American League East:
Heading into this season it appeared that any team had a chance to win this division and that this was the closest division in baseball. My final predictions from top to bottom were Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles. Here is where my predictions stand:
When we reviewed Toronto, I told Blue Jays fans to expect the best, especially from Jose Reyes. Unfortunately, Jose Reyes has been hurt for the greater part of the season and did not return until late June. Without Reyes and with a somewhat surprisingly shaky pitching staff, the Jays have languished in last place. The Jays were able to win 11 straight in mid June and climb back to within 6 games of first but a poor series in Boston to end the month hurt them in the standings. The Jays are long out of the race and will need to look to next year. In the annual preview you may recall that I mentioned it may be the last chance for Rickey Romero. Unfortunately Romero has pitched in only two games, both starts, and lasted a combined 4 1/3, He allowed six runs in the four innings and was charged with a loss in both. Romero is currently in the minors trying to find the formula that made him a top prospect in the majors. Fortunately for the Jays fans the ownership seems to believe in sticking it out with this group. After a year of playing together next year could be a drastic improvement.
First Half Grade: D- (this is not at all what they had planned)
My original preview had the Rays third behind New York and Toronto but after severe injuries to the Yankees, the final prediction was the Rays in second behind Toronto. The Rays hovered in the middle of the division for most of the season but are still within striking distance, even having spent some time in first place. Joe Maddon has again found ways to win despite losing major pieces of the team in the off season. Even with David Price suffering through injuries, Fernando Rodney no where near as effective as last year and Evan Longoria hurting his leg in late June, the Rays have stayed near the division lead. In the yearly preview I mentioned that it was time for James Loney to step up and he has. As of the end of June, Loney had a .309 average, 9 HR and 39 RBI. That has since gone up to .314 with 10 HR and 55 RBI.
First Half Grade: B (about as expected but overcoming the injuries to Longoria and Price makes me believe Maddon will never run out of magic tricks.)
This has been a tough year for the Yankees. People were not exactly ecstatic when the Yankees picked up Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. The three less than appreciated players did a lot to keep the Yankees in the pennant race, although they slowed down after mid June. For the most part the players you expect to be great (Sabathia, Cano, Rivera) are great but Pettite, Phil Hughes and Ichiro are well below what the Yankees need. Although Brett Gardner has not done great things as I had predicted, he is having a solid season hitting above .280 at the end of June (although that has now dropped to .270). The big issue for the Yankees all year has been injuries. Jeter, Texeiria, Granderson, ARod and Youkilis have all missed the majority of the season. Given the A-Rod distraction and the patchwork lineup, what this season has shown more than anything, is the talent of manager Joe Girardi. Even with all this, they are still not out of the playoff race yet. They are a long shot to make it but there is always that Yankees mystique.
First Half Grade: B+ (although the numbers don't reflect it this team has achieved better than could be expected with the number of players missing time. It is not a playoff team but they should be proud of what they have accomplished with so little consistency).
I told you at the beginning of the year that any team could win this division but Boston was probably the least likely of all. I told you that this was a rebuilding year but so far I have been completely wrong. The Red Sox have led the division most of the season and have had somewhat surprising success. Their offense is being led by Pedroia and Ortiz. I had told you in the season preview that it was time for Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz to step up. Fortunately for the Red Sox, both of them have. There are two issues looming over the Red Sox: injuries and closer. The team has seen Lackey, Lester and Bucholz struggle with injuries which could mean struggles in the late parts of the long season. Their big pickup at the trade deadline was Jake Peavey who is amazing when healthy but rarely healthy. The closer position is currently up in the air. With Joel Hanrahan out Andrew Bailey was asked to fill the role but it did not work out. Koji Uehara is currently the closer but how he will handle the rest of the year could define how this season ends for the Sox.
First Half Grade: A (Well above expectations but injuries could prove costly in the long season)
Last season the Orioles some how found a way to win. Close games, extra innings, dramatic wins. They did it all with a rotation that was never truly set. I told you in the preview that this was not a formula that can work again and that the instability of the rotation was a reason the Orioles were unlikely to compete for the top spot again this year. The Orioles have already used 14 starting pitchers, their closer is 3-7 and has not had the same success as last year, and Matt Wieters is struggling at the plate. So they're in last place right? Actually, thanks to Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado the Orioles are only 2.5 behind the Wild Card and with the Red Sox injuries the Orioles are poised to make a charge. I had told you not to expect too much from Manny Machado but I could not have possibly been more wrong. Machado can seemingly do everything. The absolute star of the season to this point is Chris Davis he leads the league in Home Runs and is already past the 100 RBI mark. The lesson you should take away from all this: Never question Buck Showalter EVER!
First Half Grade: A (They are fighting for a Wild Card spot and if Wieters can find his swing this team is dangerous)
American League Central
In the preseason preview I told you that the division would look this way at the end of the season: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins. The Tigers looked like they would run away with the division. There are both surprises and disappointments in this division. Here is where my predictions stand:
The Tigers are now starting to break away from the rest of the division but the Indians hung around much longer than expected. Detroit's offense is about where we thought it would be. Although Prince Fielder is not on pace to be the MVP as I predicted, his numbers are strong. On pace for the MVP award, however, is Miguel Cabrera. Although he has fallen slightly behind Chris Davis in Home Runs, he is still in the running for a second straight Triple Crown and could be a serious threat to Hack Wilson's 190 RBI (or Hank Greenberg's 183 AL Record. That's right. I found another way to get Hank Greenberg into an article.) Austin Jackson struggled through some injuries early but the combination of Jackson and Hunter at the top of the lineup has been a big part of the Tigers success. Torii Hunter, although not putting up Cabrera type numbers, continues to be a positive influence on the team and should receive a few votes as MVP for his leadership. The biggest pleasant surprise for the Tigers in Max Scherzer. At 17-1 it would be hard to find a pitcher who deserves a vote ahead of Scherzer for the Cy Young at this point. The big issue for the Tigers is closer. They have already gone through several, including another attempt to get Jose Valverde back on track, but have yet to find an answer. The results of their decision on who will close will decide their fate in history.
First Half Grade: B+ (the closer situation is the only thing keeping this team from being complete)
This had been a huge disappointment of a season until the All Star Break. They certainly are not out of the playoff race and they have started to turn things around, but this team was in danger of falling by the wayside. The Royals sent their top prospect, Wil Meyers, to Tampa Bay in exchange for Wade Davis and James Shields. The Royals made an organizational decision that they were close to the playoffs and the pitching would put them over the top. Although Shields and Davis have pitched relatively well the offense has not supported them, leading to average numbers. Ervin Santana has pitched well but has not been enough to lead the Royals to the top of the division. For the division preview I told you that the Royals success was dependent on their young players meeting their potential together. The start of the season did not have anywhere near the results they expected leading to the firing of the Hitting Coach and replacing him with Royals legend George Brett. Winning 16 of 18 has put them right back in the race for a Wild Card spot and possibly even the divison. The Royals are still within striking distance but the bats will need to stay hot if they are going to make the playoffs.
First Half Grade: C (With the exception of the last month the Royals' offense has been very disappointing)
Indians: Cleveland is a very interesting team. Justin Masterson at 13-8 is the best pitcher on the team. No other pitcher has more than 8 wins. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA over 4.00 but has a winning record. Mark Reynolds is tied for the team lead in Home Runs but is hitting .215, passed the 100 strikeout mark by the All Star Break and was just released. The closer position has been in flux but Chris Perez has 17 saves. Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Drew Stubbs have been running all over the base paths but the team Home Run numbers are not particularly impressive. What the Indians are doing is what good winning teams do. They find ways to win without relying on the Home Run. There is an old cliche that says "speed never slumps" and the way the Indians are playing they are using it to their advantage. The Indians are definitely for real. A four game sweep by the Tigers hurt but if they can get consistent pitching from Jimenez and the closer position the Tigers may have a season long competition.
First Half Grade: B+ (Terry Francona has this team playing well and believing they can win)
White Sox: My season preview told you that the White Sox might want to start looking at rebuilding. I told you it would be tough for Tyler Flowers to fill the shoes of Pierzynski, that Dunn's numbers would come down, that Chris Sale would not have the same success as last year, that Jake Peavey needed to stay healthy and that Paul Konerko would be his normal spectacular self. As of the end of June I can see that I was right on nearly all of these. At the beginning of August, Dunn has good power numbers but is hovering around .200 and over 100 strikeouts. Chris Sale is only 7-11 but his ERA is good and his strikeout numbers are high. Tyler Flowers is hitting near .200, has allowed 7 Passed Balls and has seen the White Sox pitchers make 23 Wild Pitches. Finally, Konerko has been good for a normal human but below his normal superman numbers. White Sox GM Ken Williams, who never admits defeat, has just about thrown in the towel and may be looking to start rebuilding by selling off some pieces. This team sent Jake Peavey and Alex Rios away in trades making it clear that they are in the early stages of rebuilding.
First Half Grade: F (the White Sox are struggling badly and dealing with injuries in the pitching staff. This team may look completely different by next season.)
Twins: I will start the Twins first half recap by saying simply this: I was wrong. I'm sorry. The Twins are very similar to the Indians in many ways. Their numbers are not eye catching. They are not a team that anyone really looks at in the playoff picture but the Twins hung in contention much longer than expected. At the end of June they were only 5.5 out of the Wild Card and 7 games behind Detroit. Realistically they are not going to be a playoff team but they are definitely having a good, fun season. Joe Mauer has come back healthy and is hitting like his old self. Also, thankfully, Justin Morneau is having a good season. His power numbers are not quite where the Twins want them but he has been playing consistently and his average is at .265. We can only hope that Morneau has recovered from his health issues that have slowed him in the last few years. Honestly, baseball in Minnesota is better with Morneau in the lineup (though he may end up as a season waiver trade).
First Half Grade: C- (Much better than expected but still not a legitimate playoff contender).
American League West:
This division is the one that looks least like what I had expected at the start of the season. At the beginning of the year I told you it would look like this: Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Astros. I also told you that there would be a major separation between the Angels and the rest of the division. Here's how my predictions are shaping up:
Angels: The thing that I had mentioned could be their downfall has been. Their pitching, especially the bullpen, has faltered. The surprising thing is the lack of run production by the offense. Josh Hamilton has had a horrible season, although he was starting to heat up at the end of June. Pujols was dealing with a foot injury since opening day that slowed his production and now has ended the year prematurely. In the preseason I wondered if this was the last chance for Joe Blanton. His 2-10 record and 5.07 haven't helped his case at all and he has lost his spot in the rotation. He seemingly pitches very well for the first four or five innings and then hits a poor stretch that does him in and Angels fans have voiced their displeasure. Jared Weaver's injury and C.J. Wilson's performance below his normal quality, have hurt the Angels. Jason Vargas, picked up from Seattle for Kendrys Morales, is injured and may not be back this season while Ryan Madson, signed to be the closer, still hasn't appeared in a game. Howie Kendrick injured his knee at the end of July and landed on the DL. With all those negatives it would be hard to expect a team to stay in contention. The Angels have fallen 13 games behind Oakland and 12 behind the Wild Card leader. Without Pujols or Kendrick don't expect a miracle charge from the Angels.
First Half Grade: F (they just can't seem to avoid beating themselves)
I have to start off this part the same way I did with the Twins. I apologize to all A's fans for questioning the team's chances. In the preview article I told you that the A's had lost too many people from last season and had not replaced them with reliable players. I was clearly wrong on this. Coco Crisp, Bartolo Colon and Brandon Moss are having great seasons and although Cespedes and Reddick's numbers don't reflect it the same way they did last season, they are making significant contributions to something special happening in Oakland. The A's are once again fighting for the division lead. Injuries, especially to Crisp have led to them falling off but they are still the favorite for this division.
First Half Grade: A (just like last year they are just finding a way to win)
Even more so than the A's and Twins, I was way off on my season prediction with Texas. I told you in the season preview that the Rangers had little chance to make the playoffs. By consistently losing key players, specifically Hamilton and Michael Young, and with reported in-house fighting, the Rangers looked to be a team on the verge of implosion. The Rangers are getting great contributions from newcomers Justin Grimm and Leonys Martin as well as getting the normal contributions from Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler. Mitch Moreland is finally having the type of season the Rangers have expected of him. Last season the Rangers got off to the same quick start but wilted down the stretch. Keep an eye on Yu Darvish who is off to a great start but last year faltered badly in the second half. Also keep an eye on the the offense as Nelson Cruz was among the players suspended for the rest of the season for PED use. The Rangers lost a big part of their offense without Cruz. They picked up Alex Rios from the White Sox but he may not be enough to replace Cruz.
First Half Grade: B+ (There is still a long way to go in the season but so far the Rangers have certainly surprised me).
The Mariners are about where everyone thought they would be. There was a slight possibility, if Texas and Oakland faltered, that the Mariners could surprise us but it hasn't happened. Felix Hernandez has been strong and Hisashi Iwakuma has been a big surprise. Injuries to Mike Morse and Franklin Gutierrez and no everyday player hitting as high as .280 as of the end of June, the Mariners have fallen into their normal position at the bottom of the division. It would take a major turn around to see the Mariners make a jump into serious contention.
First Half Grade: D (this team had a chance to surprise us but the offense in the first half was dreadful)
Let's all be honest about this. The Astros are a bad team right now. The good news is they are not as bad, through the first half, as we thought they would be. As of the end of June they were 17 games behind first place and 13 out of the Wild Card. There are some strong performers on the team who make this a fun team to watch but there is only one truly great player on this team: Jose Altuve. Altuve is one of the best second basemen in the league but gets very little attention because of how bad the team is.
First Half Grade: F (They are not as bad as we expected but they are a long way from good)
Updated postseason picks:
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
Wild Cards: Rays, Royals
Wild Card Round: Royals over Rays (James Shields will beat his old team)
ALDS: Tigers over Rangers
ALDS: Red Sox over Royals
ALCS: Tigers over Red Sox
World Series: Dodgers over Tigers
Updated Awards picks:
MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Tigers
ANSWER TO LAST WEEK'S QUESTION:
There were no correct answers to last week's trivia question, although TJD did get half of the answer correct. Fred Lynn of the Red Sox won the MVP and Rookie of the Year award in 1975. It would not happen again until 2001 when Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP award.
NEW TRIVIA QUESTION:
Max Scherzer of the Tigers should get plenty of votes for the Cy Young Award. How many times prior to this season has a Tigers' Pitcher won the Cy Young Award?