The All-Star break is the traditional midpoint of the season, traditional in this sense meaning, "It's actually a little past the midpoint but we have two offdays out of the next three so it's a good time to write a story summing up the first half."
I thought this would be a good day to check in on the many predictions I made in my National and American League previews three months ago. That's because with the season only half over, traditionally speaking, my bad predictions only look half as bad as they will in October.
First, just to whet the palate, some good ones:
We're about to see the difference Barry Bonds has made for the Giants these last few years.
Bingo bango, right out of the box. The Giants, sans Bonds, are stinking up the joint even in the stinky context of the N.L. West, where they're holding down fourth place, third among teams under .500.
The Giants offense is down about three-quarters of a run per game, from 5.25 last year to 4.52 this year. The pitching is also worse, though only by a half a run, from 4.75 runs allowed to 5.25. Last year Bonds personally accounted for 1.14 runs per game, using the runs created statistic, and that counts games he didn't play.
Now, other guys are creating runs in the at-bats Bonds isn't taking, but not at anywhere near that level, obviously. The Giants' most productive hitter, Moises Alou, who would have been playing anyway, has accounted for 0.60 runs per game.
Figuring out the exact number takes more mathematical skills than I have access to, but the combination of guys getting Bonds' swings -- Michael Tucker, Pedro Feliz, Alex Sanchez, etc. -- is probably accounting for about three-quarters of a run per game less than Bonds, meaning that with him, even with the bad pitching, the Giants would be scoring about the same number of runs they're giving up, which would make them about a .500 team.
That would still put them beyond the wild-card race, but only three and a half games behind the Padres in the West. Bonds is pretty much the difference between the Giants contending and, well, stinking.
That leaves this weak division open to the Padres and Dodgers, who are both on the upswing ... I think the Padres will sneak in and take the division this year.
Hey, looking good. I should have quit there.
Well, actually, after stinking out the joint myself with the rest of my National League preview and the first 43/47ths of the American League, I made some nice calls in the A.L. East, to wit:
As of the start of the weekend, I had that right, though the Orioles have nosed ahead of the Yankees for second place at the break. I think that'll be temporary, though I don't know whether the O's will finish ahead of the Blue Jays.
So, OK, now that we've covered the good, here comes the bad, and in the interest of this column not stretching to book length, I'm just going to go with the highlights. Don't bother e-mailing me asking why I'm not mentioning how I said Matt Clement was nothing special. Statements like that don't even rate, these others are so bad.
This year everybody's picking the Cardinals to win the N.L. Central. Except me.
The Cards lead by a Secretariat-like 11 and a half games. They could probably have a winless month and still win the division.
I'll do what I did two years ago and take a flier on the Cubs, though it's less of a flier this time.
Good God. It was a flying you know what at a rolling donut.
Nomar Garciaparra, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Patterson: This team will hit.
Does naming Triple Crown candidate Lee make up for naming Patterson, recently sent to the minors toting an on-base percentage smaller than a purely theoretical particle? Didn't think so.
I'm picking them to win the pennant.
I feel compelled to come before you and express my deep regret for my actions. This incident was completely out of character, and I think without question that you know that it will never happen again. I'm deeply disappointed and embarrassed in myself.
[In re the Florida Marlins]: Add in middle-to-back of the rotation guys Al Leiter and Dontrelle Willis, and what looks like a decent bullpen, and these guys can go places.
How many times can you be wrong in one sentence? Middle of the pack? Leiter has been horrendous, Willis sensational. And the Marlins aren't going places, at least not at the moment. They're four and a half games out in the wild-card race, and going in the wrong direction.
Speaking of going place: Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Washington Nationals, formerly Montreal Expos. There's not enough pitching here to make much noise, but not having to play a quarter of their "home" games in San Juan ought to by itself make for some improvement over last year's 95 losses.
The Nationals are tied for third in the league in team ERA, and they lead the East by two and a half games.
I think [the A.L. West will] be a tossup between the Angels and A's, and, mostly because everyone else is picking the Angels, I'll take the A's.
The A's may yet make me look good, though they've still got a long way to go. They lost eight straight at the end of May, and since then have gone 27-11 and made up five games on the Angels, whom they still trail by seven a half. They probably won't get there, but talking about preseason predictions at midseason is all about keeping hope alive.
A surprising performance in 2004 and patently ridiculous talk that this is finally, really, finally the year for Chan Ho Park notwithstanding, it's ["they really ought to have better pitching"] true again this year. (Predicted finish: Last place.)
Park is pitching about as well as he did last year, which is to say poorly, but the Rangers as a team are pitching pretty well. Their 4.78 ERA is better than three other teams, which doesn't sound like much except that they play in an extreme hitter's park.
The Rangers have to win with offense, which they have -- they trail the Yankees by two-hundredths of a run per game for the major league scoring lead -- so as long as they pitch OK, they'll do well. They're in second place, five games out in the West and two games out in the wild card.
You could make an argument for the Indians, Tigers and White Sox in any order between the first-place Twins and the last-place Royals, and I'll put them in that order.
Wait, it gets better.
The White Sox are headed downhill, and might even rival the Royals for last place.
Let's just say I got my wires crossed when it came to Chicago and leave it at that, shall we?
The Washington Post picked the Cubs to win the N.L. Central, and Peter Gammons of ESPN joined me in picking the Cubs to (hard ... to ... type ... this) win the National League pennant. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, echoing the thoughts of many, wrote, "It would be a big mistake to write off the Giants over Bonds' Hamlet speech."
And of all the experts whose picks I perused before the season, a fair number, exactly no one picked the Nationals to make the playoffs, never mind win their division. And the only one who picked the White Sox -- who have the best record in the majors -- so much as winning their division was ESPN's Rob Neyer.
But even the estimable Neyer also had the A's and Dodgers winning their divisions and the Phillies winning the National League. So my point is ...
Oh, I don't have a point. Did I mention the things I said about the N.L. West?
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