Somewhere between 50 and 55 games into the 2015 Major League Baseball season is usually a decent time to get a good look at what these teams really are. It doesn’t mean the last 100 games or so won’t be completely different, but the sample size is worth taking a look into. If you were reading Sports Illustrated or reading columns on ESPN, you probably heard prognosticators do the only thing they could do, guess. But so far most of those dudes aren’t looking too bright and I’m not too certain it was hard to see it.
First, we look at an AL East that was destined, if not due, a down year after several defections of top-tier free agents and managers over the years. Still, it’s been tough to watch this group of teams manage to stay close together when no one has been particularly good thus far. A rag-tag group in Tampa has been towards the top of the division (though that doesn’t mean much in terms of overall record), while managing to make little changes to a roster that was in dire need of offense and end of the rotation arms (or at least until Matt Moore and others come back from injury). The New York Yankees have used a momentary re-emergence by roided out Alex Rodriguez to stay in contention, while aging vets Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley have played well enough to keep the team afloat. Michael Pineda hasn’t gotten injured yet, Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t returned to Japan yet, and CC Sabathia suffered a heart attack yet (that we know of- because he’s fat). Meanwhile, Boston continued to make deals throughout the off-season only to wind up with a mediocre group of big names with little production. Everyone’s been waiting for a down year from David Ortiz (especially after all PED suspensions of other players) and it has finally come. At least he can still talk shit with the best of ’em. And the Fat Panda (isn’t that his nickname) has been disappointing (or what he’s always been) depending on what the general expectations were. And we knew the pitching wasn’t great, but come on. And do I really need to get started on the Toronto Blue Jays? What a joke the club has been the past few years. When clubs are supposed to suck it’s not that big of a deal. When clubs are supposed to compete for championships (or in the least a postseason birth), then sucking is not okay. This is not okay. After swinging and missing with a couple big-name pitchers, the big contract guys are the only ones left and Mark Buerhle has quietly had a solid season to date. R.A. Dickey, not so much. And yet, with a lineup that includes guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, and Josh Donaldson (plus a handful of other above-average talents), the Jays haven’t done anything special. Whoops. I almost skipped the O’s. With Jonathan Schoop out for a while, Matt Wieters finally coming back, and JJ Hardy hurt, it’s hard to believe Baltimore isn’t further behind. The pitching has finally started to pick up but the bats still aren’t there. If the bats come back, then Adam Jones and Company will make a push for the division.
Moving on to the AL Central we will try to be kind of Cleveland fans (especially as they deal with whatever impending outcome of the NBA Finals). But wasn’t this supposed to be the year of the Indians? With the returning Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber and a stacked pitching rotation that has still somehow managed to lead the AL in strikeouts, all that was needed was some big bats to provide just enough runs to win on a regular basis. Unfortunately the Indians have dealt with the injury bug and haven’t gotten great performances out of Michael Bourn or Carlos Santana, though Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley continue to big solid big league resumes. And over in the Windy City there was an actual expectation that maybe Robin Ventura wouldn’t appear to suck at his job (for once). But that has since diminished and the White Sox have continued to play badly. Jose Abreu hasn’t been 100% and he’s still been far and away the best player so far. While that might not sound so bad, it’s not a recipe for a winning record. And after acquiring Jeff Samardzija (I swear I wrote that name before looking at it), the idea of two #1 options at the top of the rotation was cause for enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done great and Chris Sale hasn’t been his usual dominant self. The Detroit Tigers have been suspect at times but are just on their typical trajectory while aimlessly meandering into the depths of mid-season obscurity. Miguel Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes can’t do all the hitting and can’t the pitching (neither can their pitches apparently). The last two months will make break the Tigers, but will it be enough? Did anyone see the Twins coming? Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson lead the way. Let me say that again, Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson lead the way. Who? Pretty sure Torii Hunter just turned 50. How is he playing so well? But there was reason to believe Kansas City would be back to compete. There was cause for concern with the middle relievers, but they might actually be playing BETTER this year. Craziness. We will see how much they miss James Shields if they get into the postseason. None of these starters scare me. Mike Moustakas has found his swing, Kendrys Morales has stayed in shape, and Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and the rest of the gang are doing pretty well.
Looking at the AL West there wasn’t much reason to believe what we already knew would happen again. Mike Trout and LA Angels would be better than everyone else in the division (mostly by default) and no one would pose much of a threat in the postseason. And while that may still prove correct, the Athletics have finally had a down year after all that Billy Beane stuff that somehow managed to work the past million years. The pitching has been very good and some hitters have had solid years but the numbers haven’t matched up well so far. Seattle has had some injuries and tried to make every acquisition possible to win now, but even with good years from Nelson Cruz and King Felix it doesn’t look all that likely. Texas has been okay, though they still lack any pitching. At least they have Prince Fielder. And how are the Houston Astros plugging away? Somehow their pitching has just become a force to be reckoned with. Seriously. These guys are good and they are young. We knew Houston would put it together at some point. But most people figured they were another two years or so away from actual relevance. Instead a team with a collective team batting average of .236 (that’s really fucking bad) has managed to score enough runs (mostly solo home runs in a tiny park) and win games behind very strong pitching outings. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have led the way so far, but look for Lance McCullers to become a pretty big name in the coming months after a handful of impressive performances.
The NL East has been interesting thus far. There’s only one team that’s been picked to do much of anything this year and they’ve dealt with injuries and inconsistencies, but the Washington Nationals have their heads above water and are looking better and better (especially now with Anthony Rendon back from injury). A veteran lineup and a monster season by my least favorite player maybe ever (Bryce Harper) will be more than enough for a talented group of pitchers that have done fairly well thus far in Jeff Zimmerman, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister. And Atlanta has finally had a decent year without tons of injuries. It’s just this wasn’t supposed to be a competitive year. So they’ve done a great job with what they have, they just don’t appear to have all that much. Do I even have to comment on the Phillies? Have they fired their GM yet? Seriously, I don’t know. Well, whatever it needs to happen soon. Miami has had some okay performances from their pitching and if Jose Fernandez ever returns they might have a chance (not a good one) to sniff .500 by the end of the year. But probably not. And hey, Dee Gordon is having a great year and Giancarlo Stanton hits the ball pretty far. So there’s that. Oh yeah, the Mets. What is there to say about them that is kind? I don’t get it. At least the Astros have young talent. The Mets are a bunch of has-beens playing out of their minds right now. And David Wright has been hurt almost the entire year. Strange. Good to see Matt Harvey back and healthy. Not so much for Bartolo Colon.
The Central race is over. The Cardinals could essentially lose out from here on and it wouldn’t be close. Tons of pitching talent plus an insane team ERA (2.62) has got these guys in a big lead that might be insurmountable no matter how early in the game it is. Pittsburgh has been average so far. Their team record is pretty solid, but there’s not much to write home about. Andrew McCutcheon has been solid. Gerrit Cole has had a breakout year thus far and AJ Burnett has experienced a career renaissance as well. Really bad hitting (or missing depending on what way you look at it) and even worse pitching is all you need to know about the Milwaukee Brewers. At least their fans have a decent supply of beer on hand. Brandon Phillips was considered to be past his prime in many regards but he’s having a good year thus far. Not much else can be said for former MVP Joey Votto and other veterans. Johnny Cueto simply isn’t enough for this pitching staff. And how bout them Cubs? Still won’t win the World Series, but they are some cocky SOBs for sure (see: every statement ever in the history of time by Anthony Rizzo). The pitching has been great and their ace, Jon Lester, has been the 3rd or 4th best option. Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Starlin Castro look to play this well for many years to come.
The NL West is still relatively tight with Arizona even sticking around. Only Colorado has shown some wear and tear and that mostly has to do with star Carlos Gonzalez off to a terrible start and the non-existent quality pitching that has eluded this franchise since its beginning. Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock have been lone bright spots for the Diamondbacks in the early season even as the team hovers around breaking even. Chances are they will fall further under as the season wears on. The Giants have played some quality small ball and done very well in the past month to charge up the standings within a few of division leader LA. Without hitting the long ball, San Fran has relied on Nori Aoki, Brandon Crawford, and Angel Pagan among others. The strength of this team has been in their bullpen, though the starters have been good in spurts. Look for Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong to put in better efforts if this team is to repeat. And San Diego was the team everybody was talking about as they loaded up in the off-season with an array of talent all over the roster. The pitching (chiefly Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and James Shields) has been amazing, but they haven’t really needed to be. Though the Padres haven’t quite hit for average, they have managed to score runs when needed. Lastly, can the Dodgers ask for better luck? They finally let go of the super-roster fantasy and went with guys that play the right way and produce as well. Adrian Gonzalez has continued to put up big numbers. And yet Clayton Kershaw has had a down year by his standards. It’s Zack Greine the OTHER ace that has carried the torch so far.
Anyways, here’s how I see this playing out in the end.
AL East Champ: Baltimore Orioles
AL Central Champ: Kansas City Royals
AL West Champ: LA Angels
AL Wildcards: Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros
ALDS: Royals over Tigers, Orioles over Angels
ALCS: Royals over Orioles
NL East Champ: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champ: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Champ: LA Dodgers
NL Wildcards: San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres
NLDS: Cardinals over Padres, Nationals over Dodgers
NLCS: Nationals over Cardinals
World Series: Nationals over Royals in 5.