My Prediction: Division Winner - Boston Red Sox, AL Wildcard - Baltimore Orioles
Despite an inauspicious 2-10 start, the Boston Red Sox have played as advertised. Since mid-April, the Sox are 53-25. For all intents and purposes, the Sox are winning two out of every three games they play. Yet they have only a one game lead over the New York Yankees.
But before one says "Oh great, Red Sox and Yankees," let's not count out the Tampa Bay Rays. They started out 1-8 and have now fought their way to a 49-41 record. OK, they are six games back of the Sox. But if the Rays were in the AL Central they would be leading the division by a game and would be a game back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West. That tells you just how competitive the AL East is.
The Toronto Blue Jays are a couple of games below .500 but a second-half surge isn't beyond the realm of possibilities.
As for the Baltimore Orioles, Buck Showalter's success with them in the second half of 2010 has not translated into 2011. They have lost seven in a row and nine of their last ten games. I managed to catch some of the Red Sox-Orioles games on the radio over the weekend. I don't think they would get past the first round of the Little League World Series. So much for that Wild Card spot never mind Showalter winning AL Manager of the Year.
My Prediction: Detroit Tigers
Well, the Tigers are leading the AL Central albeit by a half game over the Cleveland Indians.
No, I did not see the Tribe coming in 2011. The jury is still out as to whether they can sustain their first half success. After all, they did lead the division by seven games during the third week of May.
The Chicago White Sox haven't quite been able to get over .500 but they cannot be so easily written off. The Minnesota Twins, who have won this division six out of the last nine years, have been riddled with injuries and are paying the price of letting go nearly their entire bullpen. Nevertheless, the Twins almost always play better ball in the second half.
After a good start in April, the Kansas City Royals are in last place where I thought they would be.
My Prediction: Oakland Athletics
At this point, it is a two-horse race between the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with the Rangers up by one game on the Halos. The Seattle Mariners had been competitive with good pitching but a five game losing streak puts them 7½ games back of the Rangers. The Mariners offense has become even more anemic with Ichiro Suzuki uncharacteristic struggles at the plate.
Despite a good starting rotation, the Athletics have been one of baseball's big disappointments and a managerial change from Bob Geren to Bob Melvin does not seem to have helped much thus far.
My Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies
Barring a collapse on the scale of 1964, the Phillies are poised to win their fifth straight NL East title. At 57-34, the Phillies own the best record in MLB despite not having Chase Utley for much of the season and uninspiring offense from the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez (at least until yesterday.)
The Atlanta Braves also seem to be on their way to winning their second straight NL Wild Card with their sterling pitching. The transition between Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez appears to have been seamless.
With all the chaos surrounding the New York Mets, Terry Collins has somehow brought his team into the half above .500. Even if the Mets finish 10 games out, a case can certainly be made for Collins being NL Manager of the Year.
Of course, the same might have been said for Jim Riggleman had he not bailed on the Washington Nationals last month.
The Florida Marlins went toe to toe with the Phillies early in the season but then swooned in June prompting Edwin Rodriguez's resignation. However, it would appear another McKeon miracle is not in the offing.
My Prediction: Division Winner - Chicago Cubs, NL Wild Card - Houston Astros
This one we can pretty much throw out the window.
The Cubs and Astros are at the bottom of the division. In fact, the Astros own the worst record in MLB.
Nevertheless, this is the most exciting division in baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are tied for the AL Central lead with the Pittsburgh Pirates only a game out of first place. That sentence has not been written about the Pirates in a very, very long time.
Although the defending NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds have lost seven of their last ten, they are still very much in the mix making it a four team race.
My Prediction: San Francisco Giants
The defending World Series champion Giants go into the All-Star break with a three game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks. I thought the D'Backs would improve this season but I didn't expect them to do this well. Kirk Gibson is another NL Manager of the Year candidate.
Then again the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers have underachieved while the San Diego Padres have not recovered from last year's collapse which prompted the Giants to win the division en route to their first World Series title in 56 years.
On a side note, my sister Sarah has become a Giants fan. Well, at least when Tim Lincecum is the starting pitcher. This represents the biggest surprise of the 2011 MLB season.
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