Friday, July 07, 2006

Half-Season Leaders Beware!

by Rob Hyman

A warning to three of the eight teams who will hold a playoff position come the All-Star Break:

YOU’RE DOOMED!

I’m sorry to say but it’s a fact that 37.5% of teams in first or in the wildcard at the break are home watching football come October. Since the advent of the current playoff format, 33 of the 88 teams who led at the break, did not make the playoffs. It’s not surprising to hear that the most tumultuous of the positions is the wildcard. Six of the 11 teams in each league holding the wild card spot at the break ended up golfing it up come playoff time. It’s not surprising because the largest wildcard lead to not make the playoffs is three games – which happened three times – ’96 Expos, ’98 Giants (who lost in a playoff game to the Cubs) and the ’96 White Sox.

As for this year, it seems that we’ll keep close to the percentages – keeping one team and replacing the other. The White Sox are the current wild card leaders by 6.5 games over the Yankees and it will almost certainly be either them or the Tigers (currently leading the Central) who will be the wild card.

In the National League, however, will be a different story. At press time the Rockies and Dodgers were tied for the wild card, but there are six teams within three games of the lead. This author puts his money on the Astros to put it together in the second half – just as they have the past two years, but this time pulling out the NL Central title – relegating the Cardinals to the wildcard.

Of the divisional races, the Western divisions have always seen the most uncertainty – staying true to All-Star form only about half the time and this year should be no different. The entire AL West is within four games of one another with Oakland currently holding a slim lead. In the NL West, three teams are within ½ a game with San Fran two games back and the D’Backs, despite all their struggles, hanging on just five games back.

The Central divisions have both held true to form eight of 11 times, as has the NL East – thanks in part to a few slow starts by the Braves throughout the years. Of no surprise, the AL East has held to its All-Star form ten of 11 times. The only blip was last year when the Red Sox held a two game lead on the Yankees at the break. Both teams ended up atop the division with 95 wins, but the flag went to the Yanks, giving the Sox the wild card for the third straight year.

So – who are my three picks to take the plunge? Mind you one again that the All-Star break is not yet upon us and small changes could still occur.

Nevertheless, my three picks to lose out come playoff time are….

1) San Diego Padres – current NL West leaders, but the Dodgers will be here at the end
2) Colorado Rockies – current wild card leaders, but won’t hold on. Look for St. Louis to finish in this spot
3) Boston Red Sox – As predicted at the beginning of the season, I don’t think they have the depth in pitching to combat the Yankee offense and come September, look for the Yanks to take control of the division.

So now– here are Rob Hyman’s official mid-year predictions:
NL East: New York Mets
NL Central: Houston Astros
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wildcard: St. Louis Cardinals

AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
AL West: Oakland Athletics
AL Wildcard: Detroit Tigers

Playoffs:

New York Mets over St. Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers

New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox over Oakland Athletics

New York Mets over Houston Astros

Chicago White Sox over New York Yankees

Chicago White Sox over New York Mets

You can trust me on this one – just like I told you to trust me in April that Cleveland was going to the World Series!

I’ll end this piece with a small bit of trivia…

Name the team to blow the biggest All-Star lead since the advent of the current playoff system. Does it come as a surprise to you that it’s the Kansas City Royals? It did to me – not because they would be capable of blowing a lead, but the fact that they ever had one to begin with is mind-boggling. But the 2003 Royals led the AL Central by seven games over the White Sox and were in first place as late as August 28th. The team ended up seven games back of the Minnesota Twins, finishing 83-79.

Let that be a warning call to Tiger fans out there – you’ve been sub-par for a long time and you’ve still got a half season to prove if you belong. If the Tigers do make the playoffs, I can assure you the White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees will make sure they earn it.

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays

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