In his All-Star sendoff Derek Jeter led off with a double, superstar Mike Trout was named MVP, and the hometown kid Glen Perkins notched the save as the American League notched a 5-3 victory at the 85th Midsummer Classic in Minneapolis. While the players are resting until games resume on Friday, baseball enthusiasts like myself are pondering what’s to come in the second half. Without further ado, here are my playoff and award predictions. We’ll start with the American League.
It’s been a down year for a traditionally dominant division. The 2012 wild-card Baltimore Orioles are in first, while the reigning champion Red Sox find themselves in last place at the break. Tampa Bay has struggled all season and may deal their ace, David Price, before the trade deadline. Toronto’s offense is tremendous, but its yet to be seen if they can put it all together. The Captain will enjoy his swan song regardless, though it looks as if his injury riddled Yankees will fall short of the playoffs for the second straight year. With no team emerging as dominant, this race is sure to come down to the wire.
Winner: Toronto Blue Jays. When their offensive is clicking on all cylinders they are nearly unbeatable. If Mark Buehrle can lead their staff to a impressive second half, Toronto will see playoff baseball for the first time since 1993.
Breakout stars Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley, among others, have provided plenty of entertainment out of the central division. The Tigers appear to have a firm grasp at the top as of now. Despite a slow start, Kansas City sits in second after a scorching hot month of June. Brantley’s Indians are in third with a .500 record. Abreu’s White Sox are in fourth, closely followed by the All-Star host Minnesota Twins. It’ll be fun to watch the youngsters try to chase down Detroit.
Winner: Detroit Tigers. Experience plays a key factor here, as Detroit is poised to take its fourth consecutive division title. Two-time defending MVP Miguel Cabrera has received plenty of help on offense from the likes of Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are capable of leading the rotation if Verlander’s down year continues.
My favorite division in baseball at the moment. The best team in baseball is the Oakland Athletics. Arguably, the Los Angeles Angels are the second best team in the game. The Angels are only 1.5 games behind the A’s for the division lead. Led by their new star Robinson Cano and All-Star starter Felix Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners are in third. A young Houston team is in fourth, followed by a disappointing last place status for the Texas Rangers.
Winner: Oakland Athletics. They’re fun to watch, for Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle’s beards if nothing else. Josh Donaldson will find himself in the MVP chats yet again, Brandon Moss’ power is no joke, and Yoenis Cespedes will look to parlay his Home Run Derby victory into the second half. The resurgent Scott Kazmir and the youngster Sonny Gray lead a staff with the top ERA in the American League.
AL Wild Cards:
Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners
That’s right, the AL West will send three teams to the playoffs.
Mike Trout. He’ll finally dethrone Miguel Cabrera. Trout’s overall game has been superior to that of Cabrera’s and it appears his bat has made the jump past Detroit’s superstar too. He’ll deserve what his first of many these to come.
AL Cy Young:
Felix Hernandez. The King will take his crown. He’s currently top 3 in the American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA with no signs of slowing down.
AL Rookie of the Year:
Jose Abreu. This was a two man race until Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow injury essentially locked up the award for Abreu. The man missed two weeks and still leads the majors in home runs. Cuba’s latest star has been a joy to watch. That’s a wrap for the AL, onto the National League.
This pennant race will likely last through the final days of the season. Washington and Atlanta are currently tied atop the standings and are they only teams above .500. The Mets sit in third, led by All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Marlins got off to a surprisingly hot start, but currently find themselves in fourth. The loss of ace Jose Fernandez was a huge blow for a team with a ton of young talent. Despite the resurgence of Chase Utley, Philadelphia is in last.
Winner: Washington Nationals. Bryce Harper will bolster the offense once back to full strength and they’re pitching currently has the best ERA in the majors. Atlanta will fight until the end, but I believe the Nats will prevail.
Wow. This is the strongest division in baseball, only the last place Cubs are truly out of contention. The Pirates are only 3.5 games out and they’re in fourth! The Cardinals are only 1.5 games out in third, but the Yadier Molina injury will be difficult to overcome. Cincinnati is a game out in second and the Milwaukee Brewers are first. If someone would have told me before the season that Milwaukee would be in first at the All-Star break I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. We’re in for a treat as this one unfolds.
Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates. This will be close, but I’m taking McCutchen and the gang. Nothing I can say will completely justify this pick, so we’ll leave it at that.
The west will come to down to a battle of two Californian juggernauts. The Dodgers are one game ahead of the Giants and no one else is even close. The Padres are in third with the worst offense I’ve ever seen. Colorado is in fourth and while the return of Carlos Gonzalez will help, their sights must be set on 2015. Arizona brings up the rear and will likely remain there for the remainder of the season.
Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ve been a World Series favorite of mine, and many others, since before the season and I’m sticking with them now. Yasiel Puig has silenced the critics in his sophomore campaign and Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Enough said.
NL Wild Cards:
San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers
The Giants are the easier pick here, though I believe Milwaukee will squeak into the playoffs.
Troy Tulowitzki. If he can continue to stay healthy this is a no brainer. He is the best shortstop in the game and one of the best players overall. He leads all of baseball in AVG, OBP, OPS, and runs at the break. His glove isn’t too shabby either.
NL Cy Young:
Clayton Kershaw. He is the best pitcher in baseball, though some would argue this award should go to Adam Wainwright. Kershaw has missed a month due to injury, but he’s provided one of the best stretches of success I’ve ever seen. When you toss a no-hitter AND rattle off 41 straight scoreless innings in the same season, it’s your award to lose Clayton.
NL Rookie of the Year:
Billy Hamilton. He’s been a thrill to watch. The kid is FAST. He turns ordinary singles into doubles, outs into hits, and disrupts the defense just by being on the field. You’ll never know what’ll happen when he’s on base, but don’t blink because you might miss it.
So there you have it. All eight playoff teams and six major award winners courtesy of yours truly. Knowing my luck I’ll be happy to see half of this come true, but hey, that’s the fun of predictions.