Second Half Predictions
1.) Who makes the playoffs?
AL East -- Boston Red Sox
AL Central -- Detroit Tigers
AL West -- Los Angeles Angels
AL Wild Card -- Cleveland Indians
You see what I did there? Yep -- I was as boring as possible and went with the first place teams. The Red Sox are an easy pick; even if David Ortiz's injury woes are more serious than it sounds like they are, the Sox still have a great team with solid pitching, as well as a 10 game lead over a Yankees squad that for the most part has looked old and uninspired. The Angels have just a 2 game lead over the Mariners out West, but does anyone actually think Seattle is for real? As for the battle in the Central, it's much too close to call -- but I like the Tigers staying power this year much more than I did last year, and they have the experience necessary to hang on. The Indians have such a good team that they should be able to hang on for the Wild Card. While I would love to see the Twins catch up (and it certainly is possible), I'm predicting that they'll fall short this year.
NL East -- New York Mets
NL Central -- Chicago Cubs
NL West -- San Diego Padres
NL Wild Card -- Milwaukee Brewers
The National League is much more interesting than the American League this year in terms of playoff battles. The Mets are in 1st right now out East, but have issues with their pitching staff and some clubhouse discord. Nonetheless, I just don't believe in the Braves (although Atlanta is bound to be better in the 2nd half simply because Andruw Jones should improve his play). The Phillies always make things interesting, but can never get the job done -- why would this year be any different? In the Central, the Cubs look more and more like they're getting over the clubhouse problems that plagued them early on -- and the Brewers are coming back to earth. The lead right now for Milwaukee is just 4.5 games, and I think the Cubbies can make that up. I love the Western Division race, where everybody but the Giants is no more than 5.5 games back and anything can happen. In the end, the Padres pitching (especially Jake Peavy and Chris Young) convinces me that they'll hang on. Milwaukee will fight with about 5 teams to secure the Wild Card, and I'm not convinced by my own pick. Somebody has to win it, though.
2.) Who Wins the Awards?
OK, I haven't yet posted my full votes for who I think should win the awards this year (in other words, the guys who I would vote for if I had a vote) -- but I'm nonetheless going to post the list here of the guys who I think will win the awards; that's often not the same thing. Keep in mind that this list is also reaching into the future to predict what will happen in the second half, while the First Half Awards list, when posted, will be focused solely on who has done what to this point.
AL MVP -- Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
AL Cy Young -- Johan Santana (MIN)
AL Rookie of the Year -- Jeremy Guthrie (BAL)
AL Manager of the Year -- Jim Leyland (DET)
A-Rod is having the type of season that makes irrelevant the question of whether his team is going to make it to the playoffs. In years where no one really stands out from the crowd, I think that question is important for tie-break purposes -- but Rodriguez is putting up silly numbers for a team that is older and slower than at any point since he's been in New York. Unless he severely slumps in the second half (not likely), he will win the MVP. I'm picking Johan because he has a proven second-half track record, he's currently not far beyond the current "leader" in the Cy Young race (that'd be Dan Haren), and because he's a multi-year winner of the award, so the voters have shown that they're perfectly happy to vote for him. The award could still go to Haren (if he doesn't collapse in the second half) or someone like C.C. Sabathia (if the Indians make the playoffs and he wins 22 or 23 games) -- but my money is on Cy Santana. Jeremy Guthrie seems to me to be the best all around choice for the ROY -- he's pitched better than Daisuke, and none of the hitters in the AL who qualify for the award are playing well enough to overcome Guthrie's strong season. Finally, with MOY, I think Jim Leyland has been better this year than last. His team hasn't collapsed (yet) like they did last year (and honestly, I thought Ron Gardenhire deserved the award last year), and he's (so far) weathered the storm of pitching injuries that have confronted the Tigers.
NL MVP -- Derek Lee (CHC)
NL Cy Young -- Jake Peavy (SDP)
NL ROY -- Hunter Pence (HOU)
NL MOY -- Lou Piniella (CHC)
Notice the Cubs love? Unlike in the AL, I think the NL MVP is going to turn on who gets into the playoffs, because no one seems to me to be having a run away season. My personal choice in the first half is Chase Utley of the Phillies, but I don't think the Phillies will get in, and I don't expect him to get a lot of support. Derek Lee is one of the keys to success for the Cubs, and I think if he puts him a solid second half and gets his team to the playoffs, he'll win the award. Honestly, though, the MVP could probably go to 5 or 6 guys at the end of the year, so it will be interesting to watch. The Cy Young race is likely a 3-way battle between teammates Peavy and Chris Young along with the Dodgers Brad Penny. I like Peavy in the battle because he gets more strikeouts and will, I think, win more ballgames than his teammate. They'll probably finish with similar ERA's -- so I give the nod to Peavy. Hunter Pence is, in my mind, dominating the race for National League ROY. Lou Piniella deserves MOY if he can find a way to catch up to the Brewers and make the playoffs after a disastrous early start to the season.
3.) What "Big Names" get traded?
Ummmm . . . Yeah, coming up blank here. The modern trade market is not favorable for big deals getting done, so even though there are guys who should be traded (Torii Hunter, for instance, if the Twins decide they can't afford him -- and you all should now by now that I think that's a mistake and he should be locked up for another 3 or 4 years), I don't think they will be. I will say that Kansas City's Mike Sweeney should be sent packing by the Royals -- he's a free agent at the end of the season, and that team isn't anywhere close to winning -- but what will they get for him? He's hitting just .245 and is on the disabled list, so even this deal might not get done. The best chance for a big deal, then, might be in Chicago -- where the White Sox very well may trade Jermaine Dye and Jose Contreras. Sadly, I think the once frenzied trade deadline is once again going to be relatively lackluster this season.
4.) Which Twins prospects will make their Major League Debut?
The best bet is on Matt Tolbert, who should have replaced Luis Rodriguez on the roster weeks ago. He's probably not a long-term Major League caliber player, but why not give him a shot? Rodriguez has been horrid. Elsewhere, it wouldn't be a complete shock if Denard Span, despite having had a very poor season in Rochester, was called up in September to make his debut. The Twins may also consider giving a chance to Brian Buscher, a third baseman who was claimed in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft who has played very well at both AA and AAA this season. Finally, one of the lesser known pitching prospects who have moved from AA to AAA this season may get a shot in September if higher ranking prospects like Matt Garza and Scott Baker struggle -- Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing both fit the bill, and it wouldn't be a shocker to see either of them, especially if the Twins are out of contention in September.
Sadly, I'm out of time -- so this is the end of the post. Hopefully, I'm right on 7 of the 8 playoff teams (let's go Twins!).