The 4th of July often is used as a measuring stick by baseball purists as to how the rest of the season is going to shake out.
Typically, teams have just passed the midway point of their schedules, which is the 81-game mark. Baseball, of course, is a marathon, not a sprint. There are some teams who have sprinted out to big seasons, but the question is whether or not they’ll have enough left in the tank by the end of September.
Here’s how the divisions are looking:
• American League East — It’s a two-horse race with Boston and New York lapping the field. My money has been on the Yankees since Day One because of their ability to score runs in torrential waves. Also, they seem to play well against Boston when it really matters. Tampa Bay is a mild surprise in third place as it always seems to do more with less, Toronto is a bit of a disappointment in fourth and how did Baltimore get so bad so fast? It’s in a race with Kansas City for the worst record in baseball.
• American League Central — This division is an embarrassment to baseball. Cleveland has endured a slew of injuries, yet has a double-digit lead. When it starts to get into the heavy part of the schedule where it plays the four Central teams consistently, it is really going to roll. Minnesota was last year’s surprise, but now that looks like a mirage. Yet, despite being 12 games under .500, it's in second place. Detroit was supposed to lose 110 games, but it has been better than that. Chicago and Kansas City are beyond awful. The Royals had only 25 wins on the 4th and just 3 years ago hoisted the World Championship trophy. The White Sox are in a massive rebuild.
• American League West — This was a fun division for a while with Houston receiving challenges early from Seattle and Los Angeles’ Angels. But the Astros’ pitching depth will allow them to eventually pull away from the Mariners, who are still hanging in — though I have a feeling they will soon hit the skids. Oakland is the surprise as it has moved ahead of the slumping Angels, while Texas appears entrenched in last.
• National League East — We could have the best race of all in this division. Atlanta and Philadelphia have risen from the ashes, while Washington — a team I thought would win this division by 15 games — has totally underachieved and is in danger of missing the playoffs. But there’s too much talent on this team not to make a run and I still think the Nationals have one big hot streak in them to get back in the race. The Mets have been an terrible disappointment as their much-heralded pitching staff can’t stay healthy. Miami, as expected after its fire sale during the offseason, is insignificant.
• National League Central — Milwaukee has been holding off Chicago for half the season, but it’s only a matter of time before the slugging Cubs grab the division by the throat. The Cubs have been an offensive machine over the last month and there’s still enough pitching for them to make the World Series. Milwaukee appears to have the staying power to make the postseason. St. Louis has been decimated by injuries to its pitching and probably doesn’t have enough offense to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh is close to a full-blown rebuild, while Cincinnati has shaken off a wretched start to play really good baseball in recent weeks, even though every time a home game is shown its stadium looks like a ghost town.
• National League West — Four teams are vying for the division and it could stay that way until Labor Day. In the end, the Dodgers are simply too talented as long as Clayton Kershaw doesn’t break down again. It is an even-numbered year which means San Francisco should hang tough given its pedigree, winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Arizona has been on top, but something tells me it will fall back. Colorado never has enough pitching and San Diego toils in anonymity.
• Playoff picks: I like the Yankees, Indians and Astros as American League division winners, with the Red Sox and Mariners the wild-cards. In fact, given the state of the AL, it will be stunning if any other team shoulders its way in. The American League could very well have the four best teams in baseball.
Something tells me Washington will make a massive push to outlast Atlanta, with the Cubs and Dodgers the other division winners. Milwaukee and Atlanta will be the wild-cards.
In the end, I picked the Yankees and have seen nothing to deter my opinion.