Now that the American League has won the All-Star Game 5-3 and claimed home-field advantage in the World Series, is it too much to speculate that the Orioles will be hosting the Nationals in Game 1 at Camden Yards come October?
It is a possibility, given both teams are in an excellent position to win division titles.
The AL East has been falling apart daily, and that leaves the Orioles as the best team in the division. They have the deepest pitching, the potential for the biggest improvement in run production and the strongest defense in the AL East. And if Ubaldo Jimenez can pitch in the second half as he did last season with Cleveland, when he had a 1.82 ERA, the Orioles can win the division by 10 games.
The Orioles’ biggest test comes when the season resumes. They play their first 16 games against the pitching-rich AL West, starting with a 10-game trip to Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles. They also have an Aug. 4 makeup game versus the Nationals and three each with St. Louis and Toronto getting into mid-August.
The Nationals have the best team in the National League East, but if they are going to win the division, they need to beat the Braves. So far, the Nationals have gone 3-7 against the Braves with nine games remaining, including six in Atlanta.
Considering the injuries, the Nationals consider themselves in good shape. The Braves can say they same thing.
Here’s a look at what’s up with the opposition in the AL East and NL East:
Boston: The Red Sox had too many changes from the team that won the World Series. Their biggest problem was scoring runs and they had no right-handed power. They didn’t have the same names up the middle. Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t replace Jacoby Ellsbury, although Bradley has incredible range in center. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went to the Marlins. Shortstop Stephen Drew didn’t sign at the start, and by the time he did, it was too late. ... Now the Red Sox, who won four of five going into the break, have to decide if Xander Bogaerts is their shortstop or third baseman. ... Will they trade closer Koji Uehara, who is eligible for free agency after the season? ... Pitchers Jake Peavy and John Lackey will likely be available before July 31.
New York Yankees: The Yankees have second-half fade written all over them. They are old and injured, and the most reliable starter is 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda. CC Sabathia is done for the season and by the time starter Michael Pineda returns in August, it will be too late. ... The Yankees have money, but nothing in the system to trade and the only big leaguer that could bring any value is Brett Gardner. ... Where do they Yankees go from here? They need a shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, an outfielder and at least three starters. It is hard to believe that they can spend their way into contention.
Tampa Bay: Speaking of Price, the Rays are listening to offers for their Cy Young pitcher, but they’ll only move him if they get the right package. The prediction here is that if he is traded, the Cubs will be the team. Their system is rich with prospects and they could give up three or four without denting their rebuilding effort. ... The Rays’ disabled list is standing room only, but they played well going into the break, so it is reasonable to ask: Do the Rays have a run of 14 of 15 in them, and would that still be enough to be a contender?
Toronto: The Blue Jays rotation is too weak to catch the Orioles. They have five players in double figures for home runs, led by Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, but who is the most reliable pitcher in the rotation after R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle? Would it be J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison or prospect Marcus Stroman? ... The Blue Jays don’t manufacture runs, and while they have a dangerous lineup, they don’t have a strong enough rotation, unless they make a move and trade for Tampa Bay lefty David Price. Still, he probably wouldn’t be enough.
And now for the NL East:
Atlanta: The Braves are a bizarre success story. They are tied for first place in the NL East even though starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are gone for the season with elbow injuries, their bullpen had three relievers on the disabled list and they didn’t get a spark until they put slumping centerfielder B.J. Upton into the leadoff spot. ... They need catcher Evan Gattis, one of their best power hitters, to get healthy and Jason Heyward to kick into gear. ... They have solved their issues at second base with rookie Tommy La Stella. ... The Braves will get Jonny Venters back for the bullpen and there’s no doubt they are looking for another starter.
Miami: A four-game losing streak before the break dropped the Marlins to six games under .500, but they say they are in the race. They are in the market for a starting pitcher they can control for a few years and a second baseman that has speed and can hit. ... Where would the Marlins be if their No. 1 pitcher, Jose Fernandez, had not been one of the many pitchers to go on the disabled list with an elbow injury?
New York Mets: If a solid crop of young pitching prospects is the key to rebuilding, then the Mets are going to be contenders quickly. Matt Harvey (elbow) will not throw in 2014, but should be ready to start next season. Jacob deGrom has been impressive. Then, there’s Zach Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Dillion Gee, Jonathan Niese and a couple of top-notch prospects in Rafael Montero and Steven Matz. ... The question is which pitchers will be traded for bats to fix a weak lineup. The Mets need a shortstop and an outfielder and the Cubs’ Starlin Castro could be heading to New York.
Philadelphia: The Phillies are the Yankees of the NL East. Their system is weak and the big league lineup is old and injured. It is time to rebuild. Lefty Cliff Lee, injured most of the first half, has a chance to return for three July starts and could become a trade chip. Marlon Byrd, who is the second-most productive right fielder in home runs and RBIs behind Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, could be a trade chip. ... Closer Jonathan Papelbon is willing to waive his no-trade clause, and so he could be on the market, maybe heading for Detroit. ... The Phillies will hear offers for lefty Cole Hamels, who has $100 million left on his contract.