Major League baseball is in trouble. Vegas oddsmakers have set 5-7 odds in favor of a work stoppage and 1-1 odds on the World Series being played this year. With these disturbing possibilities in our minds, the nation’s pastime is closing in on it’s most critical stretch: the upcoming trade deadline followed by the late summer stretch run.
With this in mind, it’s time to take a look inside baseball and predict what the end of the season will hold. But there’s a twist. A second prediction will also be made in which we predict the final standing should the season end on September 16 as a result of a work stoppage. Here goes nothing:
American League East
This is a two-team division. The other three are merely cannon fodder and trade bait. That being said, the dead weight will be the difference in this division. This year’s Red Sox have too much chemistry and overall talent when healthy and weighing in under a ton (yes I mean you, Rich Garces) to collapse again. They will stay in the race throughout August, setting up the pinnacle event in baseball, a September series at Yankee Stadium.
After going 2-1 in the series, the Sox will find themselves less than a handful of games behind with a cake schedule remaining. Only a sudden burst of good play from Toronto, Detroit, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, such as the one that sent the Sox reeling with four straight losses, can keep the Sox from winning 20 games in September.
Unfortunately for Sox fans, the Yankees play the same bad teams. So, after buying every talented player in the AL East not playing in the House-that-Frazee-sold (to the Yankees no less), the Yankees will hold off a hard charging Red Sox teamuntil they get swept in Camden Yards to end the season while the BoSox get new Dennis Leary-style Devil Ray boots in Fenway.
Prediction: Red Sox by one game.
Labor Strike prediction: Yankees by three games
American League Central
I don’t have to write about this division. This division is beneath me. This division isn’t even worth being recognized as existing except for it’s sheer humor in reminding Twins fans that Carl Pohlad is only winning because his team plays in it. Maybe the Yankees can just buy the rest of this division and make it their second farm system.
Prediction: Twins by 25 games
Labor Strike Prediction: Twins by 20 games
American League West
This division is fun. The Rangers are terrible. Enough about them. Two games separate first-place Seattle from third-place Oakland. Throw in Anaheim and there is enough evidence to go back to Bud Selig and hit him with a tack hammer for not being able to win 90 games in Milwaukee with a similar payroll, and in an equally depressing location.
All three teams have problems. Oakland picked up Ted Lilly from New York to try to solve it, yet bounced rookie Aaron Harang from its rotation in the process. Jermaine Dye and David Justice look like they need a vacation at Club Med. Ramon Hernandez and Mark Ellis don’t scare opposing pitching staffs. Yet with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and a seemingly reborn Cory Lidle, they may have the best pitching staff in baseball.
Seattle has Mike Cameron and Bret Boone hitting under .250 and is a few arms short of a windmill. But the Tasmanian Devil and the four-homer-fluke are still producing, and with the return of Edgar Martinez, the M’s look like they actually have a bench, although it is manned only by Ruben Sierra. If they can find a way to pick up a quality reliever to aid Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson in front of Kaz Sasaki, they should go far even if they can’t get more than five innings a game from any starter other than Jamie Moyer.
Anaheim is being beaten by the bug. Time to call in Osmosis Jones! Troy Percival and Darin Erstad have both gone down with mysterious infections, and with Dennis Cook gone for the year and Al Levine hurting, the Disney boys are desperate for pitchers. But they have a solid all-around lineup that has proven to be utterly worthless down the stretch. Tim Salmon will have to prove that he is a real all-star down the stretch and Jarod Washburn will have to prove that he is indeed the best pitcher to wear a halo since Mark Langston and Chuck Finley (but prior to Finley getting beaten up by Tawny Kitaenhe is now the best pitcher to have lost a decision to a plastic heel).
Trades in the next two weeks could irreversibly change the landscape of this division. But the net result is that Anaheim can’t last as overachievers against underachievers in Oakland and a mix of the two in Seattle. Anaheim will fade by the September 1 minor-league call-up date, and Seattle will crumble by strike time. With 14 games played in Oakland in September, the Athletics’ superior pitching should win out and extend their lead into the comfortable realm.
Prediction: Oakland by six games
Labor Strike Prediction: Oakland by one game
National League East
This division belongs to Atlanta. It will forever more be known as the Ted Turner Division. Atlanta is currently ahead by 12.5 games, and is only going to get better when it gets Marcus Giles and Darren Holmes healthy.
The Expos destroyed their team chemistry when they traded for Cliff Floyd, Frank Robinson has doubts about his players, and the team’s pitching is beginning to collapse, other than Bartolo Colon and Javier Vasquez. The Florida Marlins are selling off their team again and aren’t getting much of anything back, at least not anything that will get them more than 85 wins this year. The Phillies have the talent on offense, but are pitching worse than the Springfield Atoms. Oh yeah, they are also trying to unload their best player.
That leaves the New York Mets. The Sons of Valentine once again waited until the All-Star game to play baseball, but they simply lack the game to beat the Braves. A rotation with Steve Trachsel and Shawn Estes does not inspire confidence and the conglomeration of no-names like Mark Corey and Jamie Cerda in the bullpen cannot and will not hold up to the pressures of a pennant race against Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Sheffield and the Jones boys.
Prediction: Atlanta by 7 games
Labor Strike Prediction: Atlanta by 8 games
National League Central
The St. Louis Cardinals are the class of this division. Despite death and disease on their pitching staff and a rash of injuries to their star players, the Cards still lead the division by four-and-a-half games. The return of Andy Benes and acquisition of Chuck Finley will bolster the Cards to new heights as the season winds down. Add in the coming fury of Tino Martinez, stuck in a season-long slump, and the return to form of J.D. Drew after his injury, St. Louis could run away with this division.
The Reds are chasing them, but adding Ryan Dempster has failed miserably, and the loss of Juan Encarnacion will be much maligned if Junior can’t stay healthy and productive this time ’round. Yesterday’s trade for Brian Moehler might work, if only Moehler had thrown 30 innings in the last two years combined. All season the Machine’s offense has been run by their outfielders. Encarnacion is gone and Austin Kearns is coming back down to the fact that he’s a rookie. If Brandon Larson can’t give this team a quick spark, the Reds are headed for Boca Raton really quick.
The Astros and Cubs have been underachievers all season, but seem to be turning it around. If the Killer B’s can get things going at once, and Wade Miller and Peter Munro can pitch this well for the next two months, the Astros will pass the Reds and may yet push the Red Birds to the brink of vacation. Sosa’s studs meanwhile have begun to show some life after the firing of Don Baylor, and behind Kerry Wood, Jon Lieber and Mark Prior, they have the top half of the rotation necessary to make a late run at the division. They don’t have the depth to get there, but they will hit 85 wins and garner me some much needed money from people who believe too much in Junior’s hamstring.
As for the Pirates, they’ve overachieved all year, but they are as likely to make a late surge as Harvard is to resign from the Ivy League. And the Brewers highest goal is keeping Bud’s darling daughter from suffering from too much loneliness in the empty confines of Miller Park.
Prediction: Houston by 2 games
Labor Strike Prediction: St. Louis by 2 games
National League West
The best division in baseball. Except for the Rockies and Padres. Stick a fork in them. They are more done than Pauly Shore. ‘Nuf said.
Onto the real players. The Los Angeles Dodgers have lead the division for much of the year, but have begun to fade. Kasuhisa Ishii and Odalis Perez have lost the form that made them All-Stars, and are beginning to look like middle-of-the-rotation starters at best. Shawn Green is also cooling off, which isn’t making anyone happy. Unless Green pulls an Olaujuwon and pumps up after Rosh Hashanna, the Dodgers are not going to give owner Rupert Murdoch anything to smile about, except for his billions.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have no pitching staff. It’s that simple. Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson and Byung-Hyun Kim. Admittedly a great start. But that’s it. Matt Mantei has been less than dazzling in his return, and Todd Stottlemyre never really made it back. With Johnson tailing off, they will not repeat. Matt Williams’ return could give them a spark, but with Junior Spivey and Damian Miller back to the real world, even the D-Backs’ big O won’t lead them to the big pay day which could save Jerry Colangelo’s bacon.
Thus by process of elimination, we are left with the Giants. They aren’t going to win it all. They simply lack the talent. But Rich Aurilia still isn’t back to form, Reggie Sanders is just getting there, and they have the room to add players in the next two weeks. Now, if only they would look at the numbers and realize that Jeff Kent is almost as important as Barry Bonds. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all.
Prediction: San Francisco by four games.
Labor Strike Prediction: San Francisco by two games.