40 games through: MLB contenders and pretenders

BY ZAC CORDOVA AND JUSTIN MILLAR, Feedcrossing.com syndication 

Zac Cordova:

Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson looks as if he may have a career year this season. Photo by: Lauren / Flickr

• LA Dodgers: Pretender. Matt Kemp should change his nickname to “Mr. April” because he gets everyone thinking he is the best player in baseball the first month of every season. He is great no doubt, but has little help outside of Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier. AJ Ellis will cool off a bit, but they are too top heavy to be considered consistent enough to be a contender.

• NY Yankees: Contender. Simply too much talent to continue playing this poorly. When you consider all the players they have hitting poorly or injured (Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner) there has to be a bounce back. Paired with the inevitable trade deadline splash for a starter, the Yanks should be just fine.
• Detroit Tigers: Pretender. They are almost the Dodgers of the AL, in that they have very little depth behind their sluggers. With their offensive stars hitting at of near their norms, and Prince Fielder’s lack of power cancelled by overachieving starts by Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks, there really is not too much room for improvement. Rookie Drew Smyley and Doug Fister wont keep their sub 2.5 ERAs all year, and Dirks and Jackson are due to regress, the Tigers may be in serious trouble, with the only saving grace being their weak division.
• Baltimore Orioles: Contender. The Orioles have quietly put together a tremendous pitching staff, anchored by 5 relievers posting sub 1.8 ERA’s (6 if you include Chris Davis). The potential regression of starters Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel are greatly anchored because of how terrific their bullpen is. Outside of Adam Jones, they do not have an offensive player who is greatly overachieving. If they can sustain the great bullpen work, and hitting, I can absolutely see the Orioles challenging for the division come September.

Justin Millar

• Yankees: You have to go with contender here. Their offense is arguably among the top 5 in baseball right now, and although some players, such as Derek Jeter, are due to regression, the offense should remain among the league’s best. I would worry about injuries though, being that the youngest starting position player is 29, and everyone else is over 30. Depth is also a question mark offensively. The rotation should be fine as long as Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes step up their game, and I believe they will. Even without Mariano Rivera, the bullpen is very strong with David Robertson being perhaps one of the 5 best relievers in the game. They may not be in playoff position right now, but I think they end up playing under the lights of October.
• Dodgers: I’m really on the fence about this one, but I will go with contender. This is largely due to the fact that the two teams that we thought would contend for the division title, Arizona and San Francisco, are playing well under expectations. This will probably end up being a close race, but the early season lead and momentum could push them into a playoff spot. The pitching is really good, and it almost makes up for the lack of offensive depth. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will carry the offense, but if the Dodgers lose one of them, especially Kemp, then there may not be a happy ending for this team. Other than A.J. Ellis, and to a degree Mark Ellis, nobody has stepped up on offense, and I really worry that they wont score enough runs to win enough games down the stretch.
• Tigers: Contender, but only because of the division they play in. They will end up winning the AL Central, but that will be more due to the strength of the division rather than the play of the Tigers, which has been lackluster at best so far this season. The offense is basically league average right now, but it should get better. I worry a little about the pitching as the staff is ranked just 23rd in the league in ERA. Drew Smyly has been a pleasant surprise, but I think he will regress a little. That means Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, both owners of 5+ ERAs, will need to step up. I don’t believe this team is as strong as it was last year, but a weak division will allow them to play in the postseason once again.

• Orioles
: Pretender. This is just the 2011 Cleveland Indians all over again, a bad team that gets off to a fluky hot start but cools as the season wears on. Their offensive output isn’t really surprising me as they have quite a few young offensive weapons. Matt Wieters and Adam Jones are off to very hot starts and they could be the cornerstones of the Orioles future offense. The pitching is rather intriguing. Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, and Jake Arrieta each have ERAs above 5, but they are also showing signs of taking steps forward. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been nice surprises as each are performing well beyond expectations. I don’t think this is a playoff team, but I also don’t think this is the same Orioles team that hasn’t won more than 70 games since 2005. Who would’ve thought that half way through May, the Baltimore Orioles would be leading the AL East?
Agree or Disagree? Our Writers would love to hear your feedback as this is a Baseball Round Table! Thanks for reading!
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