Jul 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Michael Bourn (left) is tagged out while caught stealing second base by Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) during a game at Progressive Field. Detroit won 4-2. Also in the rundown is catcher Brayan Pena (55). Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Tigers Still Favorites in AL Central


On the eve of Spring Training, I made predictions for each division race, the playoffs, and World Series, with the admonition to “clip and save” for grading with hindsight, or just for pure comedy come October. With our annual July hiatus upon us, I figured we could reach back into the archives for a quick look and a midseason assessment:

AL CENTRAL

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. DETROIT  
2. Cleveland  
3. Kansas City  
4. Minnesota  
5. Chicago

ACTUAL STANDINGS:

1. DETROIT  
2. Cleveland  
3. Kansas City  
4. Minnesota  
5. Chicago

BINGO! At least one of the divisions is shaping up as I envisioned, although it is probably the easiest one of the bunch to stratify. Compared to most prognosticators, however; I was a bit more bullish on the Tribe and bearish on the Pale Hose, bets that appear likely to hold up for the duration. Chicago moved Matt Thornton, and is in full seller’s mode (although Hawk Harrelson believes they are “close” to being contenders); they will struggle to keep up with Minnesota (remember when Ron Gardenhire was a genius?)  Cleveland could push all-in on Matt Garza or Bud Norris and seriously contend for the division and/or a wild card spot; Omar Infante’s bum leg and Jhonny Peralta’s PED troubles could leave the Tigers longing for the days of Tito Fuentes and Tom Veryzer up the middle; but I feel pretty good about this order holding up for the duration.

NEW PREDICTIONS:

1. DETROIT  
2. Cleveland (WILD CARD)  
3. Kansas City  
4. Minnesota  
5. Chicago

AL EAST

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Toronto  
2. Tampa Bay  
3. Baltimore  
4. New York  
5. Boston

ACTUAL STANDINGS:

1. Boston  
2. Tampa Bay   
3. Baltimore  
4. New York  
5. Toronto

Hmmm… not bad, EXCEPT for that first-and-last thing. Bought too heavily into the Blue Jays free agency hype, and didn’t see Lester, Lackey and Buchholz anchoring the Bosox rotation like they have.  Now Buchholz is on the DL with an achy wing, and Lackey will likely revert to form. The lineup is solid, but has gotten a huge boost from journeyman Mike Carp. Meanwhile, the most impressive top-to-bottom lineup I saw in the first half belongs to Baltimore. I don’t believe Chris Davis will maintain a 62-HR pace, but he and the rest of the Birds will bash their way into first place (remember when Buck Showalter was a bum?)

NEW PREDICTIONS:

1. Baltimore  
2. Tampa Bay (WILD CARD) 
3. Boston  
4. New York  
5. Toronto

AL WEST

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. Los Angeles  
2. Oakland (Wild Card)  
3. Texas (Wild Card)  
4. Seattle  
5. Houston

ACTUAL STANDINGS:

1. Oakland  
2. Texas  
3. Los Angeles  
4. Seattle  
5. Houston

Ooops, hoodwinked by more free-agent hype.  Josh Hamilton’s disinterested play, Albert Pujols sore foot, and a short starting staff de-haloed the Angels early again this year (remember when Mike Scioscia was a genius?) Meanwhile, the whiskery, whimpery A’s ride the aged arm of Bartolo Colon into the catbirds’ seat, despite the relative underperformance of Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.  Originally I figured that the top-3 in this division would get a boost in the standings, but with the Astros resembling a big-league team more and more and Seattle stabling two horses in their rotation, I see the Rangers missing out on the wild-card again on the last day.

NEW PREDICTION:

1. Oakland  
2. Texas  
3. Los Angeles  
4. Seattle  
5. Houston

NL EAST

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1.  Washington   
2. Atlanta  
3. Philadelphia  
4. New York  
5. Miami

ACTUAL STANDINGS:

1. Atlanta  
2. Washington  
3. Philadelphia  
4. New York  
5. Miami

This is an interesting division…Atlanta strikes out a ton, and is playing .500 ball since a hot first two weeks. The Nats started slowly but seem poised to make a run behind a healthy Bryce Harper. The Phillies are teetering between making one last run, a’ la the ’72 Tigers, or parting out, a’ la the ’72 Camaro.  The Mets have enough good young starters to play spoiler, at least until they shut Matt Harvey down. And the Marlins have Placido Polanco batting third.

NEW PREDICTION:

1. Atlanta  
2. Washington (WILD CARD)  
3. Philadelphia  
4. New York   
5. Miami

NL CENTRAL

Another interesting division, with three really strong teams.  Imagine for a minute that the Tigers and Pirates swapped bullpens on Opening Day….OK, back to reality, and the truth is the Buccos have 5 starters (six, if you count knuckle-balling swingman Charlie Morton) performing WAY over their heads. The Cards and Reds have too many proven weapons for the Pirates to maintain their pace throughout a pennant race. Here is a toast to hoping I am wrong – a Tigers-Pirates World Series certainly would make an October to remember!

NEW PREDICTION:

1. St. Louis  
2. Cincinnati (WILD CARD) 
3. Pittsburgh  
4. Milwaukee  
5. Chicago

NL WEST

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Los Angeles  
2. San Francisco  
3. Arizona  
4. San Diego  
5. Colorado

ACTUAL STANDINGS:

1. Arizona  
2. Los Angeles  
3. Colorado  
4. San Francisco  
5. San Diego

The pattern is clear – assessing teams in February is a lot like ranking players for rotisserie leagues. The Dodgers assembled a coterie of talented players that, when they actually managed to take the field, couldn’t mesh as a team.  Manager Don Mattingly apparently had forgotten everything he knew about baseball (the bum); they called up Yasiel Puig and voila, he was a genius again! They now have the scrappy D-Backs and their scruffy manager Gibby in their sights; the defending champion Giants are bobbing like a kayak in McCovey Cove (remember when Bruce Bochy was a genius?)

NEW PREDICTION:

1. Los Angeles  
2. Arizona  
3. San Francisco  
4. Colorado  
5. San Diego

Be sure to clip and save!

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