We're a little bit past the quarter point of the season. Here are my thoughts and predictions for each divisional race:
Division Contenders: none
Wildcard Contenders: Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox
Analysis: The Rays are clearly the best team in baseball by a wide margin and despite the presence of the Yankees and the Red Sox, this division is one of the easiest to pick. Second place is much harder. Despite their recent good run, the Red Sox are still a longshot for either the division crown or the wild card. The Yankees are still strong and the Blue Jays are hanging around just enough. This is clearly the most talented division in baseball and the second-place team will be the AL Wild Card.
Done: White Sox, Royals, Indians
Analysis: Despite being only one game out, I think the Tigers need to be considered a long shot for the playoffs. Their run differential is very small at just +6 and they don't deserve a record of 6 games over .500. They should finish with at most 85 wins unless they improve dramatically. The Twins are the only team in this division to be taken seriously this year.
Done: Angels, Mariners
Analysis: This is a similar story to the AL Central, as the Rangers are the only team with a positive run differential and are the only team in this division likely to finish above .500. Check out the Angels' run differential--an average-ish 200 runs scored but an AL-high 242 allowed. They and the Mariners have no shot.
Contenders: Braves, Marlins, Mets
Analysis: This is the weirdest division in baseball. The Phillies are clearly the best of the group and should win fairly easily. The rest of the teams have essentially identical records. However the Nationals have been outscored by their opponents and should be a few games under .500. The Mets have outscored their opponents and should be over .500. These four teams are all so close that my guess is that they'll all beat each other too much to allow any of them to win the wild card. The asterisk for the Nationals is due to Stephen Strasburg. When he joins the big club in June, anything can happen. He might help the team to as much as an extra 4 or 5 wins the rest of the way and I can almost talk myself into 87 wins for the Nationals if his teammates are inspired by his performance. But that's a long, long, longshot.
Done: Cubs, Pirates, Brewers, Astros
Analysis: Although the Cardinals and Reds are tied atop the division at this writing, St. Louis has a much better run differential and is the clear favorite here. But after years of disappointment, the Reds have assembled quite a bit of talent and I think are a serious wildcard contender. The rest of the division is bad. I think the Cubs have basically no shot, but a longshot scenario for them winning the wildcard involves them brutalizing the Pirates, Brewers, and Astros once those 3 teams totally give up for good.
Contenders: Dodgers, Giants, Rockies
Analysis: Well would you look at that! The Padres are now the favorites in the NL West and are this year's surprise team. Their pitching is just so good I don't see anybody catching them. The other three contenders here are really playing for the wildcard. They are all outscoring their opponents and the NL Wildcard will likely be the team among this group that can scrape out 90 wins. My money's on the Giants.
So if I had to pick my playoff teams are: Rays, Twins, Rangers, Yankees (WC), Phillies, Cardinals, Padres, Giants (WC).
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