MLB Playoffs Predictions for American and National League
by Trevor Whenham - 7/16/2010
As the all-star break ends and we head into the second half of the baseball season this is a good time to look at the standings as they exist now and try to figure out what they will look like in early October when the playoffs roll around and we will offer some MLB Playoffs predictions. To start with this let’s look at where we were at this same time last year:
In the American League East two teams had asserted themselves at the all-star break. The Red Sox were three games up on the Yankees, but New York was comfortably in second in the division, and with the second best record in the whole American League they were in good control of the Wild Card race. The positions were reversed by the end of the season, but the effect was the same - the Yankees won the division by daylight, and the Red Sox cruised to the Wild Card spot.
The Central was a three-team race, though Detroit was at an advantage at the break with a 3.5-game lead over the Sox and four over the Twins. Detroit couldn’t hold on, though, and Minnesota won by a game in the dying days of the season.
The West was not particularly dramatic. The Angels had a small lead over the Rangers at the break, and a very large one by the end of the season.
All four of the playoff teams were over .500 and well within touch of the lead at the break if they didn’t hold it. There were no dramatic closing charges.
It was even more straightforward in the NL. At the break the three division leaders were the Phillies, the Cardinals, and the Dodgers. Those were the three division winners at the end of the season. The only small change from the standings at the break occurred in the Wild Card race. The Rockies trailed the Giants by two games in that race at the break, but were able to overcome that gap by the end. The Giants still held on for second in the Wild Card chase, so the change wasn’t profound.
The lesson from last year is pretty clear - what we see now is a pretty good indicator of what we will see in the end. Anything can happen down the stretch, but the work that teams have already done, and the form they have shown, is an important indicator of what is to come.
We are in the 15th year of the Wild Card era (that makes me feel really old), and some very strong trends have emerged. Based on the past, this is what we can expect from this year:
1. Texas should win the AL West - The Rangers have the biggest lead of any team right now - 4.5 games over the Angels. That’s a solid lead that has a good chance of holding up. The problem is that they lost four in a row right before the break to see their lead fall to less than five games. A lead of five games or more at the break has proven to be potent. There has been just one team - the 2003 Royals - that managed to blow a lead of more than five games.
2. The leaders now are likely to keep playing in October - Just once in the Wild Card era have two teams been tied atop a division heading into the break. That means that there have been 83 outright leaders at the break. Of those, 61 have made it to the playoffs either by winning the division or the Wild Card. That’s just short of three quarters of leaders - a very solid percentage. If you are a fan of a team leading right now then you can start to feel confident.
3. If you are under .500 the dream is dead - Of the 112 playoff teams in the Wild Card era just two half been below .500 at the break. That’s very bad news for the 13 teams that have lost more than they have won so far this year. Even worse for the morale of struggling teams, the two teams that did make that remarkable late charge weren’t exactly horrible in the first half. The Astros bounced back from a 43-45 start in 1997, and the Twins were 44-49 in 2003. 12 of the 13 teams below .500 right now have fewer than 44 wins.
4. The Yankees are going to the playoffs - This seems obvious anyway given their payroll, but history supports their claim. The AL East is actually pretty dull and predictable - largely because the Red Sox and Yankees have been so much better than everyone else for so long. The team that has led the division at the all-star break has made it to the playoffs all but one time in the Wild Card era. The Yankees have led eight times, and have made the postseason each time.
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