Hi! Let's take a fun look! at the standings as we have reached the All-Star break!
American League East
If you want to be one of the boring beat writers that thinks Tampa Bay winning ballgames this year is a big surprise, go nuts. PECOTA had them projected for 88 wins this year and wild card contention. They had an obvious stack of real talent. The emergence of Evan Longoria and the long-awaited breakthrough of Edwin Jackson have been very key, but things like trading Delmon Young for Matt Garza have also worked out really well. And if Scott Kazmir stays in the rotation the rest of the season, look out, man.
What I really am tired of now hearing is how amazing it all is. It's really not. They set a gameplan some years ago, built their team basically from the ground-up, and now it's paying off.
The Yankees fired Joe Torre for THIS? George Steinbrenner retired for THIS? They're banking on 34-year old Derek Jeter hitting more and 39-year old Mike Mussina not breaking down. They're a few players away from anything more than fringe contention. A-Rod and the dominant moustache of Jason Giambi will have a hard time bailing them out. It's pretty righteous how shutdown Mariano Rivera still is, though. He's currently having his best season. Ever. By far. And he's 38. Rivera might pitch until he's 50.
Boston is Boston. Had David Ortiz been healthy, they might be up a few games right now.
Toronto is Toronto. They s-canned Frank Thomas, Vernon Wells continues to be bar none the most overpaid player in baseball, and they're looking for a way to get rid of A.J. Burnett. Oh, and J.P. Ricciardi is due to get fired right about...now. Part of me can't really blame J.P. He came in with one gameplan (cut payroll, build like Oakland did on bargain players and good drafting), and he was hired to do that. Then Rogers decided to give him a ton of money to toss around like water, and mistakes happened, which they will when you have a ton of money to toss around like water and then you do it. Boston and the Yankees, for instance, have made mistakes with their money. But they also have the capital to say to hell with it and spend some more dough to cover those mistakes. Toronto does not have that. And Cito still sucks.
I guess the Orioles are surprising, though we're limping into the ASB at 2-8 in our last ten. The second half does not look promising, my friends.
American League Central
The White Sox are a team with an a-hole manager, they have a lot of a-hole fans, and their a-hole pitching staff is pretty darn good. No one expected this would be a White Sox-Twins race again, certainly not after Chicago finished 72-90 last year. And definitely not after the Twins lost Torii Hunter, oh noooo, as well as Johan Santana. Frankly, I thought the Twins would stink after they traded Garza for Delmon Young, but they truck on thanks to Mauer and Morneau (every other regular bat in their lineup is entirely not so good), and a staff led by Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn. If I could point to one team I think is just doomed among the contenders, it would be Minnesota, but who knows?
Cleveland was in the ALCS last year, and now they flat-out suck. Sizemore and Lee can't do everything, C.C.'s gone, the bullpen is a trainwreck, and Travis Hafner is as cooked as a guy can be at age 31. We're getting back to the fun Indians now.
Oh, Tigers! Considering how God awful they started off, their run to .500 at midseason is pretty admirable, and if their pitching can get stable, there's no reason they can't try to make a dash for the wild card. Anything less than a full-on effort to make that run would be an abandonment of their original goal.
Hey, look, it's the Royals.
American League West
I just...I just don't like the Angels. I don't like anything about them. But they're a good team, obviously. They've set a franchise record for wins prior to the All-Star break, and that's with only 11 starts from their ace and a rather poor offense overall. If anyone gives Vernon Wells a run for his wasted money, though, it's Gary Matthews, Jr.
I'm kinda rooting for Texas. Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton both seem to have found a home, and they're mashing. Ian Kinsler is just fantastic offensively. Their lineup is pretty scary at the top, because even though Michael Young isn't the most amazing guy ever, he's solid and by far the AL's best shortstop at this point. Their pitching staff is also scary, but for entirely different reasons. LOOGy Eddie Guardado leads the entire staff in VORP (9.9). That's fugly.
I don't know what to make of Oakland, and I never do. For one thing, you can never tell what Beane might have cooking in his brain. For another thing, they're entirely built on pitching, as they can't hit for beans (no pun intended -- OK, I won't lie). And they just traded Harden. So what do I know about Oakland? It wouldn't shock me if they finished first or if they went down the tubes and came in third.
The real thing about this division that probably gives the Angels a fairly easy nod right now is the fact that Oakland is all-pitching, Texas is all-hitting, and the Angels kind of do both, with a lean toward the pitching side. It's tough for either the A's or Rangers to get on the sort of run that makes up for the current games back.
Seattle is so awful.
National League East
The Mets aren't dead. The Mets aren't bad. The Mets are good. The Mets are in contention. The Mets are a whole half-game out. The Mets have Wright, Reyes and Beltran still, plus JOHAN SANTANA, WHO IS PRETTY GOOD.
Can you imagine if they had a healthy Pedro Martinez? Unfortunately, "healthy Pedro Martinez" is just not an option anymore. What you have is what you have with Pedro. He's not even good when he's healthy.
But I still like the Phillies to pull the division, although they could stand to get a real live third baseman, and some more help from Ryan Howard. Howard's turning into Adam Dunn with more strikeouts and less walks. He doesn't even really clog up the basepaths! ALL he does is hit rally-killing home runs. Utley and Burrell are pretty pimpy, though.
The poor Braves really do deserve a better record than what they've got, and I even feel bad for Chipper Jones, who is dominating and having an MVP-type season in what has been a Hall of Fame career, and when the voting comes a-calling I reckon he'll be lucky to net a top five finish the way things are going.
Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez hit a lot of home runs and the Marlins need a new stadium and starting rotation.
The Nationals are a joke. Cristian Guzman's their best player. Tim Redding -- an eternal scrap-heaper -- has been their second-most valuable pitcher. And their new stadium has garnered them the 13th-best attendance in the National League. Wowsers! That said, about half a million more fans have gone to Nats games than O's games this year, so there's a point for them. Too bad you guys still stink and are being run by a complete incompetent who gives front office jobs to his friends. They're doing a crackerjack job over there.
National League Central
This might be the season where I finally start at least sort of buying into all that Tony LaRussa Awesome Show Great Job! bull puckey. He's taken a no-talent, no-name pitching staff and molded them into that of a contending club, plus he's managed to form an outfield with the likes of Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, and Albert Pujols continues to be one of the best hitters on the face of God's green earth.
Actually, all the credit in the world should go to Dave freaking Duncan, who has gotten a career year out of Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer both. He's even spun Joel Pineiro into something worthwhile. It is a staff almost 100% made up of retreads and the garbage of other teams that was thrown out on the sidewalk like a pee-stained mattress you discard when your toddler stops wetting the bed and you get him or her a fresh new one, instilling confidence in their young minds.
But it will take a Herculean effort to catch the Cubs and/or not be overtaken by Milwaukee.
The three bottom-feeders are all essentially finished. That lying crybaby Miguel Tejada is 34 and playing like it, and Roy Oswalt is having his first bad year ever. Poor Lance Berkman is stuck in Chipper Jones' zip code. Eric Young correctly named Berkman the first half NL MVP on Baseball Tonight. John Kruk countered with Chase Utley, but John Kruk also picked Brandon Webb as the Cy Young for the first half, so that's pretty much par for the course. Webb's not even close to being the best pitcher on his own team this season. As an aside, you know who's got the second-best VORP on the Astros staff? Tim Byrdak.
National League West
I didn't want to use a photo of anyone from any of these recycle bin teams, so here's a shot of current sports world newsmaker Brett Favre. Will he get his release? Will Favre be a Raven or a Buc or, heaven forbid, a Bear or Viking? Will he stay retired? Will he cry for the umpteenth time? Will he cost his team a crucial game with another one of his idiotic "hey, y'all, watch this'un!" throws? Stay tuned!!
In a division this bad, it's comforting to find two of the best starters in baseball in Arizona's Dan Haren and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. San Fran, like the O's, just are not as bad as had been advertised. Along with Lincecum and Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, they've got Rowand, Durham, Fred Lewis and Randy Winn giving all they've got to keep them out of the world of truly awful.
This division will probably flirt with sub-.500 for division winner, as has happened lately. One of those junk teams even won the World Series. But in the end, someone will finish 83-79 or 84-78 and we'll just have a crappy team in the playoffs, blocking some poor second- or third-place club in the East or Central.
Listen, if you throw out all logic (which is fun to do when writing about baseball), the Orioles could be tired for first place in this division. The Orioles. And frankly, I think even if you include logic, the O's have a good shot at being right in the thick of this thing. And we are not what scientists would call "very good" or anything like that. This division is just crap.