The dust has settled from the trade deadline, though I'm certain we will see a great deal of August trades this year. Even so, this is the perfect time to rank all of baseball from worst to first as a bit of a preview for the final two months and a more official prediction than you saw during my All-Star column. In fact, this should read more like my NBA Power Poll back in April. One little quirk: I will compare each team today and with the NL next week with the historical team they most resemble. Let's get started.
14. Kansas City- '97 Phillies: Like those Phillies, the Royals are terrible, but can trot Zack Greinke every fifth day, which is what the Phillies did with Curt Schilling. Unlike like those Phillies, the Royals did nothing at the trade deadline except take on Yuniesky Betancourt's awful (for them) contract. They should of dealt players away like the Pirates and Indians did, except Greinke. Instead, they continue to be a sad-sack franchise who's payroll is too high for a team that will be the worst in the AL.
13. Cleveland- '95 Expos: Just like Montreal, the Indians have torn apart a team that were very close to winning a World Series (certainly not the same scenario). Now, the Indians have traded two Cy Young winners and a couple of valuable hitters because of the awful contracts of Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood. Those three contracts all are easily in the top-10 in worst contracts in baseball and you can't play in Cleveland and have three contracts that bad. Add the fact that the Indians are losing $16 million for next season, and we might have our next broke franchise, unless LeBron knows how to play baseball. Then again, if he did, he'd sign with the Yankees.
12. Oakland- '95 A's: This was the last year of Tony La Russa's nine-year run in Oakland, who by this time was losing his genius status as A's manager (though would retain it in St. Louis). Billy Beane this season has started to do the same as this A's team has no one besides a washed-up Nomar Garciaparra following the Matt Holliday trade. Maybe Brett Wallace will be good in the future, maybe Gio Gonzalez as well and maybe Beane will find some good draft picks in the next few years. However, his career could end up just like the movie about his and Michael Lewis' book, on the shelf.
11. Baltimore- '93 Indians: That Cleveland team was a year away from becoming one of the best teams during the '90s. They started playing Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez with regularity. Now, the Orioles are about to be the same thing as the Indians, they will be the third team who could beat the Yanks and/or Red Sox in a given year once the Rays crumble under small-market tendencies. Baltimore has the offense of the future with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters headlining a potent lineup and the pitching is on it's way in a few years. More importantly, this team is capable of sustaining success as long as Peter Angelos is willing to spend, which he's done before.
10. Toronto- '97 Expos: The situation the Blue Jays are about to go through already occurred with Montreal. The Expos never signed Pedro Martinez long-term and after his Cy Young season, had to trade him to Boston for the Carl Pavano pu-pu platter. Now, Roy Halladay wasn't dealt before the trade deadline at his highest value and now Toronto will receive much less than they should have if they weren't so steadfast to their price. However, if Alex Rios really was claimed, they should start doing cartwheels to be rid of his contract and be sure not to mess up and ask for a player.
9. Seattle- '02 Expos: Another team following the Expos playbook; this team straddled the fence between buyer and seller. No team ever did this as well as the Mariners this year. Two trades they will look back as either great or awful; the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade which they gave the Pirates five prospects and the Jarrod Washburn trade which is contingent on Luke French's success and Seattle's chance to resign Washburn in the offseason in a very hockey-like move (see Tkachuk, Keith).
8. Minnesota- '03 Cards: Now we finally get to the meat of the league. The Twins are always capable of making the playoffs, just like the Cardinals for the bulk of the Tony La Russa era. You can't write them off when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit for you and Joe Nathan is as good a closer as there is in baseball. However, the rotation seems to be lacking (they traded for Carl Pavano today) and the rest of the lineup isn't any good. Honestly, by now the Twins should have started to see good things from the Johan Santana trade and obviously that's not the case. Of the eight playoff contenders, Minnesota is most likely to miss the playoffs.
7. Chicago- '89 Mets: It seems like the White Sox still have the reputation of a winning team, like those Mets did. They both also acquired a former Cy Young winner at the trade deadline, giving up pitchers in return. Those not as bad as the Mets in 1989, the White Sox offense has declined and the pitching is about even for both teams. Most importantly, the Mets were in contention for much of the year but fell short and I think that's what will happen for the White Sox with the AL Central becoming better as the season went on. Plus the Peavy trade won't make them better this year, and happens to make them worse because Clayton Richard is better than whomever they trot out in his place, while Peavy gets healthy. Also, if the White Sox decided to claim Alex Rios, they take on another $10 million+ contract without any guarantee of success.
6. Tampa Bay- '07 Tigers: Detroit seemed like they would be better after picking up Gary Sheffield in the offseason and maintained everyone else, until the pitching let them down. The Rays are about to fall victim the same way as their pitching hasn't returned to form at all, neutralizing a good offense. Their bullpen is still iffy and starters like Scott Kazmir and James Shields have been mediocre when we expected the rotation to continue improvement. It seems like their pitchers are feeling the effects of pitching through the World Series, like the Tigers before. Their offense has kept them in the hunt, like Detroit did, but it seems like now the World Series loser is becoming like the Super Bowl loser; they fall apart the year after. However, the wild card in the AL will have a flaw and they have the offense to steal the last spot in the playoffs.
5. Boston- '06 Red Sox: This Red Sox team reminds me so much of the Sox in 2006; won the title two years earlier, lost in the playoffs as a wild card and now seemingly falling apart. Kevin Youkilis has been huge for this team, Jason Bay started hotter than anyone and Dustin Pedroia has moved his average back to .308. Also, Josh Beckett is pitching is typically good odd-numbered year, Jon Lester has bounced back from early trouble and the bullpen has generally pitched as good as advertised.
However, this lineup is still weaker then normal since David Ortiz and Jason Varitek are automatic outs and they haven't been making clutch hits as of late. Also, they rotation, once thought to be as good as any in baseball, now is very weak as John Smoltz pitched like Chien-Ming Wang back in April, Tim Wakefield and Dice-K are hurt and Clay Bucholtz is a tweener; great in the minors, mediocre in the majors (like Kei Igawa) only the no-hitter he pitched still gets everyone thinking he can be good. If Boston makes the playoffs, they need to have Victor Martinez join Youkilis and Pedroia as the real hitting threats and they need to find an arm to acquire, maybe Jon Garland if the D-Backs make him available. I think of all the teams, they will be the ones to most regret not going all in for Roy Halladay.
4. Texas- '07 Rockies: Now while I do throw the label of the Rockies for this Rangers team, let's let it be known that no one has any idea if the Rangers can win 21 of 22 games to reach the World Series. In fact, the AL is too tough for anyone to do that in the playoffs. However, Texas if finally getting enough pitching to compete, like Colorado did that year, which is the real question for both teams annually. The real question left for Texas is can they survive the final month of summer and still have enough to continue through into September. One thing to remember, the Rangers have beaten the Angels eight of their ten games entering Saturday's game, just like the Red Sox against the Yankees.
The Rangers offense isn't as strong as it generally has been since Josh Hamilton has been hurt and ineffective when healthy. Their offense is on pace to score less than 100 runs from last year. They're winning because they're on pace to give up less than 250 runs, which is amazing to say the least. The bullpen has been great for the Rangers this year; hard throwers who have found control this year, while Kevin Millwood has been quietly effective and Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter have stepped up as well. Michael Young, after the switch to 3B and his demand for a trade, is having an MVP-like season. They look like the wild card in this league.
3. Detroit- '87 Tigers & '91 Twins: Both teams fit for the Tigers mainly since the Doyle Alexander trade for John Smoltz might end up being the Jarrod Washburn for Luke French trade if French is great. Everyone forgets that Alexander went 9-0 during the stretch run as the Tigers returned to the playoffs. They compare with those Tigers also by having a strong rotation support a weak bullpen. They play more like the Twins though as the offense is above-average like Detroit's offense has become. Also, they have bounced back from worst-to-first like the Twins did, yet still had recent success to harp on during the dog days. Washburn joining Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello for a fearsome foursome of starters for the playoffs.
This is the AL team you want to avoid in the Division Series because they can pitch as well as anyone. And if they play the series that skips a day, they would only need to use Verlander, Jackson and Washburn in a series, each of whom has pitched his team to the World Series. While the bullpen and lineup do leave something to be desired, Miguel Cabrera is having an MVP season and Fernando Rodney is a legit closer. Think of the Tigers as the top sleeper because of their starters.
2. New York- "93 Blue Jays : The lineup is just as stacked as the Blue Jays were during their second championship season, while the pitching was good, but can give up some runs. The major difference between those Jays and these Yankees is the fact that Toronto were the defending champs, but the free agent spending spree by both teams were similar as Toronto signed Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart. In the past few weeks, it's become obvious that the Yankees are headed to the playoffs and now we need to see where they end up. Ever since A-Rod has returned, the Yankees have gone 54-27; as Tim McCarver said, that's winning two out of every three games. The pitching has been good mostly, great at times (like last night), awful at others (last Saturday).
The biggest issue of this Yankees team is can they beat the Red Sox and/or Angels in a playoff series. Now the Yankees have took the last two games against the Red Sox, but if that's the Red Sox team that will continue this season, the Red Sox are a non-factor. The Angels are different, they were just swept in Anaheim before the All-Star break in almost every way you can lose a series. They should be worried about the White Sox and Detroit as well; if they lose one at Yankee Stadium, they could be beat on the road in Round 1.
1. Los Angeles- '02 Angels: This Angels team is the most like their one World Series winner. They have started to hit as well as they did back then and have done it without Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter for large stretches this year. The pitching has got better and I still think they will continue to improve from earlier this year when they lost three starters, one of which tragically in Nick Adenhart. However, this rotation is probably as thought of as the rotation was in 2002. They had guys like Ramon Ortiz and a past-his-prime Kevin Appier pitching in the playoffs. One thing to be aware, Mike Scioscia will always have the team ready to play everyday and that is something you don't overlook.
Honestly, if the Red Sox were doing better, I would of had them ahead of the Angels because they always beat them. However, the Angels always beat the Yankees; all they need is to win one at Yankee Stadium in any series it seems and they finish them at Angel Stadium. Also, I'm sure Bobby Abreu would love to beat his old team. Look at the Angels lineup and everyone is hitting above .290 except Howie Kendrick and Gary Matthews Jr. Matthews won't play once Hunter comes back and Kendrick is a Yankee-killer should they meet. As long as the Angels avoid the Red Sox in the Division Series, they should win the AL