Baseball

MLB Half Way Mark: American League

Chicago White Sox
Joe Nicholson – USA TODAY Sports

As the MLB starts the month of July the majority of teams have played exactly half of their regular season games. The second half will see a lot of changes within divisions. Here is a quick look at the current division leaders and the predicted winners at the end of the season for the American League.

East

Current: Boston Red Sox

Predicted Winner: Boston Red Sox

The American League West is one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball. Besides the Baltimore Orioles, who have the second worst record in baseball, they are all playoff contenders.

In the shortened 2020 season the Red Sox finished with the fourth worst record in baseball. The 2021 season has been a much different story. At the mid way point in the season they are the only American League team to have 50 wins.

Since they are in such a difficult division it is not a guarantee that they can take a commanding lead into the final days. Yet, they have what it takes.

The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off of a World Series appearance in 2020 which means expectations were high from the start. For much of the season they have sat at the top but over the past month they have had multiple big losing streaks. Their pitching has faltered in the important innings and their run production has been way down.

The New York Yankees always have a lot of pressure, but this has not been their season. The Yankees have good pitchers and some of the biggest hitters in baseball, but they sit in fourth at 41-39. The Toronto Blue Jays, on the other hand do not have much pressure since most know they are in a bit of a rebuilding stage. They have an insane offense with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette, but their pitching is not the best and they have struggled to hit with men on base.

All three of these teams could get hot and race into first to claim the division. Unfortunately for them, with the way the Red Sox sluggers J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Hunter Renfroe and Rafael Devers are hitting they will be nearly impossible to slow down.

Central

Current: Chicago White Sox

Predicted Winner: Chicago White Sox

Unlike the West, the Central is not extremely competitive. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians are battling for the division, but all three others are over 10 games back.

The White Sox sit in first with a 48-32 record, five games above the Indians. It is safe to say that neither of these teams has played their best baseball up to this point.

After a strong start to June where the Sox went 10-3. They then faded away and went 1-7. This is a big home run hitting team but during the losing streak they only hit five homers. In their win streak they scored an average of 5.31 runs per game compared to 2.5 during their losing streak. One of the most prolific offenses with Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu and Yermin Mercedes was kept quiet relatively easily.

The Indians have also had their own issues as they were only two games above .500 in June (13-11). The entire month was polar opposites in run scoring. They seemed to either score a lot or barely anything. They scored seven or more runs nine times and three or less on eight occasions. Unfortunately, their pitching allowed opposing teams to score seven or more nine times as well.

Both of these teams have the potential to run over the entire MLB to get to the World Series. Before they can accomplish that they have to fix the obvious issues just to get back on track. The White Sox are the closest of the two to being fully ready to dominate which makes them the best choice to claim the division.

West

Current: Houston Astros

Predicted Winner: Oakland Athletics

The one American League division that will most likely see a change by the end is the West. The Houston Astros (49-33) are sitting only one and a half games up on the Oakland Athletics (48-35). The Astros have sat at the top for the entirety of the season, but Oakland is right behind them.

Houston has had one of the most dominant and consistent offenses in all of baseball. The stat that tells the whole story is their run differential which is at plus 132.

Their entire lineup contributes each and every game which makes them such a difficult team to stop. Most teams only have a couple frequent starters hitting above .250, but the Astros have seven. That includes three above .300 (Alvarez: .300; Gurriel: .325; Brantley: .345). Their team batting average is an absurd .275. Due to these monstrous numbers, in June they score seven or more runs on 13 occasions. Six of those games were in the double digits. Unexpectedly, they were held to three or less runs 11 times. This team is much like the Indians, but unlike the Indians they started the month only five over .500 and finished 15 over.

Despite the insane power of the Astros, the Oakland Athletics have the chance to win the AL West in back-to-back years. It would be their first time accomplishing it since they did it in 2012 and 2013.

Oakland only has a run differential of plus 35, but that does not tell the whole story. This team is so good because of their pitching which helps them win the close games. They started June 7-1 in games which ended within three runs, but in the second half they went 1-6. This disappointing finish was not new. The first three weeks of May was nearly perfect at 9-2, but the last week was an rough 2-5 in such games. If they can finish months as consistently as they start them they will be in a perfect position to finish off the Astros late in the season.

The majority of the A’s team stats are near the middle of the pack in the MLB, whereas the Astros are at the top in nearly ever category. This does not signal a highly dominant presence in Oakland, but when Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are going well at the plate they usually score a lot. Plus when starters Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt (9-2, 3.04 ERA) are pitching well it is hard for team to put up a lot of runs. Oakland may not have the gaudy numbers, but they are a dangerous team.

These three American League divisions are going to be close until the very end. The east could be a battle between four teams whereas the West and Central are looking like races between two teams. That is what makes baseball so exciting, as they come down to game 162 it may be hard to label a clear winner.

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