- Can anyone catch the Red Sox? With a 10-game cushion, it seems unlikely, although it’s never wise to entirely count out the Yankees. The Sox have had their troubles – J.D. Drew has been awful, Curt Schilling is hurt – but they’re still in a comfortable place.
- The Tigers, Indians, Angels and Mariners are within 2.5 games of each other, and only 3 of them can go to the playoffs. I expect the Mariners will get exposed as the season goes on, but the other three are genuinely good teams.
- The class of the National League is, uhh… no one. The NL looks like a strong, balanced league this year. The Padres have the best record (also by a nose), but there are eight teams within 6 games of them, including 3 in their own division – that’s more than half the league within easy striking distance, and only four of them can make the playoffs. I figure the Brewers will still win the Central, and the other three teams will come from the Mets, Braves, Padres and Dodgers – I think I’d pick the Braves to be the odd-team-out at this point.
As I said before, I think it’s a lot harder to overcome a bad start than to lose a good one, and halfway through the season that means the bad teams are just about out of it now:
- The Nationals are bad. We knew that. Let’s move on.
- The Astros are on their way down, after a decade of success and a World Series appearance. It may be a few years before they return to contention, but their fans have to be pretty happy with what they’ve gotten in the recent past – except for the lack of a title.
- I wonder if the Reds know what they’re doing? They threw away Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns last year and now have a middling offense and bad pitching.
- And then there are the Giants, which consist of 42-year-old Barry Bonds and his pursuit of the career home run record, and… uh… Barry Zito’s large contract, and… Matt Morris is having a pretty good year, and… geez… But seriously, like the Astros, the Giants are paying the price for years of excellence and a World Series appearance (which they, too, didn’t win), but the Giants’ flameout is going to be more dramatic and probably more prolonged. The Rockies don’t suck this year, so the Giants are going to finish last in their division, and despite the team signing GM Brian Sabean to a 2-year extension, it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t survive the off-season.
- The Phillies overcame their 1-5 start and are now at .500. They’re not a good team, though: Their offense is good and their pitching is bad, and they tossed Brett Myers into the bullpen for no good reason and then he got hurt. The Phils have been directionless for years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
- Up-and-coming teams? They’re already here: I think the Brewers are probably going to win their divison, the Diamondbacks are probably a year or two away, and the Indians need to figure out the rest of their rotation to have staying power. But all three are contending right now, and all of them could continue to do so into the fall.
I think the Wild Card sucks a lot of drama out of the season (even if it was partly responsible for the Red Sox winning it all in 2004), but there are enough good teams this year that there could still be some great races into September. Really, no one looks like a clear favorite to go to the World Series – even the Red Sox look great mainly by comparison with the rest of their division.