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Old School – Reviewing our predictions and taking a second chance

Since we just had the All-Star game, I thought it would be a great time to review our predictions from Sports Spectrum’s MLB Preview issue, which is a digital-only issue that you can view here.

Sports Spectrum Managing Editor Brett Honeycutt and I collaborated on all of the predictions in the magazine, and I fully expect to be right about every single prediction. I guess you can read the sarcasm in that sentence. Let’s see how we did.

AL East

What we predicted Actual Standings
Yankees (99-63) Yankees (52-33)
Red Sox (95-67) Wild Card Orioles (45-40)
Rays (93-69) Rays (45-41)
Blue Jays (83-79) Blue Jays (43-43)
Orioles (65-97) Red Sox (43-43)

The Yankees have done even better than expected and having Andy Pettitte back in the rotation has really helped (3.22 ERA, 58.2 IP). The Yankees are also getting production out of their bench; Andruw Jones has hit 11 home runs as the fourth outfielder.

As of now, it appears we, as well as most prognosticators, missed pretty badly on the Orioles. But to be fair, the O’s only won 69 games last season and they didn’t bring in a lot of new players. What has made them so successful is getting players to improve and develop, and for some to return to their 2010 form.

The Blue Jays and Rays are hanging around in the division, but much more likely to compete for the AL Wild Card. Jose Bautista leads the AL in home runs, yet again, with 27, and the Rays have found another success story in the closer’s role with Fernando Rodney (0.93 ERA, 25 saves).

The Red Sox have dealt with injuries and seem to be headed toward a youth movement. Youngster Will Middlebrooks played so well in the first half that it forced the Sox to trade long-time third baseman Kevin Youkilous to the White Sox.

AL Central

What we predicted Actual Standings
Tigers (94-68) White Sox (47-38)
White Sox (87-75) Indians (44-41)
Indians (85-77) Tigers (44-42)
Royals (80-82) Royals (37-47)
Twins (77-85) Twins (36-49)

The Tigers were pegged to run away with this division, but it simply hasn’t happened. Except for Justin Verlander (9-5, 2.58 ERA), the pitching rotation has been a complete mess. No other starter in the rotation has an ERA below 4.00.

New manager Robin Ventura has done a great job with the “Good Guys” from the South Side of Chicago and Adam Dunn (25 HR) and Jake Peavy (7-5, 2.85 ERA) are one and two in the comeback player of the year race.

The Indians are hanging around the the Central race in large part because of the consistency of All-Star closer Chris Perez (24 saves).

Unfortunately, the highlight of the Royals year likely just happened, as they hosted the All-Star game and booed Robinson Cano out of the Home Run Derby.

And the Twins are having another down year, but management has to be happy that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are healthy. Trevor Plouffe (19 HRs) has also been a nice surprise.

AL West

What we predicted Actual Standings
Angels (95-67) Rangers (52-34)
Rangers (94-68) Wild Card Angels (48-38)
Mariners (76-86) A’s (43-43)
A’s (72-90) Mariners (36-51)

The Angels started slow, as did new slugger Albert Pujols, but they have fought their way back into contention in the AL West race. For a while it looked like Texas would coast to its third straight crown, but the Rangers are only up by four games at the All-Star break.

In typical Billy Beane fashion the A’s have come together as a team pretty well, despite having a team that seemingly lacked the stars to be able to play winning baseball. Oakland worked their record back to .500 the last game before the All-Star break.

The Mariners have fielded another team with a terrible offense. The’ve been no-hit (Philip Humber) once this year, and are the only team in the American League with an on-base percentage lower than .300. I bet Seattle fans really miss the offensive barrages of the 90′s when they had Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar and Tino Martinez, Bret Boone, and the most home runs in all of baseball every season.

NL East

What we predicted Actual Standings
Phillies (97-59) Nationals (49-34)
Braves (91-71) Wild Card Braves (46-39)
Marlins (90-68) Wild Card Mets (46-40)
Nationals (82-80) Marlins (41-44)
Mets (81-81) Phillies (37-50)

We thought this division would be very strong and would win three playoff spots. That could still happen, as the NL East has proven to be the deepest division in the National League and possibly all of Major League Baseball. The Nationals pitching staff has been outstanding behind Stephen Strasburg and offseason acquisition Gio Gonzalez. Rookie Bryce Harper has wowed everyone and become the youngest to ever play in the All-Star game.

The Phillies have not been able to overcome some pretty serious injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay. They are still a dangerous team, as Howard and Utley are now back in action, but you have to wonder if they dug themselves too big a hole to make a run at a wild card spot.

Atlanta has had trouble with their pitching rotation, which was supposed to be the strongest part of their team coming out of spring training. Jair Jurrjens spent a long stint in the minors, Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery after leading the majors in ERA the first two and a half months, and the youngsters in the rotation, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, have struggled to find consistency throughout an entire ballgame.

The New York Mets have been led by a strong 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation in Johan Santana (who threw the Mets first no-hitter in team history) and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (NL leading 12 wins). And David Wright has led a better-than-advertised offense.

The Miami Marlins have a hideous home run sculpture out in center field, but their baseball team has been worth watching. They could be close to a winning record if it wasn’t for the struggles of closer Heath Bell, who has already blown six chances this season.

NL Central

What we predicted Actual Standings
Cardinals (93-69) Pirates (48-37)
Brewers (89-73) Wild Card Reds (46-39)
Reds (85-77) Wild Card Cardinals (46-40)
Pirates (80-82) Brewers (40-45)
Cubs (70-92) Cubs (33-52)
Astros (63-99) Astros (33-53)

We predicted Pittsburgh would fall short of the .500 mark with an 80-82 record and clinch its 20th straight losing season. But Pirates fans will likely see their first winning season since the Braves beat them in the 1992 NLCS when Sid Bream slid in safely to home plate. Andrew McCutchen is typically thought of as a speed and doubles guy, but he’s been launching the bombs (18 HRs) all season and is a big reason for the Pirates success.

Joey Votto (.348, 14 HRs, 65 BB) is putting up more monster numbers in Cincinnati, and Johnny Cueto has pitched like an ace in the first half of the season. Cueto posted a 2.39 ERA, notching 10 wins, and was shafted out of the All-Star game by Tony La Russa.

The Cardinals offense hasn’t slacked off too much in Albert Pujols’ absence, and they can thank Carlos Beltran for it. The switch-hitting slugger has 20 homers, 65 RBIs and eight stolen bases.

The Brewers are far from the team that won the Central last season. Not having Prince Fielder hasn’t affected Ryan Braun’s numbers, or even the team’s offense, as the Brewers are fifth in the NL in runs scored, but the pitching has been a lot worse. Milwaukee posted a 3.63 ERA in 2011 but has posted 4.24 ERA so far this season.

The Cubs and Astros have been bad, as expected. These guys should maybe take a baseball lesson from Goofy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kQ83_4RdkA

NL West

What we predicted Actual Standings
Giants (90-72) Dodgers (47-40)
Diamondbacks (88-74) Giants (46-40)
Dodgers (82-80) Diamondbacks (42-43)
Rockies (79-83) Padres (34-53)
Padres (67-95) Rockies (33-52)

The Dodgers started strong, but only lead the division by a half game at the break. Matt Kemp’s injury has been a brutal blow to the offense. At one point in the past few weeks, Jerry Hairston Jr., a career utility man until this season, was batting third in LA’s order.

The Giants pitching has been great as expected, except for the puzzling decline of Tim Lincecum (6.42 ERA). The offseason signing of Melky Cabrera has proven to be a big one, as he leads the team in hitting (.353) and earned a start in the All-Star game.

The D-Backs have seen a decline from last year’s division-winning season. Ian Kennedy, a Cy Young award candidate last season, has fallen off tremendously, going 6-7 with a 4.26 ERA. A lot of guys had career years last season, so maybe this is just everyone coming back down to earth.

The Padres and Rockies could also watch a little of “How to Play Baseball.” The Rockies have baseball’s worst ERA at 5.26, which is .40 points worse than the 29th-place team, Minnesota. San Diego is actually doing okay in that category (12th) but can’t hit their way out of a paper bag (they are dead last in all of baseball in runs scored).

Oops! Our Mistake

We called Brad Lidge a top five acquisition. Lidge was signed by the Nationals to be their closer. He started out the season on the DL, but he made us look bad once he pitched. He gave up 10 runs in 9.1 innings and Washington cut him. He is currently out of baseball and plans to stay away until next season.

We said Jonny Venters was the second best reliever in the big leagues. In Venters’ first two seasons, he only gave up three home runs. This season, he’s already given up six (double his career total), and there is still half the season left. Venters is currently sitting out for at least 15 days with elbow soreness, so, fortunately, he can’t give up any long balls there.

We said that Brian Wilson was baseball’s most interesting person. Wilson has been injured since April and has been out of sight and mind.

We said that Cliff Lee was the fourth best starting pitcher and Tim Lincecum was the eight best – Lee just won his first game last week. And I just mentioned how bad of a season “Big Time Timmy Jim” is having.

We left Mike Trout out of our top 10 youngsters - Oops.

Tooting our own horn

We called Yoenis Cespedes a top 10 acquisition – Cespedes has done pretty well for a rookie from Cuba, hitting 9 homers for the A’s mostly powerless team, and is second on the team with 36 RBIs.

We said Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen were among the top 10 most interesting people in baseball - And they were, especially in the first month of the season when both had their own controversies.

A Second Chance

At least we’re not doctors. So far, it appears we missed more than we made (though three out of ten is usually pretty good in baseball and we do have half the season remaining). But now that I’ve had half a season to make a more educated guess, here’s some predictions for the rest of the season. Hopefully these will be a little closer…

American League National League
Yankees AL East Braves NL East
White Sox AL Central Cardinals NL Central
Rangers AL West Giants NL West
Angels AL Wild Card #1 Nationals NL Wild Card #1
Tigers AL Wild Card #2 Mets NL Wild Card #2

The AL seems pretty cut and dry to me at this point. The Yankees and Rangers are too good not to win their divisions, and the Tigers can’t match the White Sox pitching to overtake them in the Central. I see Detroit doing enough to get in, though, and with the way rookie Mike Trout has propelled the Angels, they should also earn a Wild Card spot.

I’m sticking with the NL East getting three teams in, but I think the Braves will find a way to win that division in Chipper’s last season. I think the Giants are going to create distance from the Dodgers and the D-Backs in the NL West. There’s no way Lincecum will struggle all season, and once he figures out what’s been going wrong, he’ll pitch like the ace he is. And unfortunately for Brett Honeycutt’s favorite team, I see them slipping out of playoff contention just at the end. Sorry Pirates fans, Sid Bream has, and always will be, safe. They’ve even made it into a bobble head.

Here’s how I see all of the major awards shaking out:

American League National League
Josh Hamilton MVP David Wright MVP
Jared Weaver Cy Young R.A. Dickey CY Young
Mike Trout Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper Rookie of the Year
Fernando Rodney Reliever of the Year Craig Kimbrel Reliever of the Year
Uncommon Challenge