Baseball script’s full of curve balls

Earlier in the year I took time in these pages to talk about the 2008 MLB season in regards to season predictions and trade-deadline implications.

With the season about to end in under two weeks it’s time to see where I was and wasn’t on target.

The best place to start is with some of my predictions for the season. Back in April I mentioned Barry Bonds, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets being part of the major headlines this season.

As it turns out I was right in two out of three cases. The Red Sox, in spite of the questionable trade of Manny Ramirez midway through the season, are very much playoff bound.

As of Friday the Sox were a game and a half behind the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. Thus the only question come playoff time is where they’ll end up: as division champs or the wildcard again.

The Mets meanwhile look like they will make history repeat itself. As of Friday they were a half game behind the Philadephia Phillies in the NL East. If they miss the playoffs once again they might as well be called the Washington Nationals because experts will give them just as little respect as the DC boys get.

Bear in mind, like last year, the Mets were the division leaders for most of the season. Last year they were ahead by seven games with 17 to play, this year they have dropped four out of five games around the same point in time and are already behind.

My only oversight was with Barry Bonds. I was convinced Bonds would be signed by someone this year. Granted he’s linked with steroid-use and his ego is bigger than his 44-year-old arms.

But his numbers seemed too good to pass up. One can only wonder where an AL team like the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers would be in the playoff discussion if they had picked him up.

In fact the standings for this season will look anything but expected. I simply did not see some surprises coming.

One of those shockers is in the AL East, where the Tampa Bay Rays (that’s right the Rays) are set to be the division winners. Their transformation from jokers to winners is unreal.

I never thought their young players would click together so soon. Who knew Scott Kazmir was a legitimate staff ace? Who expected Carlos Pena to again be a force in the middle of the line-up?

I saw Boston doing well and I saw where Toronto would play better but what a fall for the Yankees. Granted they were in the playoff discussion up until the start of the month.

But not only did their pitching let them down but also their once-feared hitting faltered, especially in the case of baseball’s richest player Alex Rodriguez.

About the only AL squads that could overshadow the demise of the Yankees and their consecutive playoff appearance streak are last year’s AL Central frontrunners.

It’s baffling that a team that was so close to the World Series in the Cleveland Indians and one that spent so much money on fielding a winner in the Detroit Tigers would be a complete bust.

To be fair, both squads were ravaged by injuries and inconsistent pitching. The Indians were not going to go far without Travis Hafner or a 100 per cent Fausto Carmona. There’s no way they would give any contender fits when their only pitching ace is 20+ game winner Cliff Lee.

With the Tigers the injury struggles of relief pitchers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney really hurt them and the ineffectiveness seen from Dontrelle Willis and the rotation was an Achilles Heel.

As I expected the Chicago White Sox did enough at the trade deadline in getting Ken Griffey Jr. to stay on top. True I didn’t predict them to win the division but I did say from the trade deadline onwards they were the team to beat.

In the AL West there was nothing extraordinary other than the Los Angeles Angels winning the division. I fully expected them to win big but to do so by over 15 games (possibly 20 by season’s end) and to clinch it in early September is just ridiculous.

In the NL the story is the Chicago Cubs. This year’s favourites to make it to the World Series, Zambrano, Soriano and company look for real.

In the NL East the Mets and Phillies are again engaged in an epic struggle to the finish. As I expected it really could go either way.

The two unexpected things to happen were for the young Florida Marlins to flirt with a playoff spot all-season long and for the Atlanta Braves to be a light hitting non-factor throughout the season.

A story just as big as the Cubs is the rise to power of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Dodgers were a decent club before getting Manny Ramirez.

But armed with his .400 batting average, 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 44 games the white and blue are now destined for the playoffs.

That has lead to the shocking fall of an early season contender in the Arizona Diamondbacks. Somewhere along the line the back of rotation fell apart and the hitting turned to stone.

By the way, I’m still baffled how the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies have fallen so far from grace.

The NL Central, aside from the dominance of the Cubs, has been an entertaining one. Granted the standings don’t show it as the Cubs are the frontrunners for the second straight year and the Milwaukee Brewers were really good again and are currently clawing and scratching for a wildcard slot.

But I didn’t see the Houston Astros possibly finishing with a winning record, nor the fundamentally-sound St. Louis Cardinals playing second-fiddle to them.

Finally I couldn’t be more off about the AL wildcard picture. The Yankees and Tigers are also-rans and the Red Sox have all but wrapped up another shot at the World Series.

At least the NL wildcard went somewhat according to plan. I don’t have a clue who will come out on top between the Mets, Phillies and Brewers but any one wouldn’t surprise me.

In the end, no matter how much the season deviated from its expected course baseball fans witnessed another great year. The best thing is the most exciting part of it all is yet to come.

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