MLB Midway Point: The A.L.
By Chris Cause
The American League has had plenty of intrigue, but not a lot of surprises by the break. Early on, there have been some good stories (Texas hanging tough & Toronto’s fast start), some disappointments (Cleveland Rocks…the cellar!) and plenty of predictions for the AL East, AL Central, and AL West that are very much alive.
So I caught some homer flack for picking the Red Sox to win this division. It’s only the halfway point, so I won’t cue my personal Shaq chorus to quiz anyone on the state of their taste buds. (Yet.) But how about having the most competitive division in baseball pegged! They are currently in the exact order I had them. And I don’t see it changing. The Red Sox have the best team. Top to bottom, offense, pitching, bullpen, and prospects – they have it all. And that’s while missing their 3rd baseman for a month, essentially their DH for 2 months, and their 3rd starter the whole season. Even after all that, they don’t need to make a move, especially since no one else in the AL has. There will be talk about Roy Halladay, but only because they have the prospects and the money, but it’s highly unlikely. (But a postseason rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, AND Halladay?!?! For. Get. It.) Probably, the same goes for the Yankees, but they don’t shy away from a big move. The two top teams are actually well matched in line up and starting pitching. The difference is the bullpen. The Red Sox have the best bullpen in MLB and the Yankees have…Mariano Rivera. Phil Hughes has helped out lately in the 8th, but a call to Phil Coke or Alfredo Aceves in a tie game in the 7th has to make Yankees fans feel like they’re at a TMZ pitch meeting and Sean Penn walks in. Its going to go bad, it’s just a matter of how. Look for Brian Cashman to try and pry a pseudo-closer away from a non-contender and put him in the set up role. The same is true for the Rays. Tampa Bay continues to have a talented squad that’s even deeper than last year’s team, with players like Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett. If the Rays were able to pull off a really big move, a Halliday, we’ll call it, they become a very, very scary team. But a bullpen move is much more likely and would really stabilize that situation, since that is the main difference between last year’s breakthrough season and this one. To the Blue Jay Fan who wrote that I’m an idiot in the original preview’s comments? Toronto hung in there for a while and you have to be happy with the emergence of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. Losing so many pitchers to injury had to really hurt though. Oh, and one more thing…I was RIGHT! Suck on it! (So ugly. I apologize.) Let’s see if they get enough for Halliday, especially since they won’t let other teams negotiate a contract extension. And the Orioles might not be as bad as I thought. For 2 straight years, I thought they would challenge the all time loss record. The good thing is that they are using this season to get their young guys some experience. (So Melvin Mora and Greg Zaun? You have a phone call in the manager’s office.) This division is currently the best in baseball and it’s only going to get better.
Sticking with the pick?: You betcha! As long as New York or Tampa Bay doesn’t get Halladay. And even then…
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Yankees – “I don’t know how you can make a case that this team is significantly better than not only last year’s team, but also the 2 teams that finished higher then they did last year.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Blue Jays – ” The team says they’ll never trade [Halladay], but if they’re 20 games out at the All-Star break and ol’ Roy goes to management and says, “I gotta see what it’s like to win before it’s too late,” then Halliday becomes the most sought after trade deadline gem of 2009.” You got me. They’re 10 games out…
Another wide open division with no clear power team. I went with the White Sox and they are still less than 3 games back, and dying to make a move. They had the trigger pulled on Jake Peavy, but Peavy jammed that shot by vetoing the trade. Nevertheless, I think GM Kenny Williams finds a big deal out there. He’s the Michael Bay of Trades. They don’t always make sense, but boy, are they big. Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen know this division is there for the taking, so I still say they take advantage of opportunity. While I did not think the Tigers would win or even be close, I didn’t think they’d be as bad as most people did. Pitching heals all wounds, right? The one-two punch of Justin Verlander and now Edwin Jackson are the reason for the Tiger turnaround. And Brandon Inge covering himself in “Less Suck” lotion. (Good stuff there. It’s Aveeno. Good for your skin, too.) The Tigers are blending in the remaining stock of their farm system as well, but they have to figure out something to do with Magglio Ordonez. Just don’t have him talk to Dontrelle Willis and his “anxiety disorder”… But Detroit is out of money, so there is no way they can make an impact move, unless it involves packing Ordonez and/or Willis’s bags. The Twins continue to fan the smoke and line up the mirrors by playing some of the most boring fundamental baseball around. Joe Mauer has continued to increase his price tag as he nears free agency in the next 2 years, adding a power stroke to his high average. But we know they won’t make any moves, so they have to hope Scott Baker evens out, Nick Blackburn keeps it up, and Glen Perkins rises up to have a real chance. Kansas City was lining up to be that sweetheart team. The darling of the league. Then…um, yeah. Zack Grienke has been a great story. Carried the team for the 1st 2 months and gave them hope with a microscopic ERA. But the dust has settled and they are faced with the reality that no move in the off-season has worked out, as Coco Crisp is now out for the year and Mike Jacobs’s average and HR totals are less than desired. They would love to get something – anything – for Jose Guillen, but the phone only rings with inquiries on closer Joakim Soria. Soria stays put, but Juan Cruz, Ron Mahay, Kyle Farnsworth (again), and Miguel Olivo could all have new addresses by the end of the month. And speaking of moving sales, it’s astounding that Cleveland hasn’t put price tags on batting helmets by now. Mark DeRosa was moved to St Louis, but he won’t be the only one. Its time to completely blow up a team that was one win away from the World Series just 21 months ago. Grady Sizemore might be the only one who stays. Oh, and Eric Wedge, don’t buy any green bananas. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he was fired tomorrow. But he’s a good manager. He’ll get another chance.)
Sticking with the Pick?: Um…yes. The White Sox are only 3 out and I know they’ll make a personnel move, then a move up the standings. Detroit has no choice but to stand pat and dip in the second half.
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Royals – “Young teams like this need someone, player or manager, to look to for leadership. And without it, they become a floundering team that never fulfills promise and trades off its good pieces to the highest bidder.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Indians – “The 2009 Indians are going to be a tough team to face and will be in Wild Card contention if everything breaks right.”
There they are again – on top. The Angels have found a way to weather the injury storm early. However, they may not clinch in August like last year, since the Rangers have come on faster than expected. The Angels proved last year that they will take a chance on a big time rental possibility, in Mark Teixeira. They won the division, but they could have done that without him. So since he took the money and ran to NY, that gamble didn’t work out. Will that make the Angels gun shy this year? Roy Halliday is available… The Angels strength has always been their pitching particularly the bullpen. However, the rotation is still waiting for the successful return of Ervin Santana (I said successful…) and Kelvim Escobar, and John Lackey is just not the same pitcher he was even 3 years ago. Brian Fuentes has worked out so much better than I thought; leading the AL with 26 saves. (How’s this for stats? Fuentes has 26 saves and the Washington Nationals have 26 WINS! Jeez…) They could use a shot in the pitching staff. So could the Texas Rangers. But Rangers President Nolan Ryan has a plan to lengthen each pitcher in the rotation and they are at least a year ahead of schedule. They are neck-and-neck with the Halos and that’s with Josh Hamilton missing almost the entire first half and Chris Davis swinging-and-missing through the 1st half. Halliday would be incredible leading this staff and they have the prospects to pull off a deal, but they simply don’t have the money. The Mariners have made things interesting, but ultimately they can’t compete with the talent of the two teams above them in the standings. And the Athletics are always a 2nd half team, so their typical surge could carry them…to 3rd place. Their kids are getting plenty of time on the mound, since the average age of their rotation is 22. And just trade Matt Holliday already…
Sticking with the Pick?: Oh yeah. Its hard to see the Rangers keeping it up all year, coupled with the Angels fading. And LA can make a move, Texas can’t.
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Angels – “Bobby Abreu – the best bargain bin pick up of the winter.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Rangers – “Young masher Chris Davis will be an everyday player.” Which is true…only currently it’s in Triple-A…