With the All Star break at hand this is an appropriate time to review the forecasts made prior to the start of the season and assess the chances of the teams that were predicted to make the playoffs.
Back at the end of spring training the predictions in this column called for the American League Division winners to be Toronto, Detroit and the LA Angels, with Tampa Bay and the Chicago White Sox edging past Boston and Kansas City to earn the two Wild Cards.
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In the National League, Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco were the predicted Division winners while Philadelphia and the LA Dodgers were forecast to earn Wild Cards, with Atlanta falling just short.
To say the least, those predictions are not looking all that good as the teams take a four-day break from regular season play. Of course there are still just under 79 games remaining before the Playoffs begin and much can happen over the final two and a half months of the regular season.
Of these predictions the worst was clearly the selection of the White Sox to earn a Wild Card in the AL. The Pale Hose are in the midst of a terrible season and only lowly Houston has a record worse than the Sox in the AL.
The other AL Wild Card selection, Tampa Bay, is in excellent position to contend for both a Wild Card and the AL East title. The Rays enter the break holding the first Wild Card and just 2½ games behind Boston in the AL East.
The Red Sox were predicted to fall just short of earning a Wild Card but have been at or near the top of the AL East. Last season’s chaos is a distant memory and the Sox are poised to be in contention over the balance of the season, although their starting pitching is currently not at the same level it was back in April and May.
Clay Buchholz remains sidelined but veteran John Lackey has enjoyed a resurgence this season and should be among the contenders for the AL Cy Young Award.
Toronto has been a major disappointment and has been unable to capitalize on its recent 11-game winning streak. The Jays enter the break 11½ games out of first place in the AL East in last place. The Blue Jays are a longshot to make the post season with all four teams above them fashioning winning records, including the fourth place Yankees who are 5½ games ahead.
Thanks to another possible Triple Crown season for Miguel Cabrera, Detroit does indeed lead the AL Central but the Tigers have been unable to shake free of Cleveland. The Indians will start play later this week just 1½ games behind the Tigers. Over the balance of the season Detroit’s depth should enable them to create a gap between themselves and the rest of the Division.
Third place Kansas City was predicted to challenge for a Wild Card, but at 43-49 have been disappointed and are unlikely to mount enough of a challenge to contend for the playoffs come September.
The LA Angels dug an early hole from which it has been tough to recover. Yet at 5 games below .500 heading into the break have to be considered to still have a realistic chance based on their talented roster.
The Angels will have a chance to make a move this weekend as they host AL West-leading Oakland for a three game series. Oakland is showing that last season’s Division title was no fluke while Texas has been a surprise contender given the personnel losses they’ve suffered over the past couple of seasons.
Note there is no outstanding team in the American League with no team playing .600 baseball. Boston has the league’s best mark, 58-39, slightly better than Oakland’s 56-39.
The situation is slightly better as far as the above predictions are concerned although none of the current Division leaders are among the teams forecast to make the Playoffs. The closest is Atlanta, currently leading the NL East, but forecast to just miss the Wild Card.
Washington, the predicted Division winner, has been right around .500 for most of the season and still figures to be a contender given the strength of their top three starting pitchers.
Philadelphia was predicted to earn a Wild Card. The Phils are back within a game of .500, just 5½ out of the second Wild Card. That’s a gap that can be closed in just a couple of weeks with a hot streak and the Phils have shown signs in recent weeks of being poised for such a run.
Cincinnati was predicted to win the NL Central and still figure to be in contention all the way even though entering the All Star break in third place, five games behind first place St. Louis.
The Cards were not in my list of predicted Playoff teams but have played consistently all season. They have the best record in all of baseball (57-36) but are just a game ahead of perhaps the biggest surprise over the first half of the season, Pittsburgh.
The Pirates have teased us each of the past two seasons as they seek their first winning season since 1992. Perhaps two years of late summer collapses have strengthened the Pirates’ collective resolve and perhaps even making the Playoffs as a Division winner. They’ve gotten outstanding pitching up and down the staff but they still have to show they have staying power, unlike in 2011 and 2012.
The NL West is baseball’s most intriguing Division and the 8½-game gap between first place Arizona and last place San Diego is the smallest of any Division. The 6½-game gap between the first place Diamondbacks and fourth place San Francisco is second only to the AL East’s 6-game margin between first and fourth place.
After struggling for most of the season the Dodgers, buoyed by the call up of Yasiel Puig, have managed to get back to .500 and begin post All Star play just 2½ games out of first. They have the most talented roster of any team in the Division and should ultimately win the NL West and make the Playoffs.
San Francisco, the other choice from the NL West to make the Playoffs, has floundered of late. The Giants enter the break 8 games below .500. Their experience suggests they have a run in them and should not be counted out even if standing 6½ games out of the Division lead and 9½ out of the second Wild Card.
We know there will be some teams that will enjoy some hot streaks over the balance of the season and a couple of 5-2 weeks makes it easy for teams to climb the standings.
The time tested adage of “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” holds especially true in baseball, particularly when it comes to fatigue on the part of pitching staffs where depth becomes a determinative factor.
And depth will be an issue addressed by contending teams over the next two weeks as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches at the end of the month.
Much like the situation at the start of the season, the four-day All Star break allows managers to rearrange their starting rotation so many managers may be able to have their top three starters pitch the first three games out of the break. Hopefully that means we should enjoy some very good baseball this weekend.
Here’s a look at four series of interest heading out of the All Star break.
Dodgers at Nats: The Dodgers took 2 of 3 games when these teams met in Los Angeles in mid May. The UNDER went 2-1 as the teams scored just 14 total runs. Both teams have solid starting pitching but with hitting that have been below average.
Washington has averaged nearly a run more per game at home than on the road while the Dodgers average just 3.4 rpg at home but 4.3 rpg on the road. The Dodgers have the better lineup, but most would give a considerable managerial edge to the Nats’ Davey Johnson over Don Mattingly.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7 or higher involving the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, HJ Ryu or Rickey Nolasco facing Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann; Dodgers +125 or more against Strasburg, Gonzalez or Zimmermann; Dodgers -120 against other Washington starters; Nationals +150 or more against Kershaw.
Pirates at Reds: Pittsburgh has won 6 of the 10 games played between these teams this season. Both teams have gotten excellent pitching. The Pirates have been baseball’s biggest money makers this season, up over 11 units of profit at home and more than 12 on the road! Cincinnati has the more potent offense although it has been very inconsistent at time.
The Reds’ average of 4.7 runs per game at home is second only to Colorado in the NL. Francisco Liriano has been Pittsburgh’s ace thus far and could well earn Comeback Player of the Year honors at season’s end. Jeff Locke and A J Burnett have also put up solid stats. Cincinnati’s rotation has been awesome with all six pitchers with a least 10 starts posting ERA’s of 3.81 or lower and WHIPs below 1.30. That gives the Reds a huge edge when it comes to the 4/5 spots in the rotation.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup, Pirates -120 or less or as underdogs in a start by Liriano. Reds -130 or less not facing Liriano.
Yankees at Red Sox: These teams meet in Boston for the first time this season after the Red Sox won 4 of the 6 games played thus far at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox and Yankees have averaged a combined 7.8 runs per game. The Yankees continue to battle injuries to the lineup which is averaging just 3.6 runs per game at home and a somewhat better 4.3 rpg on the road but well below what we’ve seen from the Bronx Bombers in the past.
Boston is averaging over 5 runs per game both at home and on the road. Hiroki Kuroda is the only Yankees starter with an ERA below 4.00 (2.66) while age seems to have caught up to Andy Pettitte and is rapidly catching up to CC Sabathia.
Recommended plays: Red Sox -125 not facing Kuroda; Red Sox -140 or less in starts by John Lackey, Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz; Yankees +125 or more not facing Lackey, Lester or Buchholz; UNDER 8 or higher if Lackey faces Kuroda or Phil Hughes; OVER 8.5 or lower if Lackey, Kuroda and Hughes are not involved.
A’s at Angels: Oakland has won 5 of 6 games between these Division rivals this season. All 6 games have gone OVER as the Athletics and Angels have averaged a combined 13.7 runs per game! The Angels have relied on a patchwork rotation with injuries sidelining ace Jered Weaver for an extended period of time and now with Jason Vargas on the DL. Oakland has seen only one starter out due to injury with their 5 current starters accounting for 90 of Oakland’s 95 starts.
Bartolo Colon has been the ace of the Oakland staff with the other four starters putting up solid stats within a very narrow range of one another. The Angels’ Weaver has been displaying more of his old form in recent starts but, aside from the injured Vargas, only C J Wilson has been an effective starter. The Angels have the better lineup although Oakland has been more productive on the road than at home. The Angels have been money burners at home and their 14 units of losses at home is second to the Mets’ home performance. Oakland has shown a modest profit on the road of just over 3 units.
Recommended plays: A’s +140 or more in any matchups; Angels -130 or less in starts by Weaver or Wilson against any Oakland starter; OVER 7.5 or lower in starts not involving Weaver or Colon; UNDER 8 or higher in a start by either Weaver or Colon.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]