Now before we go on, there are clear rules to taking a mulligan--at least clear in my own mind. An obvious point would be that there's significantly less credit given to a correct pick made now. Just as important is that if the preseason choice suddenly rights the ship and wins the division, it doesn't make me right. To the contrary, it means I was wrong twice--first on the initial pick, then on the mulligan.
In the AL East, I misfired on Tampa Bay, not giving them due credit for being able to run with Boston and New York. I also thought Baltimore would be competitive, but at least I have the comfort in knowing I wasn't alone on that one. I had the Red Sox edging the Yanks for the division and when I woke up this morning, I had every intention of reiterating that here. But now Dustin Pedroia is on the disabled list, the latest in a long series of injuries for the BoSox. This one's a biggie. In a normal division it wouldn't stop the Red Sox from pushing for first place and certainly not a wild-card. But the AL East is no normal division. Today I would have to go with Tampa Bay and New York to make the playoffs here, and I like the Rays to win it. They've been slumping lately, but are still only three games out (as is Boston) and I love their starting pitching, as well as the willingness to cut Pat Burrell loose when he couldn't produce. The Rays will find their form again and edge out the Yanks, with Boston clocking about five games off the pace.
I picked the White Sox in the AL Central and a big part of me says you have to stick with the one you started with as long as there's a shot. But I don't think the Chicago offense has developed sufficiently to sustain itself the rest of the summer. I think the Minnesota pitching staff can improve enough to give them an edge. And I don't think Detroit's got the horses to do better than 85-86 wins. I'm calling this one for the Twins.
Out west, I am staying stubborn and sticking with the Angels. Texas deserves a lot of credit for how well they've played, but you have a case where even at the top of their form cycle, they're only 3.5 games up. The financial problems of the front office and having to be propped up by MLB mean no big deadline help is likely on the way. LAA will make a move if they have too and Mike Scoscia will never get outmaneuvered. It's his toughest regular season fight in a while, but a fourth straight Western crown is coming to Anaheim.
That sets up playoff matchups of Minnesota-New York and Tampa-LAA. The Angels' magic finally runs out. The Twins give the Yanks everything they can handle before falling. And then Tampa wins a hard-fought series with the Pinstripes.
The National League East is another division where I'm not changing my stripes. I picked Philadelphia and Atlanta to both make it and I still feel that way. The Braves have shown they're for real. Philly's had injury problems, but they are getting healthy, will get hot and will be another team that wins a fourth straight division. The Mets will eventually fade unless they get another big bat.
In the Central, St. Louis will pull away. The emergence of Jaime Garcia in the rotation, David Freese at third and Colby Rasmus at short have given them real depth to support Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter and Wainwright. One of the game's great managers in Tony LaRussa is calling the shots. Cincinnati's a good story and will continue to play well, but the Cardinals will win this one by 8-10 games.
And in the West we have the four-team dogfight involving everyone but my anointed team of Arizona. I don't believe in San Diego and Colorado is the NL's version of Detroit--good, but not great. That leaves Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here, I think the Giants' starting pitching is way too much. It's a race into the last half of September, but Frisco wears them down and wins by 3-4 games. That leaves the Dodgers fighting with the Phillies or Braves for the wild-card spot, but the financial problems of owner Frank McCourt make getting the extra starting pitching they need too difficult, and with that, the rotation becomes exposed. LAD falls short and Joe Torre looks for a better situation in the offseason.
For the NL playoffs, that sets up matchups of St. Louis-Atlanta and Philadelphia-San Francisco. I'll take the Phils and Cards to set up a titanic showdown, with St. Louis having that one extra big-time starter thanks to Garcia and that spelling the difference. St. Louis wins the National League pennant and they keep it going into the Fall Classic, knocking off Tampa Bay in the World Series.
So that's our new story--St. Louis over Tampa in the World Series, with the Red Sox and Dodgers on the postseason sidelines. And I'm sticking to it. At least until the trade deadline in another month when we get to re-evaluate all over again.
For now, the Notebook is off on vacation. I'll be stashed away on an island in Galway Bay the next couple weeks visiting relatives. The Notebook returns to duty on Sunday, July 11 when I'll look back at Weeks 13 & 14 to catch up on what I missed.