MLB Coverage: Mid-Season Mulligans On The Playoffs
As we get set for the All-Star Game tonight, it’s time to revisit and re-evaluate the assumptions and predictions made in preseason MLB coverage. It’s a process that’s been ongoing throughout the first half of the season, but now’s the time to take an official mulligan. And much like my rarely used golf game, I need my share of them.
My picks in the preseason were as follows…
AL East: NY Yankees
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: LA Angels
Wild-Cards: Tampa Bay & Baltimore
Assessment: Two of the picks—the Tigers and Rays are right on, and the Orioles are just narrowly behind the Rangers for the final wild-card spot. One could certainly argue for sticking with the Yankees—they’re six games out of first place and presumably will have Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez back in the second half.
The problem is that I’ve come to have greater confidence in Tampa Bay. I love the fact they’ve played playoff-caliber baseball in spite of the fact that David Price was either injured or underachieving for the first half of the season. In spite of the fact Jeremy Hellickson didn’t pitch well. Tampa Bay is right on Boston’s heels as it is, and unless the Red Sox make some kind of game-changing move at the trade deadline—an admittedly quite possible occurrence, I would consider the Rays the best team in the AL East.
My AL West conundrum is this—in my weekly podcast at Prime Sports Network, I’d already moved off the Angels pick, as they dug themselves such a huge hole and shifted over to the Rangers. My inclination right now is to pick the Oakland A’s. Isn’t there some kind of federal law against picking three of a division’s five teams as your champion by the season’s midway point?
But the flip side is this—I thought the Rangers would get Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison back for the second half. They still might, but nothing with any of these three looks like a given, and I genuinely believe the A’s are the better team.
Do I “stick with the pick”, to borrow the words of ESPN’s Skip Bayless? Or do I recognize that any theory of which Bayless is the author is likely flawed? I have to go with the latter. Oakland is my pick to win the AL West, with the caveat that I acknowledge that I’ve completely screwed up this division.
My view of the Orioles hasn’t changed from Day One—it’s a good team that might not win the AL East, but will return to the wild-card game. For the second wild card—look, I’m a partisan Red Sox fan and I’ve already picked someone else to overtake them in the AL East. I’m not bailing out on the playoffs entirely. I’m foreseeing a Boston-Baltimore playoff showdown in the most consequential game these teams have played since the last day of the 2011 season.
Revised AL Bracket: I’m going to pick Tampa Bay as the 1-seed, with Oakland #2 and Detroit #3, though that’s not an implied prediction of the how the postseason itself will shake out. That sets up an A’s-Tigers rematch in the Division Series, and an All-AL East Feast at the top of the bracket, with the Sox-Orioles winner going to the Trop.
Moving over to the National League, my original picks were as follows…
NL East: Washington
NL Central: St. Louis
NL West: Arizona
Wild-Cards: Cincinnati, Philadelphia
Assessment: Two of my division winners, the Cards and Diamondbacks, are in first place, so there’s no reason to change course. Arizona hasn’t played well of late, but starting pitching has been the problem and they’ll get Trevor Cahill off the disabled list by early August. They also have a prospect-rich farm system that enables them to negotiate from a position of strength leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
I’m also staying the course with Washington. The six-game margin they have to erase against Atlanta isn’t trivial, but I just have serious doubts about the Braves’ starting pitching and don’t expect Brandon Beachy to be a reliable arm, at least not this year. Washington’s got Bryce Harper healthy and should be able to start scoring some runs, at least enough to enable their own starting pitching to trigger a significant win streak.
The Reds remain a wild-card pick, having played at that level to date in spite of staff ace Johnny Cueto pulling three separate runs on the disabled list. Cueto’s latest injury is a lat problem that should be settled by the end of the month and his return will enable young starter Tony Cingrani to strengthen a bullpen that needs help. Pittsburgh would be the other wild-card as of today, and with deep pitching of their own, I expect they will hold that spot.
I hate to do this to Atlanta, but again, I’m just not sold on the pitching and have to slot them behind the Nationals, Reds and Pirates. And if they can’t beat one of those three, they aren’t going to the playoffs.
The two notable omissions are the Phillies and Giants. I really believe the Phils need to be sellers at the trade deadline and to market Cliff Lee and maybe Jonathan Papelbon, and in spite of Tim Lincecum’s 148-pitch no-hitter this weekend, I don’t see the San Francisco starting pitching turning around in any significant way.
Revised NL Bracket: Much like the American League, one division controls half the bracket, with the Cards earning the top seed and facing the Reds-Pirates winner. And it’s Washington-Arizona in the bottom half of the draw.
MIDSEASON WORLD SERIES PICK
There’s no alteration here. I picked Detroit to beat St. Louis at the start of the year and I’m sticking with it. The Cardinals will be a pure “best team”, that validates their 1-seed by winning two playoff runs. I had thought Detroit could do the same this year and win 100 games, but the bullpen problems haven’t been solved in a sufficient way to allow that.
Still, a short postseason series gives greater weight to star power, and no one has it, be it the rotation or the lineup, like the Tigers. They’ll do it from the 3-hole, just like in the 2012 season, but it’s the Tigers coming through the American League and this time finishing the job in the Fall Classic.
That’s my revised story and I’m sticking to it…well, until the trade deadline in two weeks anyway.