Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mid-Season Outlook: AL Divisional Races

At The Break: Mid-Season Musings American League EAST: Boston is still the team to beat in this division, but the team making life interesting is Tampa Bay, not the Yankees. While New York is still lurking just 6 games back, they're going to have a tough time in September, with 6 games against the Rays, three at LA, four against the White Sox, and then closing out the season on the road, at Toronto and Boston. Don't expect the new Joe (Girardi) to have the same magic as the old Joe (Torre). Alex Rodriguez's personal issues are going to be a major distraction, so making the playoffs may not be part of the agenda in New York this time around. Of course, by then, the Red Sox could be long gone. After a July that concludes with a 6-game road trip to LA and Seattle, then 3 each at Fenway against the Yankees and Angels, August is quite a bit easier. The Red Sox have the most talent in the division and should be clear by the time the next host the Yankees, the final three days of August. The youthful Rays should get back on track in the second half, but face a tough beginning of September with 6 games each against the Yankees and Red Sox through the 17th. After that, it gets interesting, with four games at home vs. Minnesota, dour at Baltimore and four at Detroit. With the either or both the Tigers and Twins fighting for the wild card spot, these games could be critical. CENTRAL: The White Sox have plenty of experienced players with power in Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Joe Crede, but Carlos Quentin has provided the big bat needed to fill out the lineup. The addition of Quentin is already one of the best off-season moves in the majors. Pitching has been somewhat of a project for manager Ozzie Guillen. A patchwork starting staff has been complemented by solid middle relief from Matt Thornton, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel, all with ERAs under 3.00. If closer Bobby Jenks comes back as expected, the Sox may look to add another starter, but could cruise through the second half. The currently-second Minnesota Twins have been a pleasant surprise, but they are a very young team, and the book on youth is that it folds under the pressure in August. The story has been solid work by starters Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker. With Francisco Liriano pitching well for AAA Rochester, he's expected back before August, but he'll be under pressure to keep the Twins in the hunt. Detroit is still recovering from their 2-10 start, but they've played solidly since then and are finally at .500 (47-47). With a team this loaded with talent and experience, it would be a surprise if the Tigers don't at least get the wild card spot and they could get hot and make a run at the White Sox. Those final four games in September, at Comerica Park in Detroit against the Rays, loom large if it's a close race. WEST: This division is already settled. The Angels are clearly the most balanced team in the division and should win another title with relative ease. Their addition of Torii Hunter has paid large dividends and no other team in the West can match their pitching. Texas may well contend for a wild card, though their pitching is a real weakness. With Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood as their best starters, the Rangers will have to score 6-8 runs in order to win most games. The A's are going to hang around, but they're a couple of notches below the Angels on the power scale and will continue to be looking up at LA in the standings for the rest of the season. They are scrappers, but as the season grows long, the A's will be a shadow of their first-half selves. Wednesday: All Star report. Thursday: National League Outlook

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