I know it’s early, and I know we have a LOT of baseball left to be played. But, I think we have some interesting playoff scenarios developing already. If the season were to end today, think about this playoff picture:
Wild Card play-in game – Yankees/Rays vs. Orioles
ALDS – Wild-Card-winner vs. Rangers and White Sox vs. Yankees/Rays
(Yankees & Rays would have to play a game to determine who is the division winner, and who is the Wild Card team)
Wild Card play-in game – Giants vs. Braves
NLDS – Wild-Card-winner vs. Dodgers and Reds/Pirates vs. Nationals
(Reds & Pirates would have to play a game to determine the division winner)
The American League picture doesn’t look entirely different from a year ago, except that the Tigers aren’t winning their division right now. Of course, the added Wild Card team makes for some interesting possibilities. However, the National League is completely different from a year ago. None of the teams that were in the playoffs last season are in the current playoff picture.
Now, let’s talk about realistic expectations. Do we expect the Orioles to stay where they are? Yes and no. I believe their offense is good enough to compete in the talented AL East, but their pitching is a little young and probably shouldn’t be expected to hold up through the entire season. However, I do expect them to remain right around 3rd in the AL East, which would be a significant improvement over being the cellar-dwellers they’ve been the last 4 seasons. The big question would be whether or not any other team in the AL will do well enough to catch up with Baltimore and steal away that second Wild Card spot.
In my opinion, at least one team will eventually surpass Baltimore in the overall standings. The number one candidate is the Angels. Their pitching staff is too good, and with Trout having the impact on the lineup he is, I fully expect them to continue winning, and could very well end up being the second-best team in the AL (behind Texas).
And, what about the AL Central? Can the White Sox maintain this momentum? I think this is the most intriguing division, despite all of the hoopla over the records in the AL East. I’m not sure that more than one team will come out of this division, and at the moment there are at least 3 teams with a reasonable shot at winning. And, if the Royals can get their pitching to perform a little better, they’d be a 4th possible team to win here. The White Sox are leading right now, but there’s nothing about that team that suggests they’re going to run away with the division. As a whole, they’re significantly overachieving right now – especially Dunn, Konerko, Rios, Peavy, etc.
The Dodgers and Nationals are good, in case you hadn’t noticed. The Nats just finished sweeping the Red Sox in Boston. And, the Dodgers continue to maintain the best record in baseball in spite of not having the best player in the National League for a significant amount of time. And, I don’t foresee anyone in either division putting together enough of a run to catch up with either of them, unless they suffer some major injuries. The scary thing about the Nationals is that their two most dynamic, and probably best, players (Strasburg and Harper) aren’t even 24 yet, and their impressive closer is just 27. They’re looking dangerous for years to come.
The intrigue in the NL comes from the NL Central and Wild Card races. There could be as many as 9 teams fighting it out for those 3 playoff spots – the Braves, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants and Diamondbacks. The only reason I include the Phils in that discussion is because if they can get some of their bats healthy, they obviously have the pitching to keep up with just about anyone. And, on the flip side of that coin, I don’t include the Brewers because I don’t think their pitching staff is good enough to get them back in the race (near the bottom of the league in team ERA and batting avg. against).
The Pirates are an interesting story . . . again. But, are we going to be disappointed again like last year? They were in the hunt right up until around this time last year. Then they lost that one game to the Braves on a terrible call at the plate, and it almost looked as though their season unraveled from that point on – and they ended up losing 90 games! The question is – can they sustain it this time? I think they’re going to have the same problem as last year – their pitching staff is overachieving, and when they come back down to earth, they won’t prove to be one of the better teams in the NL.
Other than that, I think just about any of these teams could end up in the playoffs. How will they stand up to the Dodgers or Nationals? Not too sure about that. Of course, based on the last two World Series champs, a team can get hot at the right time and run through teams that are clearly better. But, it’s always fun to speculate what might could happen . . . even in June.