Ten predictions for September
I don’t know about you, but my preseason predictions are looking great.
The Cleveland Indians are closing in on an American League Central title. Just as I thought, Travis Hafner is having a bounce-back season.
The National League races are unfolding as I figured they would — Florida leading the East, Cincinnati the Central and Arizona the West.
And I knew the Yankees would be a third-place team.
Actually, I was wrong in about every way imaginable.
But there is one month left in the regular season, which means there’s one more chance to revise my forecasts before embarrassing myself anew during the postseason.
So, here’s my shot at redemption — 10 predictions for September.
1. The Dodgers will withstand the Rockies’ late charge and win the National League West.
Colorado has the best record in baseball since Jim Tracy took over as manager in late May. People are staying up late to watch the Rockies play. Amid the rapture, you might have missed the fact that their ace, Aaron Cook, is now on the disabled list because of shoulder woes.
In the best-case scenario, Cook will be back in three weeks. But that’s not soon enough for Colorado to pass Los Angeles. The Dodgers have their own pitching issues, with Hiroki Kuroda on the disabled list, but I expect Vicente Padilla and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger to be better at the back end than many expect.
2. Brett Myers will save at least one game for the Phillies during the regular season.
Brad Lidge has blown nine saves this season, most recently on Tuesday night against the last-place Pirates. If the defending champs aren’t worried, they should be. But general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told FOXSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal on Wednesday: “Lidge is our closer.”
Fortunately for Philly, the team entered Thursday with a seven-game lead in the National League East. September is coming, which means an expanded roster. Myers, currently rehabbing in the minors, and setup man Ryan Madson could pitch the ninth on occasion to give Lidge more rest. Then Charlie Manuel can go with his hottest hand in October. Don’t forget that Pedro Martinez’s contract includes clauses based on relief appearances.
3. Jake Peavy wins not more than one game for the White Sox, and the Tigers take the American League Central.
The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday that Peavy’s throwing session in Boston ended early because of stiffness in his right elbow. Uh-oh. Peavy hasn’t pitched in the majors since June 8 because of an injured ankle. Now the elbow is an issue after being hit with a line drive in his most recent minor-league rehabilitation start. (No need to remind White Sox fans that Clayton Richard is pitching pretty well for the Padres.)
The Tigers, meanwhile, led the division by 4 ½ games entering Wednesday. They won a crucial series in Anaheim this week. And unless Peavy returns quickly — and fully — Detroit will have the better starting rotation.
4. With their worst skid behind them, the Red Sox right themselves and win the wild card ahead of the impressive Rangers.
The Rangers finally figured it out, didn’t they? They developed some young pitching — Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter and Neftali Feliz — and installed an exciting shortstop (Elvis Andrus), who can defend a lot and hit plenty. Outfielder Julio Borbon, 23, has made an impact with his legs, too.
But Boston is too deep and too experienced. Tim Wakefield is back from the disabled list, and Junichi Tazawa seems to have settled in a little. Victor Martinez has hit since arriving, and old/new shortstop Alex Gonzalez has solidified the defense. Despite their stumbles against the Yankees, they look like a postseason team.
5. Zack Greinke will pitch his way to the American League Cy Young Award.
While Greinke leads the league with a 2.43 ERA, the likes of Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia aren’t far behind. And Sabathia’s 15 victories lead the league, comfortably ahead of Greinke’s 12.
But did you happen to see what Greinke did in Kansas City on Tuesday night? He struck out 15 batters — a team record — in a win over the Indians. Yes, I realize Cleveland has a crummy lineup. The point is that Greinke delivered one of his finest performances at a time when voters tend to start looking more seriously at the field. He’s ready to win this award.
6. John Smoltz will perform well enough to remain a candidate for the Cardinals’ postseason rotation.
When a starting pitcher is on the disabled list in September, I tend to doubt his chances of making a meaningful contribution in the playoffs. And right now, Kyle Lohse is on the disabled list with a strained left groin. It’s not an arm injury, and the Cardinals expect him back as soon as the minimum 15 days are up. But I’m guessing the groin’s role in pitching is underrated … until it’s strained.
Meanwhile, Smoltz looked great in his first start with the Cardinals, albeit against a lousy San Diego lineup. I expect him to maintain an ERA under 4.00 over the remainder of the season. That should be good enough to earn him a spot behind Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro if Lohse isn’t back to full strength by the time October begins.
7. Joe Mauer wins the batting title with a .370 average and positions himself for his first American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Mauer entered Wednesday with a major-league-best .372 average, and I’m still not sure if we have properly appreciated how remarkable his 2009 season has been. Catchers aren’t meant to hit .372, or win three batting titles in four years. But that is precisely what’s about to happen.
Mauer also leads the league in slugging percentage. He has hit 25 home runs — roughly double his previous career high — with more than one month to play. The fact that he’s doing this as a catcher merely closes an already-strong case.
8. The Braves will mount the most serious threat to Colorado in the National League wild-card chase.
The Aaron Cook injury could make the Rockies much more vulnerable in the wild-card race. The Rockies might not have to win Game No. 163 this time, but it could get very tight. And the absence of center fielder/table setter Dexter Fowler, on the disabled list with a bruised knee, may disrupt an exciting offense.
Atlanta has an experienced rotation, with Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, and the lineup has been more productive since the acquisition of Adam LaRoche and return of Omar Infante. Meanwhile, the big trade-deadline acquisitions for San Francisco (Freddy Sanchez) and Florida (Nick Johnson) were recently placed on the disabled list.
9. The Nationals — the Nationals! — post a winning record in September, greatly improving the chances that interim manager Jim Riggleman returns next year.
You probably know that the Nationals signed No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, and that Mike Rizzo was recently named their permanent general manager. But are you aware that they have a 13-11 August record?
Washington’s formidable lineup has been obscured by a league-worst pitching staff for much of the season. The Nationals should be better — but not yet a contender — in 2010. And that’s why Riggleman, who has presided over some second-half improvement, could be back.
10. The Angels will win the American League West and draw the Red Sox in the first round.
Really, is there any other way? If the playoffs started today, the New Englanders would hop on a plane bound for Orange County to play Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The teams met in the 2004, 2007 and 2008 postseasons, and Boston won every time.
The Red Sox pitching staff isn’t as good as it was in ’08. Unfortunately for the Angels, the same is true of their own. But something tells me Los Angeles would win this time. Call it a hunch. Just like my April prediction that both Ohio teams would make the playoffs.