04 Jul MLB Mail Bag: Week 14
By: Lou Landers – @RealSportsCrew
1) American League Playoff Races
Although the Astros have a double digit lead in the American League West, the rest of the races in the American League are incredibly tight. With the exception of the White Sox, Tigers and Athletics, every other team is still within 5 games of a wild card spot. This is noteworthy, considering the fact that in the National League, the closest team to making the playoffs via the Wild Card is 6 games out. With the races being so close in the AL, this not only sets up to be a great second half of baseball, but it will also make the trade deadline very interesting.
With 12 of 15 teams in playoff contention, there will not be many sellers. We can expect to see all 12 contending teams looking to make moves to improve their roster and increase their chances of reaching the post season. This is exactly what the sellers want of course, they can now leverage each team’s offers against the others and get the most value for their players. It may not be the case with A’s, however the Tigers and White Sox both have a number of great trade pieces and could replenish their farm systems from 1 or 2 big trades. Of course, there are many other sellers in the National League, but the teams are struggling in the NL for a reason; they aren’t very good. The Braves, Cubs and Cardinals are the only NL teams who aren’t in the playoffs that might still be able to make a push in the 2nd half; only time will tell.
2) NL Playoff Races (NL West Mostly)
The NL West division is easily the best in baseball this season. Even with the struggles of the Giants and Padres, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies have 3 of the best 4 records in the National League. The Rockies have been on a free fall as of late, losing 9 of their last 10 games and yet they still have the 4th best record. Barring a complete collapse from them, 3 of the 5 playoff teams in the NL will come from this division. The question that still remains is, who will win this division and which team will host the Wild Card Game? The Dodgers are currently leading, and have been baseball’s best team since the end of April, while Arizona has been consistent all season long and currently sits in 2nd. The D-Backs and Dodgers have both opened up healthy leads on the Rockies, but I expect them to battle each other for the remainder of the season for the NL West crown. With the rest of the National League playoff races being anti-climactic, this NL West division promises to entertain all season long.
The National League Central has a great race going, however, only one team will be playoff bound. The Brewers are currently in first, however I still expect the Cubs or Cardinals to make a run at it. In the NL East, Washington has comfortable lead, however over the past few weeks, they have seen it shrink. The Braves are playing good baseball and have gotten themselves back into the conversation in both the division and the Wild Card race. Unlike the AL, there are only 8 teams who are in contention, and as I mentioned earlier, 3 of those teams still have quite the hill to climb. They will need a complete collapse from the Rockies if they want to get into the Wild Card.
3) Home run record for a month broken in June
There has been a serious uptick in homers this season and the month of June was no exception. There has never been more homers hit in a month than there were last month and it has people around MLB wondering what the cause could be. It would be easy to suggest that the players are just stronger now, leading to them hitting the ball harder, which is something I’ve considered. However, that seems too simple of an explanation. Pitchers around MLB are trying to suggest that the baseballs are “juiced”. They claim that the stitching is different, and that the balls are “harder” which makes them go further when they are hit off the barrel.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is insistent on the fact that the balls are the exact same as last season, yet the stats would indicate that something is different. Pitchers are even complaining of more blisters now, blaming it on the stitching, but why would stitching make the balls go further? Taking this a step ahead, the amount of homers only increases the length of games, which is something the MLB is trying to avoid. So with that being said, why would MLB do anything to jeopardize their efforts to shorten games? Needless to say, there should be more investigating done on this matter, and if the pitchers continue to complain about the stitching, I can only imagine that this “issue” isn’t going away anytime soon.