currently, there are three divisions (NL West, AL West and AL East) in which the first and second-place teams are separated by three games or fewer. But as we all know, anything can happen in baseball—and that holds even more truth during the month of September.
In recent years, the world has watched the New York Mets lose a division title after having a seven-game lead with 16 games to go (2007).
That same year, we also saw the Colorado Rockies spin off an 11-game win streak that helped propel them into the playoffs, after being in fourth place in the NL West on September 16.
So, who's ready to make that miracle push into the playoffs this year? Let's take a look, shall we.
Colorado Rockies Win the NL West
We've seen the Colorado Rockies do this before. In '07, they spun an 11-game winning streak at the end of September, and in their 163rd game, they were crowned NL Wild Card winners. They eventually made their way to the World Series, where they lost 4-0 to the Red Sox.
Entering play on Sunday, the Rockies sit 11 games behind the Giants and Diamondbacks in the NL West. But unlike those two clubs, the Rockies are surging in the right direction. They've won five of their last seven, and are rolling into September.
Carlos Gonzalez is healthy, and has been hitting the cover off the ball since returning from an injured wrist. And even though the recent trade of Ubaldo Jimenez has left them with no clear No. 1 pitcher in their rotation, they've managed to hang in the race.
The Rockies could be on the verge of another miracle September. Hey, it wouldn't be the first time.
Cleveland Indians Win the AL Central
Not many experts out there probably picked the Cleveland Indians to reach the playoffs in 2011. Heck, there probably weren't too many that predicted they would finish any higher than third place in the AL Central.
But at start of play on Sunday, the Tribe sat in second place, just 6 1/2 games in back of first-place Detroit. They play six games against the Tigers the rest of the way, including the season's final series. That three-game series could prove to be crucial.
The Indians are getting healthy. Shin-Soo Choo has returned from a 41-game absence. Grady Sizemore is recovering from a sports hernia, and is hopeful to go out on a rehab assignment within the next week or so.
They brought in Ubaldo Jimenez to be the front-line starter that they haven't had since Cliff Lee.
Oh, and they just acquired a familiar face. When Travis Hafner went down with a right foot sprain, the Indians immediately went out and traded for fellow DH Jim Thome. The red-hot Thome should provide the Indians with a much-needed offensive boost and could help carry them to the top of the division.
Milwaukee Brewers Win Best Record in NL
Currently, the Milwaukee Brewers have the second-best record in the National League. Their 80-54 mark is slightly below the Philadelphia Phillies' 83-46.
The Brew Crew are red hot right now. They've won seven of their last 10, and have the game's best record at home. If they can continue this hot streak they are on, there's no reason not to expect the Brewers to catch the Phils, and gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (remember, the National League won the All-Star Game, giving the NL representative in the World Series home-field advantage).
There's no reason not to expect the Brewers to maintain their good ways. Rickie Weeks, their power-hitting second baseman, is currently on the disabled list after suffering a severely sprained ankle in July, but he's been taking batting practice, and if all continues to go well for him, he could be back in the lineup before the end of the season.
The Boston Red Sox Win the American League Pennant
Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, deserves an immense amount of credit for building this American League powerhouse. Their roster is so balanced between homegrown players (Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon) and imported talent (Adrian Gonzalez, John Lackey, David Ortiz).
This juggernaut of a team is sitting atop the AL East division—albeit by just two games—and they have the skill and leadership to propel them deep into October baseball. All the way to the World Series, in my opinion.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Will Make the Playoffs
It seems hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since the Los Angeles Angels won the World Series. Because they won it all in 2002, they've made all but three postseasons.
One of those missed playoff appearances occurred last year, when they finished under .500, in third place in the AL West. You can be certain that the Angels have every desire to get back to October baseball in 2011. And it may not be all that far-fetched.
Entering play on Sunday, the Halos are just two games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West, against whom they play in the season's final three-game series. They also sit only seven-and-a-half games out in the Wild Card race.
In other words, the Angels are by no means out of this thing. And don't think they don't know it. Behind some dazzling pitching from Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, they've won seven of their last 10, and are rolling into September.
The Milwaukee Brewers Will Win the World Series
The Milwaukee Brewers have never won a World Series championship. It's been almost three decades since the Milwaukee Brewers last made the Fall Classic.
In fact, since the Brewers lost the 1982 World Series, they've made just one brief postseason appearance, losing the NLDS in five games in 2007.
The 2011 Brewers have a different aura around them. They have a winning swagger about them, and why not? With one of the most balanced lineups in baseball, and a complementing stud pitching staff, there's a lot to be excited about in Beer City.
If the Brewers do in fact reach the World Series this year, they will automatically have home-field advantage thanks to their first baseman helping the National League win the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.
With their incredible prowess at home this year, the Brewers stand a great chance of not only making it into the World Series for the first time since 1982, but this could be their first championship victory in their 43-year history.
My Playoff Predictions
Last November 1, the world watched as the San Francisco Giants claimed their first World Series championship since their move out west. It was an uphill batter for the Giants, and they overcame much adversity and many obstacles.
Yet, when all was said and done, it was Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum and Bruce Bochy raising that coveted trophy. So who will be this year's postseason participants? Here are my predictions, as we had into the final month of the 2011 regular season:
AL East Champion - Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champion - Cleveland Indians
AL West Champion - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL Wild Card - Texas Rangers
ALCS - Boston Red Sox over Texas Rangers
NL East Champion - Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central Champion - Milwaukee Brewers
NL West Champion - Colorado Rockies
NL Wild Card - Arizona Diamondbacks
NLCS - Milwaukee Brewers over Philadelphia Phillies
World Series - Milwaukee Brewers over Boston Red Sox