MLB September Extravaganza: Predictions And Awards
AL East: New York Yankees (83-63), Baltimore Orioles (83-64, 0.5 GB), Tampa Bay Rays (78-69, 5.5 GB)
The Yankees and Orioles were dealt huge injury blows to their offenses in September. For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira aggravated his left calf strain, and will be out at least another week. Nick Markakis, a big presence at the top of the Orioles' lineup, will be out for the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb. The Orioles also lost one of their best pitchers, Jason Hammel, who will miss at least one start because he reaggravated his knee injury.
The Rays' pitching has been phenomenal, especially in the second half of the season. The Rays' Achilles heel has been losing close games. In the Rays' past 17 losses, 10 of them were by one run. They also played six games against the Orioles and Yankees last week, losing five of them including four of those losses by two or fewer runs. All three of these teams have relatively easy schedules this week, with only the Yankees having to face a playoff contender in the Athletics for three games this weekend.
Prediction: The New York Yankees will win the AL East this season. They only have one more series against a playoff contending team left, and they get to watch the Rays and Orioles battle in the final days of the season in a three game series at Tropicana. However, this is really not a dangerous team for the playoffs. Ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia has blown a lead in his past five starts and the lineup (thanks to injuries) is not nearly as strong as it has been in past years.
Both teams have played each other in two big series recently. The Tigers managed to sweep all three games versus White Sox a little over two weeks ago. The two teams split a four game series in Chicago (with the White Sox winning the make-up game Monday). Despite the fact that they have a 12-6 record against the White Sox this season, the Tigers can't feel good that they are still three games back with only 16 left to play.
Unfortunately, because of the rainout on Thursday, baseball fans missed out on another potential Justin Verlander-Chris Sale duel. Both teams will need their aces to have sensational finishes if they have any shot of winning this division.
Prediction: Your 2012 AL Central winner will be the Detroit Tigers. While both aces have been great this season, Verlander is a proven workhouse while Sale is in an innings territory that he's never been near before. And if you look at the schedules, the Tigers play the Indians, Royals, and Twins in 16 of their final 19 games. The White Sox, though, still have seven games left against playoff contenders Rays and Angels.
Amazingly, the Athletics are down just three games against the mighty Rangers, and they still get to face them in seven games down the stretch. The Athletics went a combined 5-2 against the Angels and Orioles last week, further solidifying their status as a contender.
The Rangers have also been doing well of late, thanks to the incredibly hot-hitting Adrian Beltre. Beltre leads baseball with eight September home runs, and he has a ludicrous 14 home runs in his past 26 games. With both Beltre and Josh Hamilton putting up MVP numbers at the middle of this deep Rangers' lineup, it's tough to see the Rangers giving up their current division lead.
Prediction: Texas Rangers easily hang on and are the 2012 AL West champions. Both teams do have very hard schedules, each facing playoff contending teams in all of their remaining series except for one. I would say that baseball fans should be circling the Rangers-Athletics series in the last days of the regular season, but I think that this division will have already been decided by then.
AL Wild Card Predictions: One will come from the AL East and one from the AL West. The Orioles continue to defy logic with their incredible luck regarding close games and getting the most out of utility players. They have even used seven different starting pitchers in their last seven games, and the fact that they clinched their first winning season in 15 years is simply incredible. They also do not have to play another playoff contending team until they face the Rays in the final days of the regular season. Despite the series being played in Tropicana, I think the Orioles will have already locked up one of the wild card spots.
And the other wild card spot will go to... the Los Angeles Angels. The Athletics have the toughest schedule down the stretch, and the Angels (while 4.5 games back of Oakland) simply are superior in talent. While the Angels and Athletics don't play each other for the remainder of the season, the Angels' aces and big bats will pick up the slack. The key for the Angels is to solidify their inconsistent bullpen, which has been prone to meltdowns recently. However, don't doubt manager Mike Scioscia and his ability to motivate a team.
NL Wild Card Predictions: The Braves are also a lock to win the first Wild Card spot, which leaves six teams all within five games of one another for that final spot. The Dodgers still have a series against all three division leaders, and they may have lost ace Clayton Kershaw for the season. Matt Kemp is really struggling of late, and the team has been saved several times by the heroics of Luis Cruz. Also, would you trust a rotation of Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Joe Blanton and Aaron Harang to lead your team to the playoffs? Neither would I.
The Pirates and Brewers have been going opposite directions of late, and they face each other in a huge three-game series this week. I think the Brewers are the better team and will win the series. However, the Brewers then have to face the division-leading Nationals and Reds, which will certainly hurt their playoff chances.
The Pirates' pitching is far too weak for them to contend for a playoff spot this year. The Phillies and Diamondbacks have too many flaws, and are also considerably behind, so I don't think either of those teams makes it.
That leaves the St. Louis Cardinals as the winners for the final NL Wild Card spot. I think this is easily the best team of the bunch, and that they can make some serious noise in the playoffs as well.
AL MVP: Mike Trout -- Even if the Angels don't make the playoffs, he's been absolutely incredible this season and is easily the biggest reason for the Angels' turnaround. Trout has a 10.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) despite being in the minors for the first month of the season, and he's 3.5 wins better than Andrew McCutchen, who has the second-best WAR total.
NL MVP: Buster Posey -- The Giants' catcher has been simply phenomenal after the All-Star break. He has a .390 average, a .464 on base percentage, and a .633 slugging percentage since the Midsummer Classic. The chemistry he's formed with the Giants staff has been instrumental to why Giants' pitchers have been so great this year (besides Tim Lincecum, who actually has been pitching really well of late). Posey gets the recognition he deserves for the Giants' second-half surge.
AL Cy Young: David Price -- He leads the American League in wins (18) and ERA (2.54). He's the ace for the best pitching staff in baseball. This was the year he finally put it all together.
NL Cy Young: Gio Gonzalez -- The toughest award selection for me, as this was down to Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey. But Gonzalez is pitching for a playoff team, and if he can lead the Nationals down the stretch after they shut down Strasburg, I think that this is Gonzalez's award to lose.
AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter -- He can easily be considered the best manager in baseball, he's completely changed the fortunes of now four baseball franchises (Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Orioles). What he's done in Baltimore this season has been nothing short of amazing.
NL Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson -- It's incredible that Johnson has never had a losing season in his managerial career when he's managed a team for an entire season. The Nationals have been baseball's best team this season for a while, and it's been very impressive how Johnson is getting every player to make positive contributions for the team.
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout -- Lock of the century.
NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier -- Another tough decision, but I'm going with the Reds' third baseman over Wade Miley because a position player is more valuable than a starting pitching. And I would pick Frazier over Bryce Harper because Frazier is more consistent and he's been more meaningful to his team. When Joey Votto was on the disabled list, the Reds did not miss a beat on offense, thanks in part to Frazier's great hitting.