October Baseball is just around the corner – Playoff predictions and more

The baseball season is a long one.

It just feels like the season started yesterday where teams started fresh and everyone had a taste of first place. Well 30 games are left and the season in 20% shy of being done. The race to the postseason has been on for a while now and it is going to be a fun ride to the finish line. Only 8 teams can make it to the playoffs and teams are trying to do everything in their power to get there and even more with home field advantage.

As a Blue Jays fan it has been a fun ride with lots of up and down moments. Its been a tale of two seasons in which the Blue Jays once lead the AL East for a long time but now see themselves fighting for a chance to win the Wild Card. Nonetheless, the Blue Jays are playing meaningful baseball and the city of Toronto is buzzing. Imagine what the city would be like if the Blue Jays made an appearance in the post season. Getting there will be tough and I take my turn at predicting who will show and be no shows in October. Lets start with the American League.

The American League has shaped out to be very different than many would have expected. The AL East, which has been referred to the toughest divisions in the league, isn’t as close as it should be. By should be I am referring to the powerhouses of New York and Boston continuing their rivalry at the top of the division. The Red Sox have gone from first to last and the Orioles seem to have taken full control going into the final swing. The AL Central has been very fun to watch with the Royals using a pair of extensive winning streaks to make a close run to the playoffs with the Tigers who’s starting pitching had given them instant favourites throughout the season. Kansas City has had phenomenal pitching performances from their starters and their bullpen and should it continue the Tigers may somehow lose contention in the Central. Speaking about great pitching we head over to AL West where Seattle and Oakland have separated themselves from the rest of the pact. Their pitching has been consistent and it has come down to who performs better offensively game in and game out. The departure of Cespedes will come around to haunt them should they make the playoffs with spectacular offensive teams like the red hot Angels. The Angels haven’t disappointed with their powerful threat of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. They couldn’t have asked for a better season from Garret Richards who played a key factor in their string of success this year. His absence for the rest of the season will just make things more interesting. Remember Texas Rangers? Look no further than last place in the West. Nevertheless, look out for a wild card extravaganza at the end of September. Here are my predictions:

AL EAST: Baltimore Orioles

AL CENTRAL: Kansas City Royals

AL WEST: Los Angeles Angels

WILCARD: Mariners/Athletics (Mariners win)

The National League has been quite the show. There are some very good teams who made the playoffs last year who might not make it this year. Starting with the NL East you see the usual – the Braves and Nationals leading the way with strong pitching and hitting. Many were counting the Braves out at season’s beginning after season ending injuries to majority of their starting rotation. They have got timely hitting and good pitching lead by their young ace Julio Tehran. The Nationals have been outstanding once again with the young phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Miami Marlins have been a huge surprise with a “500-like” season after being one of the leagues worst in 2013 but won’t be playing October baseball anytime soon. In the NL Central there will be a playoff team from last year not playing October baseball this year. You can thank the Milwaukee Brewers for that. In the offseason I was questioning Matt Garza’s decision to sign with the Brewers. Well he is on the best team in baseball and he isn’t even pitching due to injuries. Combine the new sensation, Willy Peralta and the rest of their pitching with Gomez, Braun and Lucroy and you have yourself a contender. Should they be serious contender’s still remains unknown but they have had a remarkable season. The Cardinals have been hit hard by injuries to Wacha and Molina but their trade deadline acquisitions of Masterson and Lackey will likely give them the edge over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh who’s pitching frankly hasn’t been good enough. The AL West has been the usual rivalry with the Dodgers and Giants a-top of the division. Coming off a disappointing season last year the Giants have stayed close to the Dodgers in the playoff race but it continues to be tough to compete with the Dodgers who continue to send out the best pitcher in the league every five games. Yasiel Puig has continued to be the real deal and the Dodgers look like they are in full control. My predictions for the National League are as follow:

NL EAST: Washington Nationals

NL CENTRAL: Milwakee Brewers

NL WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers

WILCARD: Cardinals/Braves (Cardinals win)

As you may have realized I haven’t predicted the Blue Jays to make the playoffs. Well its no mistake folks. I am not even going to bother going into how disappointing it has been being a Jay’s fan recently but you can read my 2014 season recap column when the season is over. To leave it short, the Jays aren’t a playoff team and are still missing key pieces in order to match up with the “big” guys.

In terms of award races there are many exciting ones to look out for. The MVP is a huge award but before we discuss that lets look at candidates for the comeback player of the year. These players are ones who bounce back dramatically from seasons past to have career seasons and play huge parts in helping their team compete. There are two great names that stand out – Melky Cabrera and Johhny Cueto. Cabrera went from a guy who was playing with a tumour in his back to a guy who is running everyone and making highlight catches in the outfield. His offensive contribution has been much more than expected as he has hit as good if not better than the big names below him in the lineup. He has become a legitimate threat to opposing teams and will be a hot name on the free agent market. Cueto in the national league was sidelined for majority of last year due to injuries but stormed back this year and had a chance to start for the NL in the All Star Game. Both these players are key players in their team’s pursuit to make the playoffs.

The CY Young debate remains very straightforward this season despite spectacular seasons for pitchers league-wide. Expect to see Kershaw and King Felix to take home this honour at the end of the year. It isn’t often that the CY Young winner takes home the MVP award as well; but it is possible. Don’t get me wrong, Kershaw has been on a whole other level with his performance this year but Giancarlo Stanton is a MONSTER. If you have seen hit a homerun you know what I am referring to. He has been remarkable and has lead the league with homeruns for majority of the season. Though his Marlins wont be making the playoffs this year he has played a huge part this season both offensively and defensively. With Troy Tulowitski no longer playing this year with injuries, Jonathon Lucroy would likely get some votes for MVP. It is very rare to see catchers take home this award but he has been phenomenal. His game calling likely gets overlooked but he has took the Brewers rotation to a playoff level – a rotation that once featured CC Sabathia many years ago. In the American League Mike Trout has been his usual self, hitting for average, power, speeding around the bases and making magnificent highlight worthy catches. He remains the likely candidate to win the MVP this year but keep your eyes on Robinson Cano. The biggest offseason acquisition has been just as the ticket price indicates. Other than no longer wearing pinstripes and using a Wilson glove, he has been the one of the premier second baseman’s and a strong bat for the Mariners.

The Gold Glove award is another great prized possession and other than the usual candidates like Molina, Pedroia and Jones, look for Adeiny Hechavaria and Andrelton Simmons to be recognized for their tremendous defensive work game in and game out. This award, which has been around since 1957, has been a hot topic recently with stats guys heavily valuing the WAR (wins above replacement) stat (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/2/18/1315444/active-multi-gold-glovers-do-they) This stat is referred to in MVP discussions as well and unlike a stat like Wins&Losses, provides an insight in a player’s ability to contribute to his team’s success. Of course you combine this with the number of errors committed and other fundamental stats to help determine gold glove candidates. Pitchers like Mark Buherle and RA Dickey are also awarded. To look into player fielding stats/WAR refer to http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/fielding/_/position/c/sort/defWARBR/order/true

I wont go too much into the Coach of the year candidates (certainly not gibbons) but you must look no further than the AL East and Buck Showalter. The way the Royals and Brewers have competed this year has been something to take note of but the Orioles have quietly taken the league by storm. The Orioles have no real superstar other than Adam Jones and without gold glovers Matt Weiters and one of my favourites to watch Manny Machado they hold a commanding lead in the AL East. Chris Davis who crushed baseballs for fun last year, has found himself at the bottom of the order but still others have stepped up to contribute like veteran Nick Markakis. Everyone is talking about other teams while they quietly do their thing to book their ticket to the playoffs after a few decades – with their pitchers combining with an ERA below 3 post All Star Break according to ESPN MLB Stats. They can match up with teams like the Angels and could be serious contenders in October.

As for who will win the World Series … that’s a good question. Jon Morosi wrote a column last week focusing on the Washington Nationals as favourites to win it all. http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/washington-nationals-should-play-world-series-win-national-league-better-dodgers-brewers-081914. I for one, has to agree with him. I was predicting the Rays and Cardinals to be World Series bound at the beginning of the season and that seems unlikely with the Nationals playing phenomenal baseball. Their pitching rotation sits atop of the league in WHIP, ERA AVG., Homeruns/9 and Walks/9. These fundamental team stats show that they can compete with anyone game in and game out. Mix that with a balanced lineup featuring power and average hitters, you have yourself a team ready to make a World Series appearance.

But lets not forget, anything can happen in baseball.

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