Pitcher A is Danny Haren. Pitcher B is Mark Mulder. Pretty neat, huh? I mention this because I listened to Haren win his sixth straight decision earlier today and Mulder will pitch against the Rockies on Sunday. You never know how trades involving fistfuls of prospects will turn out, and it sure seems as if Oakland (who also got useful reliever Kiko Calero and much-loved prospect Daric Barton) won this one. Almost makes up for the reaming they took in the Tim Hudson trade.
I don't think there's much that needs to be said about this Cardinals team that their best-in-the-NL 49-28 record doesn't already communicate articulately. For fun, then, in lieu of our usual style of series preview let's take a look at the chances St. Louis and the other division leaders have of staying put.
AL East: Current leader is Boston at 45-32. Baltimore is 2 games back. I think the Red Sox have the best talent in this division, and I don't think many would disagree with me. Baltimore's first half was a good (if overplayed) story. I doubt even a trade for Jason Schmidt would compensate for the healthy return of Curt Schilling which Boston anticipates. I put Boston's chances at 80%.
AL Central: The Chicago White Sox have the best record in baseball at 53-24. The Twins are 10 1/2 back despite very possibly being the third-best team in the league. It's pretty hard to blow a ten-game lead. That said, the White Sox have made a semi-tradition out of second-half slides the last few seasons, and Minnesota often seems to have their number head-to-head when it counts. It's not impossible, just very improbable. Let's call it 95% that Chicago takes it.
AL West: The Angels put a great deal of distance between themselves and Texas this past week. Anaheim is 47-31, and the Rangers are 6 1/2 back after winning today. A bigger threat may be the surging A's, who have won 7 in a row to get within 10 games of the division lead and 2 games from .500. I have doubts about the Angels' starters and their offense, but you have to figure they can afford to get the help they need. 65%, because the Angels have two legitimate challengers.
AL Wild Card: I like Minnesota. 75%.
NL East: Washington's dream season continues, 47-31. Still, even last place New York is only eight back, and Atlanta hangs around at half that. I highly doubt the Nationals will be able to continue playing invincibly at home with a .600 record despite scoring fewer runs than they allow. I give them a 15% shot, Florida 40%, Atlanta 25%, Philadelphia 15%, and the Mets 5%.
NL Central: As I mentioned, St. Louis stands at 49-28. The on-again, off-again Cubs are nine back. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there is no chance that Chicago will catch the better-constructed, better-managed, and way-less-cursed Cardinals. 100% chance of St. Louis repeating as division champs.
NL West: The most miserable division in baseball is led by San Diego at 43-36. The Padres may well be just as secure as St. Louis since the other teams in the division are so poor. No one else is over .500, and the Giants and Rockies have essentially eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Arizona is in second at 4 back, but I don't think they're even that good. The Dodgers, 5 1/2 back, are the Padres' only threat such as it is. 85% we see the fourth different division winner in four years. Hey, if that trend continues, the Rockies will win next year!
NL Wild Card: The parity in the NL East could end up being the Cubs' biggest asset here as they fatten up on average Milwaukee, subpar Houston and Pittsburgh, and dire Cincinnati. Still, it's pretty wide open, with six teams within five games of each other. Advantage Chicago, but no better than 45%. Divide the rest however you want between all five NL East teams.