It’s the halfway point of the major league season, and the elite teams are starting to separate themselves. Many clubs, such as the Brewers, Red Sox, and Angels, are already running away with their respective divisions. The Mets, Tigers, Indians, Padres, and Dodgers are facing greater competition in their divisions, though they all should make the playoffs. But which of these teams has the best shot at winning the World Series? It’s a loaded question, but I gave my best shot at ranking them. Here are the eight teams that can win the World Series. (Note: This ranking is not based on the best teams right now, but on the teams with the best chance of winning the World Series.)
The Long Shot
8. Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are certainly better than last year’s World Series champs, the Cardinals. They will cruise through the NL Central with at least 90 wins, thanks to a powerful, overachieving offense. Prince Fielder has established himself as an MVP favorite, and others such as Corey Hart and JJ Hardy are having breakout seasons. All Stars Ben Sheets and Francisco Cordero provide a solid ace-closer combination, but the problem lies with their 2-5 starters. None of them have an ERA below 4.20, and all of them tend to be wildly inconsistent from start to start. The Brewers are like the Tigers last year with their out-of-nowhere breakout, but unlike last year’s Tigers, they probably won’t make the World Series.
The Dark Horses
7. New York Mets: The Mets are a solid but ultimately flawed team, and they have taken a step back since last season. Their biggest concern is their pitching, even though they have the second-best ERA in the National League (3.65). Orlando Hernandez (2.78 ERA), Jorge Sosa (3.92), and Oliver Perez (3.14) have all overachieved, and will each be worse in the second half than in the first. Pedro Martinez is a wild card, but even when he comes back, it will certainly not be at full strength. The Mets have worse starting pitching than the Dodgers and Padres, their main competition in the NL playoffs. Their bullpen is excellent, as is the offense. However, they tend to struggle against some of the tougher teams they’ve played, such as the Braves, Dodgers, and all the interleague teams. The Mets are a good team once again, but they are still an ace away from being a true World Series contender.
6. San Diego Padres: The Padres have a shot purely based on their pitching, which is far better than that of any other team. Jake Peavy (2.09 ERA) and Chris Young (2.14) are Cy Young contenders, and Justin Germano (2.68) is having a breakout season. Their bullpen is nothing short of sensational, with one of the best closers in baseball in Trevor Hoffman and a slew of great set-up men. The thing holding this team back from greatness is the offense, which has the worst batting average in the National League. The only bright spots have been Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Cameron, but even they aren’t hitting for average. It’s clear that pitching is much more important than offense in the postseason, but the Padres will be shut down against some of the better pitchers they face.
5. Cleveland Indians: The Indians are a very good team, although they have some problems that will haunt them in the postseason. Sure, CC Sabathia is awesome, with a 12-2 record and 3.20 ERA. But the other starters, such as Paul Byrd, Jeremy Sowers, and Cliff Lee, get lit up on a regular basis. The bullpen features some lights-out set-up men, but closer Joe Borowski and others have struggled. Their strength lies in their offense, with Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner putting up huge power numbers. They have more homeruns than any AL team except Texas. The American League playoffs will be brutal, but the Indians certainly will be competitive.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are certainly the team in the National League with the best chance of winning it all. Brad Penny and Derek Lowe provide a 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation that can compete with Peavy-Young. Takashi Saito has been the best closer in the National League, with a 1.34 ERA and only one blown save. Their offense doesn’t have a power bat, but they still put up runs through a solid team on-base percentage and a lot of stolen bases. Some of their better hitters, such as Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, will put up better numbers in the second half. The Dodgers are capable of holding their own with an American League team if they make a World Series, but only if they make a deal for another hitter.
3. Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox, along with the top two teams, are in a completely different league from everyone else. Their pitching staff is excellent from top to bottom, with Josh Beckett establishing himself as a Cy Young contender. Wakefield, Dice-K, and Schilling are all capable of shutting a team down on any given night. The set-up man/closer combination of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon forces teams to beat the Red Sox in the first seven innings. The offense underachieved considering their talent level in the first half of the season. Manny Ramirez, Julio Lugo, JD Drew, and David Ortiz should be far better in the second half. This team is excellent, but there are two teams that are even better.
2. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are just as good as they were last year, though they’ve transformed from a small-ball type club into a power-hitting one. Their offense is by far the best in the majors, with 40 more runs scored than any other team. The 3-4-5 of Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen is the best in the league, and Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco are putting up excellent numbers as well. Pitching-wise, the return of Kenny Rogers gives this team three great pitchers at the top of the rotation (Verlander and Bonderman). Their Achilles’ heel is the bullpen, which was hit hard by the injury to Joel Zumaya. Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney, among others, have been shaky. If they can trade for a better reliever or if the bullpen improves, the Tigers will win the World Series.
1. Los Angeles Angels With a bunch of .300 hitters, a few great relievers, and one of the league’s best home field advantages, it’s hard to deny that the Angels are the favorite at this point in the season. Coming into the year, their lineup was considered a weakness, but they have proved everyone wrong by hitting .290 as a team. The offense really improved in June, with Chone Figgins, Orlando Cabrera, and Reggie Willits all posting season-best numbers. Vladimir Guerrero continues to be one of the top MVP contenders, with 72 RBIs and a .329 average. The Angels also have three ace-quality starters in John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and Kelvim Escobar. If Ervin Santana could pitch on the road like he does at home and Bartolo Colon could return to his 2005 form, they would have a better staff than the Red Sox. The Angels are the most balanced team out of the contenders, and as of now are the favorites to win it all.
Just missing the list: The Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins, and Atlanta Braves.