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MLB Division Snapshot: Will, Won’t…Might?

I think I love the first week of the MLB season. Everyone seems to be freaking out and reading WAY too much into early results. It’s an annual tradition for baseball fans to prematurely evaluate their teams based on their record over 5 or 6 games. It’s really laughable, if you think it through. To make any kind of definitive statement about a team’s viability based on the first week of a season actually ignores perhaps the most defining trait of an MLB season…its sheer volume.

Over a 162-game season, no team can expect to avoid all pitfalls and bumps. But…because we’ve looked forward to baseball all winter long, fans and analysts are super-charged for the first week of the season and ready to make predictions. Perfect example, I just finished listening to a debate on ESPN’s 1st and 10 about when the Red Sox should be “written off” that started with the statement, “No team has ever won the World Series after starting 0 and 4.” *sigh*

Okay…while that’s a true statement, it is also a perfect example of the misuse of statistics (not exclusive to baseball, by the way). So, it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be fun to take a quick snapshot of all MLB divisions, discuss ’em a bit, and then file ’em away to be reviewed much later in the season. And EUREKA! A post is born.

Below, we’ll take a look at each division frozen in time on the morning of April 6, 2011. Then, to add a bit of color, we’ll discuss a WILL (happen), a WON’T (happen), and a MIGHT (happen) for each division based on what that snapshot shows. Sound fun? Pfft…of course it does. Let’s go!

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Will: Wow…this division looks all upside down. Not many “wills” here…but we’ll give it a shot anyway. The Boston Red Sox WILL finish ahead of the Rays and the New York Yankees WILL give the Sox a run for their money. Based on what we know about Boston before the season even started, the Sox are going to contend and still likely win the division. Hot-swinging teams early in the season will cool later on just as the Red Sox are gearing up. But the Yankees will be right there.

Won’t: The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays will not be serious contenders come July and August, and the bottom/top of the division will not contain the same two/four teams they currently contain (did that make sense?). Look for the division to do a 180 sooner rather than later.

Might: The New York Yankees MIGHT finish third in this division. With the potential on the Sox and Rays roster…and the potential for any given Yankees team to mysteriously self-destruct…and Francona and Maddon leading the charge…the New York Yankees could finish exactly where they are now. Third.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Will: The Chicago White Sox will finish in the top two spots in this division, and the Kansas City Royals will avoid the cellar in 2011. The Sox are favorites to win the AL Central in just about every baseball circle. We know what Ozzie’s about, we know what guys like Dunn and Quentin are about, and all of that tells us the Sox are right about where they should be right now. The Royals, however, have shown us something. They’ve shown us a youth movement – as well as a few “others” sprinkled in – that could be gaining traction for a 2012 breakout. Add in Ned Yost, and this KC team will not finish in last place this season.

Won’t: The Kansas City Royals will not finish this season as contenders. Everyone is all kinds of excited about the Royals’ four game winning streak because each game was won by the Royals’ last at-bat. What they fail to remember is that the Royals’ pitching staff allowed 20 runs in those four games. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that offenses do not stay hot for 162 games a season. You can’t win 90 games on the last AB. At some point, you have to pitch. This is not the Royals’ year. Oh…and the Tigers and Twins will not finish this season in the bottom half of the division.

Might: The Royals may very well contend for third place in the division. They’ve shown the ability to steal a few games in series against tough teams, and Ned Yost has this team believing in the start of a winning culture in Kansas City again. All the division needs is one semi-clunker from the top three projected teams (Twins, Sox, Tigers), and the Royals could end up playing above their station.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Will: The Texas Rangers will win this division. They won’t obliterate the competition as their perfect record thus far suggests, but they will win the division. Oh, and the Angels will be in contention. In such a tiny division, how do you count any team out this early in the season? I guess one thing that we can say, however, is that “contention” in this division will look different than “contention” in other divisions. Don’t expect a tightly knotted group at the top. The 3 game separation between second and first may be indicative of a larger separation in July. In this division, contention will simply mean being in second place and capable of “a few things going right” to make a run.

Won’t: Oakland will not finish the season in last place, and Seattle will not finish ahead of the A’s. The Mariners just don’t have the offense to sustain the position they’re in right now…even by just half a game. They won’t be able to avoid last place this year simply because every team in their division is clearly better than they are.

Might: The Angels and Athletics might find themselves in a dog fight all season for second place. With the potential on the A’s roster and the pitching of the Angels staff (Weaver, Haren), these teams could circle one another in the ring all year. The only downside to that is both teams will likely tear each other up enough that the division and the wild card both walk right by.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Will: This division will finish the season more similar to their April 6th snapshot than dissimilar. The Braves will draft the Phillies all the way to the top. The Nationals will finish in last place. The Marlins will finish just ahead of the Nationals and sit in fourth. And the Phillies and Braves will remain close with little separation throughout the season.

Won’t: The Mets will not finish this season in contention. Their financial and medical problems are the talk of Major League Baseball, and teams with problems like that just cannot sustain the level of performance they are flashing right now. I don’t mean they won’t win the division…I mean they won’t even contend. They won’t be able to hold off the Phillies or Braves for much longer this year.

Might: The Mets might surprise a lot of people and finish a solid third. The Marlins tend to be a hot pick, and the Nationals like to believe they’re getting better, but the reality is that despite the front office problems, the Mets players who actually stay on the field (Wright, Reyes, etc.) could maintain some semblance of dignity for this team. While the Mets’ hot start doesn’t mean they’ll contend, it may mean they have the pieces left to hold off the Marlins and Nationals.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Will: The Houston Astros will finish in the bottom two spots in the division, and the Cincinnati Reds will grab first place and hold on tight as hard and as strong as their offense can. The Reds’ offense is for real. They will pound on a lot of sub par staffs and it will, without a doubt, hurt in the morning. Also, the NL Central division will remain closely bunched in the top half of the division throughout the season. Teams in contention will have enough to hang around all year.

Won’t: The Pittsburgh Pirates will not hold off the Brewers – or even the Astros – to avoid the cellar. The team has a few interesting players – Jones, McCutchen – but that’s about it. Clint Hurdle is the “right guy,” but it’s not the right year for the Pirates turn around. In addition, the Cardinals will not finish in the bottom half of the division. Their offense – when healthy – is good enough to hit with any team in the Central, and their pitching staff has the ability to “ground” any offense on any given day.

Might: The St. Louis Cardinals may finish the season in third place. The Cardinals are finding out the hard way what can happen when the three and four guys in their order (Pujols, Holliday) don’t produce. For Albert, it’s just a matter of time…but Holliday started the season with a strong showing on Opening Day before exiting the lineup with an appendectomy. He’ll return, but the impact of losing a key member of the offense has fans scared. If the Cardinals get hit with one more significant injury to a key member this season, they won’t have enough to win the division. And that doesn’t even factor in the bullpen struggles that still have not been fully resolved.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Will: Colorado’s Rock ’em Sock ’em Rockies will contend all season. They have the offense, they have the vets, they have the stability, and they have enough pitching to wreak havoc in this division. However, unfortunately for D-Back fans, Arizona will finish the season in the bottom two spots of this division. The absence of Dan Haren will cause some serious withdrawal symptoms in the “we don’ need no daylight savings time!” state.

Won’t: The San Diego Padres will not seriously contend this season, and the San Francisco Giants will not finish near the bottom of the division. The Padres underwent too much turnover, and they had the good fortune to start the season against a team that has yet to pull all their pieces together in St. Louis. The Giants, on the other hand, will self-correct with their dominant pitching staff and take advantage of a weaker division and a large home ballpark to slide back into the upper half of standings.

Might: The Rockies might be able to take advantage of a slow-starting Giants team and cement their position in the standings. April and May (according to TLR) is a great time to push while other teams try to figure out what they have. This division may provide the best example of that philosophy as the Giants struggle to find their groove early on. If Colorado can push in the first month or two of the season, this division could end in a 1st/2nd brawl in September.

WRAP-UP!

Whew…division by division write-ups take a lot out of me. Thank goodness there’s a Cards game on in 30 minutes!!!

GO CARDS!!!

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