The Cutoff Man: Five out of 12 ain’t bad, and playoffs are almost here

In the first installment of this column on April 5, “Hail Mary, full of grace; four balls, take your base,” I made the following predictions on who would finish first and last in each division come the end of the season:

“Here are my predictions for this year’s division champs and chumps:

AL East: Champs — Yankees, Chumps — Blue Jays; AL Central: Champs — Twins, Chumps — Indians; AL West: Champs — Mariners, Chumps — A’s; NL East: Champs — Phillies, Chumps — Marlins; NL Central: Champs — Cubs, Chumps — Pirates; NL West: Champs — Giants, Chumps — Padres.”

Well, when a batter is having a 5-for-12 stretch, it’s considered pretty fantastic. When a team only wins five of 12, it is not quite as great. This was more like a team’s performance.

Entering Sunday, possibly the last day of the season, I was at least right about the Twins, Phillies, and Pirates. On Sept. 21, the Twins did indeed clinch first place in the American League (AL) Central, and the Phillies followed suit shortly thereafter in the National League East. The Pirates truly outdid themselves this season, coming all the way back to overtake a rejuvenated Orioles team for the worst record in baseball, easily clinching at least one prediction for me, finishing 18 games back into sixth place and entering Sunday with a chance to tie for the worst road record in baseball history.

The Giants and Yankees entered Sunday on the brink of clinching their respective divisions, which would confirm two more of my predictions. The Yankees were tied with Tampa Bay for the division lead after Saturday’s action; a Yankees win and a Rays loss would clinch the AL East for New York, but if both teams win or both teams lose to finish in a tie, the division would technically go to the Rays, as they won the season series with the Yankees. Meanwhile, San Francisco entered Sunday one game up on the Padres, but the Padres took two from them last week, and a sweep of the Giants would put them in a tie for the division—and possibly for the wild card as well if the Braves won Sunday.

Speaking of the Padres, they combined with the Mariners to cement that I am horrendous at predicting the outcomes of the Western divisions. I picked Seattle to easily win the AL West after their acquisitions of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley; they entered Sunday’s action 18 games behind third-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with a very disappointing 61–100 record.

I wrote in my preseason article that “the only bets people are placing on the Padres involve if and when they trade star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.” On the contrary, the Padres started off the season surprisingly strong and didn’t fade until the last three weeks of the season, when their once-insurmountable division lead dropped significantly with a 10-game losing streak.

Honorable mention has to go to the Cubs and Blue Jays. The Cubs are finishing strong after what has been a very disappointing and sometimes controversial 2010 campaign, and are poised to finish nowhere near the first place that I’d foreseen. Toronto, on the other hand, traded Roy Halladay in the off-season and looked to be entering a long-term rebuilding mode. Picked by many to be the laughingstock of the AL in 2010, they instead had a record season in home runs, including Jose Bautista’s unpredictable 54 home runs entering Sunday. I guarantee you: Anybody who says they are not surprised by Bautista’s mammoth season is being just as truthful as Rafael Palmeiro was when he told a grand jury in 2007 that he did not use steroids. Way to fail a drug test a few weeks later, big guy.

Check back online on Tuesday at for a bonus follow-up column, in which I will sum up the official end of baseball’s regular season. Buckle up, folks; playoff time is just around the bend and with the way this season is wrapping up, you know it’ll be a good one.