Friday, July 17, 2009

Baseball's Second Half Forecast

All World All Sports Blogs

-Digger's Daily-

Today's segment features the American League.

2009 has been a wild ride for many Major League teams (current standings). A couple of teams began this season on fire (Kansas City, Texas) while others hit road bumps early on (Angels, Yankees). MLB's 2nd half promises to be filled with action packed rivalries as teams jockey for playoff contention. Lets get right to my 2nd half AL forecast:

BOSTON RED SOX - Boston, like so many teams this year, has battled injuries all season long to key players. Their resiliency to play through tough times is a testament to how well these guys pick up the slack when key players are missing or underperforming. Perennial slugger David Ortiz was horrendous for most of the first half. Injuries to Dice K, Smoltz, Lugo and Lowell threatened to derail their playoff chances in a very tough division. Manager Terry Francona has been masterful filling the holes and motivating players. Red Sox have completely dominated arch rival Yankees (9-0). "The Curse" is long gone.

NEW YORK YANKEES - Baseball's biggest payroll had a very tough April. New Yankee Stadium has given up home runs at an alarming rate and is no longer a home field advantage. The billion dollar taxpayer funded spectacle has been ridiculed all season long by local press and fans. New star pitchers Sabathia & Burnett were shelled early on and have yet to live up to their billing. Fan favorite Andy Pettitte has been getting shelled in home games. Defense was suspect and star home run hitter Alex Rodriguez was demonized after the public found out he was a one time steroid junkie. Yankees seem to have overcome these obstacles and are now coming on strong thanks to powerful hitting. The only difference between 1st & 2nd place has been their inability to beat Boston. It's going to be a real dog fight to the finish for both teams trying to capture the AL East. Experience should net Yanks a wild card birth... unless Texas Rangers finally figure out how to win in summer months.

TAMPA BAY RAYS - They stunned the baseball world in '08. Rough road in '09 until recent times. They're now in a position to challenge for AL East crown. Very balanced and talented team could stun the world again if they're able to successfully trade for Toronto's ace Roy Halladay. Tampa's name has not been mentioned in rumors. Pitching inconsistency, a strength last year, will doom them unless a deal or second half surge comes to light.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES - Young players and improved pitching finally shed a glimmer of hope for future success. Baltimore was one of the better franchises until Angelos took over. A perennial challenging team quickly hit rock bottom. They're finally on the verge of rising if young talent continues to improve. O's can play spoilers against teams taking them for granted. Key players to watch: Bergeren, Scott, Roberts, Huff (trade bait), Markakis & Wieters.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS - Cito Gaston's club was 15-9 in April. They haven't had a winning month since. Jays seem willing to ditch their season by announcing readiness to trade ace Halladay. Once they do, last place is guaranteed. If he remains, Toronto has a shot at 4th place. Lack of game to game clutch hitting has sucked life from East's early season leaders.

DETROIT TIGERS - Leyland is a no nonsence manager. He has no problems benching underperformering million dollar stars (Ordonez, Willis) which is a trait seldom seen anymore. Kudos to Leyland. Tigers play great at home (27-13) but haven't been as fortunate on the road (21-26). Verlander, Jackson and Porcello have been steady hurlers. Finding another starting pitcher would distance Detroit from challengers Chicago & Minnesota. If ownership financial status is sound then they should do whatever they can to get Halladay or another bonified starting pitcher or proven reliever. These guys can hit, run & field. They're most balanced team in Central. How far they go in playoffs boils down to how hot they are when post-season play begins.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX - Sox fans are waiting for a hot streak. Guillen's team looks good one day, horrific the next. Starting pitching hasn't been up to snuff. Hitters not coming through in clutch situations. Combined, this is a bad formula. Star slugger Quentin should be coming off of DL soon which should help energize their attack even though he had a miserable first half. Difference between winning and losing has been a terrible team on base percentage. Hitters wild swings and lack of plate discipline allows opposing starters to be well rested deep into games. Their best move might be to find a new hitting coach.

MINNESOTA TWINS - Twins only shot is if starting rotation turns it around. Alarming ERA's and home run rates produced thus far would've had most teams clawing to get out of the cellar. Timely hitting and one of baseball's best managers has kept this team afloat. For how long? Final year in Metrodome. Twins would like to go out in style. Sometimes, we don't always get what we want. Twins should never be underestimated... however, this particular squad can't be counted on either. In my book, their only shot at Central crown is if Detroit falls apart.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS - Came out of spring training ready to rumble racing to the division lead through 29 games (18-11). Injuries to key hot players sent these guys on a tailspin (Soria, Crisp). KC is another lacking plate discipline. I had hoped they were to become 2009's version of Tampa's 2008 success story. Close the book, these guys are cooked.

CLEVELAND INDIANS - Many predicted '09 was to be Cleveland's year. Not quite. Indians pitching staff is one of baseball's worst from top to bottom showing no signs of hope for remaining games. Cleveland's lone highlight was a 22-4 demolition of New York in Yankee Stadium.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS - Patience has been key for LA. Scoscia is one of games best field generals. Early season injuries to key players might have led to many teams imploding. Not these guys. 20-8 in last 28 after treading water in seasons first month. Angels will be a force to be reckoned with in playoffs. These guys are good. Very deep and talented in all facets of the game. Rumored to be in the Halladay sweepstakes. Could be unstoppable if they get their man.

TEXAS RANGERS - Texas can slug it out with any team. Heavy hitting lineup with power from top to bottom. Deep bench. One key fundamental element which has never been preached and needs to be now if Rangers want to play in post-season. Patience at the plate during scorching 100+ degree home games in Arlington. Rangers have baseball's best home field advantage. Heat! It's quite simple. Make opposing pitchers throw pitches and they'll wilt in the Texas oven. No question about it. Work the count. Create hitters counts, wear down hurlers and win. It's a recipe for success. For the most part, their bullpen has been very effective. Starters strikingly more consistent than recent past campaigns. Texas has dominated division foes so far. Rangers have a very good shot at a wild card birth if they can stay hot. If LA slips, these guys might surprise. As the saying goes... "Don't mess with Texas"

SEATTLE MARINERS - Rollercoaster season. Win a few, lose a few. Starting pitchers rebounded from a disasterous '08 keeping M's in games. Ichiro continues to get on base batting .360 but has only scored 45 runs. A clear sign clutch hitting is still lacking. They're in the spoilers seat for key September matchups vs LA & Texas. If they can stay close, which I seriously doubt, then perhaps they can sneak into the playoffs. I have them pegged for a distant third.

OAKLAND A's - At one point in time, during spring training, I thought Oakland had a legit shot at winning this division. Unfortunately for Bay area fans, these guys have been flat all season long. They'll probably look to unload high salary players. However, since very few have played up to their price tag coupled with most MLB teams in spending lockdown modes.. this will become a difficult task.

Projected Award Winners:
MVP - Kevin Youkilis (BOS)
CY YOUNG - Josh Beckett (BOS)
ROOKIE - Andrew Bailey (OAK)
MANAGER - Jim Leyland (DET)

Stay tuned for NL 2nd half forecast.......

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