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Now that the All Star break is here, the Road to October has officially begun. While there are no teams in Major League Baseball running away with their respective divisions, it is quite difficult to say who will and will not make the postseason come early October. Of course, just like every year, there are two or three teams near the top of the division that are surprising the nation. Take the Pittsburgh Pirates for instance. Last season at the break, the Pirates were leading the National League Central but finished 24 games out of first when it was all said and done.
Right now the Pirates lead the Cincinnati Reds by a game and the St. Louis Cardinals by 2.5. What makes the 2012 Pirates different from last yearâ€™s midway team it the fact that the athletes on this squad are clicking on all cylinders and at times look unbeatable.
Other teams around the league that are big surprises are the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals and the Cleveland Indians. For most of the first half, the Orioles led the American League East and are still within striking distance. For Washington, it seems that its ownership has finally built a very talented team out of early draft picks and very young studs. As of Sunday, the Nationals owned the majorâ€™s second-best record only behind the Yankees who are sporting and unbelievable 52-33 showing after a slow start to the year. The Yankees also finished off their first half with a sweep over their arch rivals from Boston.
Cleveland has been out of peopleâ€™s minds for quite some time now, but have drafted well and made very smart trades in recent memory to stay afloat in a very tough American League Central. Only 3.5 games separate the division leading Chicago White Sox, the Indians and the powerful Detroit Tigers heading into the break.
But while there are still plenty of games to be decided, the main powerhouses should prevail from any current shadows come October.
Here are my picks for this yearâ€™s post season:
American League East:
New York Yankees â€“ The Yankees have one of the best infields in baseball history and eight bats in the lineup with homerun power. Second baseman Robinson Cano has turned into one of baseballâ€™s best players and unlike most athletes at his position, Cano has extremely good power at the plate. There is no way Baltimore can hang with the Yankees and will probably finish nearly 20 games out. The only teams New York will have to look out for will be the Tampa Bay Rays come October. Sorry Boston fans but itâ€™s the truth.
American League Central:
Detroit Tigers â€“ The Tigers have one of the most potent offenses in the league, but have yet to show it all at once or for any length of time. While the White Sox and Indians are currently ahead of the Tigers, both of their pitching staffs donâ€™t have what it takes to compete at the top over the course of a full major league season. Tigers win easily.
American League West:
If it has not been clear over the past two or three seasons that the Texas Rangers are one of the best teams in baseball, I am not sure what more it would take to prove that point. Though Texas is very, very tough to beat, the Los Angeles Angels are breathing up the rear and will be for the rest of the season. I still think with the Angelsâ€™ pitching woes and their inconsistent bats, the Rangers will finish at the top of the West once again. Though making the World Series for a third straight season might be out of the question, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if the Rangers are there once again in 2012.
American League Wild Card:
Now that there are two Wild Card spots in both leagues, this gives more teams a chance to reach October. The Wild Card is usually the hardest thing to predict given anything could happen in the final week or so of the season. But, for the American League, this year should be pretty easy to pick. If I were going to bet on it I would take the Angels and the Rays as the 2012 American League Wild Card picks. The Angels are too good to not make the postseason and the Rays are always second best in the East, but usually finish very strong.
National League East:
Washington Nationals â€“ The Nationals have finally paid their dues and have a team capable of beating any team in the majors. With pitching phenomenon Stephen Strasburg throwing gem after gem from the mound, the Nationals have finally reached the top of the East. Even more surprisingly, the Philadelphia Phillies are currently 14 games out of first and owners of one of the leagueâ€™s worst records. A big reason for that being the fact that many of its stars have been out with injuries over the first half of the season. The Braves are close to Washington but if history continues like it has in the past, the Braves will â€śchokeâ€ť come clutch time and finish weak once again.
National League Central:
St. Louis Cardinals â€“ The defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals have been very good for the most part of the first half this season. With the huge loss of Albert Pujols to free agency and the loss of ace Chris Carpenter who is out with an injury for the rest of the season, the Cardinals have made up for both of those with the signing of Carlos Beltran and the very good play of Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn on the mound. While the Cardinals are currently in third, I do not feel the Pirates can hold on and with the Reds not playing consistent, I think the safe bet is on the Cardinals once again in 2012. Plus, when Lance Berkman gets back into the lineup, the Cardinals will be one of the best teams in the league once again.
National League West:
Los Angeles Dodgers â€“ The Dodgers started the season with a boom and looked as if they were not going to lose many games in the first half. Matt Kemp had the fans chanting â€śMVPâ€ť within the first two weeks of the season before going out with an injury a short time after. But, with him becoming healthier every day the Dodgers are going to be tough to beat in the second half. The San Francisco Giants are only a half game out and are playing well right now. Though their pitching is not anywhere near where they are capable of being, the Giants are still right in the thick of things in the West. It should be fun to watch come late September.
National League Wild Card:
Once again, with two teams going through as a Wild Card, it is difficult to say who will be there. Last season it came down to the final night of the season before the Cardinals finally got in to the postseason after completing baseballâ€™s biggest comeback in history. The Cardinals were 10.5 games out of contention with just over 30 games left in the season. With a monstrous Braves collapse, the Cardinals made the postseason and stayed hot on their way to a 11th title. This season will have two familiar teams in once again. The Giants and the Braves should be very good contenders for the spots, given that the Braves donâ€™t give up again. For the Giants, the West is very weak once you get past them and the Dodgers. Usually the teams that make the Wild Card has a record good enough to win a division somewhere else in the league. That is the very reason why the Reds or any other team in the National League will not be on the Wild Cardâ€™s radar. Watching the rest of this season should be joy to see.