Unconventional Wisdom: Final Forecast for the American League
It was a fantastic All-Star break, with plenty of great stories, memorable moments and touching tributes. The character of baseball, though, is in the day-to-day regularity of the season, something that the break messes with. From now through the end of the September, we get back to that rhythm, and it's a beautiful thing.
Making predictions at this time of year usually invites the dilemma of whether to stick with preseason picks, or change them based on a team's first 100 games of the year, a milestone each club will hit this week. To do the former invites charges of being stubborn, especially if, say, you were backing the Indians to win the AL Central or the Mariners to win the AL West. On the other hand, changing horse at this point makes it look like you're trying to have a couple of shots at being right. The focus on end result isn't productive. The process, analyzing the teams' strengths and weaknesses, is much more important.
So division by division, what are we going to see in the second half?
The Boston Red Sox are the best organization and the best team in baseball. Injuries have hit the Red Sox hard this season, yet they entered the All-Star break in first place, thanks to the depth (especially in pitching) that they've created by strong drafting. They have adapted to the
The primary weakness is the bullpen, down a couple of notches from last season, as the big-three relievers haven't been quite as exceptional. Still, they should hold off the Rays and Yankees down the stretch.
Yes, that was a strange sentence to write. The Rays were baseball's darlings two weeks ago, before a losing streak knocked them out of first place. They pitch fairly well and play very good defense, and they have the third-best team
Now, what we can't know for sure, but can guess at, is that their defense will probably not be as good in the second half. I don't have a baseball reason for that, so much as the idea that an
The Yankees will be the beneficiaries of that. Even lacking
The Blue Jays, like all the AL East teams, are actually even better than they look. Every single AL East team is underperforming their third-order record, with the Jays having the biggest gap between actual and expected performance: six wins. The unbalanced schedule is killing every one of these teams; the Jays might well be one of the eight best teams in baseball, but the context in which they play hides that well. Still, Friday night's 2-1 loss was a microcosm of their season: a great start supported by six baserunners. This team is half contender, half Nationals.
The Orioles have played their best defense in years, especially in the outfield, where
The Tigers' lack of offense has been just as surprising as the Yankees'. Both teams were expected to approach 950 runs, but instead both are well off that pace and are buried in the middle of the AL in EqA. For the Yankees, the young players have failed; for the Tigers, it's been veterans such as
The White Sox get a distinct lack of respect for a team that's led its division virtually all season, has a +70 run differential, leads the league in homers, and is second in ERA. They seem to have some of the same OBP issues they've had in other seasons, with five starters below .330, but the team mark is .337, good for sixth in the AL, and they hit for good power. Where I scratch my head is in looking at the pitching staff, which has posted the best K/BB in the league and has the fourth-fewest homers allowed. (That's a quirky number; through Saturday, half of the AL had allowed exactly 84, 85, or 86 homers, so you can be second or eighth on any given day.) They've gotten so much good work from
The interesting case is the Twins, who have ridden a staff that doesn't walk people and an offense that has overperformed with runners in scoring position, to just shy of first place. As much as any team, they can upgrade over the next two weeks because they have so many massive holes in the lineup. It has never been the Twins' personality to do so, so while they probably will improve the rotation by swapping out
The White Sox have a 7 1/2 game lead on the Tigers with 66 games to play. The Playoff Odds Report gives the Sox a 71.6 percent shot at the postseason, the Tigers 6.1 percent. I think that overstates the case, but in the face of that, it's hard to pick the Tigers to make a run and steal this thing. So I'm going to do it anyway, not because I hate the White Sox -- frankly,
Well, run differential be damned, the Angels are the best team in the division and the only one of the three good teams attempting to win it this year. The A's have punted two starting pitchers in two weeks, and will probably trade more talent before the deadline. They actually won't get that much worse -- they have so much starting pitching depth that their run prevention will stay fairly good -- but their offense is already so shaky that it won't be able to support the loss. The Rangers' offense has carried a wretched pitching staff thanks to huge years by random veterans; either those players, like
No, it's the Angels again, despite having some flaws (way too many expensive, declining outfielders, for one) who will win another AL West title. They'll be as dangerous as anyone in a short series, with one ace starter in
I've been thinking about the Mariners a bit, so let me put this out there. If the "experts" say a team will win 90 games, you say they'll win 80, and they actually win 70, are you really that much more right than the "experts" were? I get that I was more accurate than the mainstream consensus, but unless you really thought they would collapse -- and I know some people did -- you didn't really make a smart call.