Hi friends. Long time no see. Sorry about that.
While most teams are not quite to the 81-game mark (the Yankees have played 79, for example) July 1 SEEMS like the middle of the year, with three months gone and three to go. PLUS the fact that 20 days ago I posted that the next 20 days were crucial for the Yankees season, as they played 20 games in 20 days without Ellsbury and Miller. Well, those games have come and gone, New York went 9-11 and surrendered first place to the Orioles (to the Rays, too, though they have passed them back). So where do we stand?
The Yanks had a rough time in those 20 games. They started off losing 4 of 5, and allowing 9, 11 and 12 runs in three of the losses. They then righted the ship with four straight wins, getting good offense (scored 32 runs in the four wins) and good run prevention (allowed only 10). With Tanaka on the mound for the final game against Detroit, and the woeful Phillies due for three games at the Stadium, the future looked bright. Shows what I know: the Tigers pounded Tanaka 12-4, the Phillies did the same to Pineda 11-8, and then the Phillies got a bunch of runs off Sabathia and FOUR in the ninth off of Betances (!!) [raising his ERA from 0.25 to 1.25] to beat NY 11-6. Fun note: the Phillies hadn’t scored more than 8 runs in a game all year, then scored 11 back-to-back against New York. 5-7 through 12 games. But the Yanks took the final game against the Phillies (and Cole Hamels) and two of the first three against Houston to even their record at 8-8 after 16 games. In those 4 games they scored 10, 0, 9 and 3. Who knew that the 0 and 3 were indicators that they had decided to stop scoring! In the final Astros game and the first two Angels games they scored one run in each game. They got good pitching, allowing 3, 4 and 2 runs, but could not score any runs. Last night they still didn’t score much (3 runs) but the run prevention muddled through, with the Angels going 0 for 9 with RISP. (Fun note: the Yankees with RISP in their last four games: 1 for 2, 0 for 10, 0 for 0 (!) and 3 for 11. In two of three games, they got 2 and 0 chances with a runner on second or third!).
So, how do I feel about all this? Surprisingly optimistic. I have not been a big Yankee bandwagon guy all year, as you all know if you have followed this erratic blog, but somehow I feel they have weathered the worst and are now poised to make a run. Anything can happen, of course, especially with four teams within ONE game of the division lead (!) and a half a season to go, but I feel that good things are about to happen. Ivan Nova is back, and while he is not a star that gives them rotation depth, if (for example) they have to put Sabathia or Pineda or Tanaka on the DL for a sprain of the ERA. Miller should be back after the all-star break, a mere 2 weeks away, and a bullpen of Warren, Shreve, Betances and Miller rivals the Royals famous inning 7-9 trio. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been batting Chase Headley (OBP .305) second but Ellsbury could be back as early as tomorrow, and he and Gardner will again form a formidable top-of-the-order. Beltran may be hurt (and he has been hitting much better after a dreadful start) but a Chris Young/Garrett Jones platoon appears to be more than acceptable and the Yanks have a bunch of outfield prospects: every one of them that has played a few games for NY has contributed (and gotten hurt!).
Will NY win the East? Who knows? I think they have as good a chance as anyone, and better than most. I still think that, oddly, the Orioles are the main competition. But no one can be counted out, except (in my opinion) the Red Sox. Rick Porcello is having the worst season EVER for a pitcher in the first year of a $20M per year long-term deal. Oops.
Meanwhile, around baseball: the Astros, as I called pretty early, are for real. They may not be quite as good as their record (but then again, maybe they are) but they are going to win the west – no one else is likely to catch them, and they are unlikely to collapse. The Royals, whom I picked out of the shoot, are also going to win their division. The Twins and Rangers have surprised and are both in the race (at least for the wild card) but both are very likely to finish under .500. The Tigers can’t seem to get their act together, and I am no longer expecting them to do so. The team with the best chance to catch the Astros is the Angels, but having watched both teams play the Yankees this past week, I don’t think they can do it.
The AL is full of so-so teams, and in my opinion, three teams between the Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays and Angels will make the postseason, with no other team really having much of a chance, despite what the standings say. My own prediction is that it will be the Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays – this reverses an earlier prediction that NO AL East would be in the wild card game, and sets me up to be wrong twice.
In the NL, the best teams are clearly better than the best AL teams: the top teams in baseball in my opinion are the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Nationals, the Royals, the Pirates, the Cubs, the Astros and the Giants. That’s 6 NL teams, one AL team, and one AL team that was an NL team two years ago (if you’re keeping score at home). The WORST teams in baseball are the Phillies, the Brewers, the Marlins and the Rockies, NL teams all. So the NL is the boom-or-bust, and the AL is parity-land. The worst team in the AL may be the Red Sox (sorry neighbors!) and you would have to think that they have a legitimate (though tiny) chance to win the World Series (they WERE one of the pre-season favorites). By record, the worst teams in the AL are Oakland , Boston and Chicago – preseason contenders/pretenders all. I actually believe that all those teams are better than the Padres (as well as the four NL teams mentioned) and probably better than the Diamondbacks and Braves as well. So it is possible that the NL has the five of the six best teams in baseball AND the seven worst!
One of the altogether possible weird postseason lineups would have three teams from the mediocre AL East making the postseason, and then have the three best records in the NL all be in the NL Central. This requires that the Cubs pass the Dodgers and Nats (they are one behind Washington and two behind Los Angeles): this is not LIKELY, but certainly POSSIBLE. I think it IS likely that the Cubs and Pirates will meet in the wild card game, with only the Giants as likely to supplant one of them (sorry Mets, I did believe but you have succeeded in drumming my belief out of me).
Fun times! Stay tuned.
PS I am traveling to Utah this week, and am unlikely to post. Not that I have been all that likely while in New England.