With the All-Star Break just concluded and play resuming today in the Major Leagues, it's a good time to recap where we've come so far and make some fearless predictions for the future. First, here's the division and wild-card leaders going into the second half of the season:
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
AL West: Anaheim Angels
AL Wildcard: Minnesota Twins
NL East: Washington Nationals
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: San Diego Padres
NL Wildcard: Atlanta Braves
In the AL East, the surprise is not so much that the Red Sox are leading but that the New York Yankees have struggled so much. However, the Yanks are only 2 1/2 games back so things don't look so bad for them. I still like the Red Sox chances the best but the real test will come in September with 6 games against the Orioles and 6 against the Yankees (including the last series of the season). This is a division that could literally go down to the wire.
The White Sox have a commanding lead at this point in the Central (9 games over the Twins). In fact, the Twins best hope may be to simply hold off the Orioles and Yankees and get into the playoffs as the wild card. My bet is the Sox will hold onto the division but don't count the Twins out of the equation.
Anaheim leads the AL west but Texas is only 5 games behind so this division could go either way. I'm picking the Rangers to make a second half charge and make this more interesting. Don't count out the A's in the wild card race, either. They're only 4 1/2 games behind the Twins and already making moves to put themselves into contention.
The NL East has to be the most interesting division this year because the Washington Nationals are leading by 2 games. The big question is whether they can keep up their winning ways. They were besieged by injuries just before the break and really needed the rest. Thankfully, their schedule is pretty favorable in July and August before they hit the tough September stretch. If they can extend their lead in the next 6 weeks they can put the division flag out of reach. The only other negative for them is they are playing in the toughest division in the majors. It's a fairly safe bet that the wild card team will likely come from the East with Atlanta leading the race and the Florida Marilins only 4 1/2 games back.
The St. Louis Cardinals have an almost insurmountable 11 1/2 game lead over the Houston Astros in the Central. My beloved Chicago Cubs are 12 1/2 games back. The only things the Cubs have going for them is they can expect to get Nomar Garciaparra back sometime in August (the sooner the better) and they still control their own destiny with 13 games left on the schedule against the Cardinals. The Cubs will have to play a whole lot better in the second half than the first and their sweep of the Marlins to end the first half should help their confidence. In 2003, they went 41-27 in the second half after a 47-47 start to win their division. It will take a second half on that order to have any hope of contending for a playoff spot.
The NL West has another pleasant surprise in the San Diego Padres. The West is a fairly weak division so unless the remainder of the division starts playing better in the second half the Padres should make it to the postseason.
I'm betting on the Braves to take the wildcard unless the rest of East starts catching up to the Nationals and then it's anybody's guess as to who will get in.
It should be a fun second half of the season.