1. Philadelphia Phillies 102-60 .626 Midseason rank: 1 Preseason rank: 2
The Phillies are the best team in baseball, with a somewhat disappointing year from Roy Oswalt being canceled out by the emergence of Vance Worley, because what the Phils really needed right now was a kid to come out of their system and pitch like another Halladay. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels front the best rotation in the game, Shane Victorino leads an offense with seven players above 2 WAR, and the Phils were World Series favorite until ROFL.
2. New York Yankees 97-65 .599 Midseason rank: 3 Preseason rank: 10
The Yanks' offense has always been legitimate, it was just a question of pitching. Before the season, I wrote that they had exactly two legitimate pitchers in Sabathia and Rivera. Stupidly of course, I forgot about Bartolo Colon, David Robertson, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia, all of whom joined Sabathia and Rivera in providing 2 WAR or more. I can't really be too hard on myself for not calling that one, though I did underrate the offense a bit.
3. (tie) Milwaukee Brewers 96-66 .593 Midseason rank: 9 Preseason rank: 8
Doug Melvin went all in with Greinke and Marcum, though he's now probably wishing he had Brett Lawrie back, especially as the Brewers lost in the NLCS. Offensive powerhouse adds a legitimate ace and a solid No. 3 to a franchise with two decades of almost complete failure means a great story as they come together with the third-best record and a major MVP candidate in Ryan Braun. If Prince Fielder wasn't leaving after this season Milwaukee would be sitting pretty right now.
Texas Rangers 96-66 .593 Midseason rank: 6 Preseason rank: 6
The only team I pegged at midseason jumps up, probably just to screw with me. Texas is a criminally underrated team, and Jon Daniels deserves all the credit in the world for finding guys like C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to carry a Josh Hamilton led powerhouse offense. Likely the strongest all-around team in the postseason, it's hard to find fault with a team that finished 2nd in offensive WAR and 5th in pitching WAR. Adding Koji Uehara and Mike Adams to set up Neftali Feliz addressed the only possible concern for Texas and they have to be slightly disappointed as the runner-up for a second year.
5. Detroit Tigers 95-67 .586 Midseason rank: 9 Preseason rank: 14
Winter additions of Joaquin Benoit, Victor Martinez, and Jhonny Peralta, and the summer grab of Doug Fister boosted Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera to new heights as the Tigers pushed out the perennially contending Twins and all-in White Sox. Even that's misleading, as the greatest competition Detroit had all season was from Cleveland. Kansas City sucks. Anyway, Alex Avila looks like a great young catcher and while Detroit is top-heavy with talent, that's not really a bad thing as role players are typically a little easier to find than MVP and Cy Young candidates.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks 94-68 .580 Midseason rank: 9 Preseason rank: 24
The Diamondbacks, no one's pick to win the West, edged out the wonderful defending World Series champs, a bunch of stand-up guys from a lovely city near a bay. Ahem. Arizona had always had a nice offense, but Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson took it into another gear this season, Josh Collmenter took a weird delivery and found great success, and Joe Saunders didn't really help pull the wagon, but he got out and walked instead of making the team carry him. More importantly, J.J. Putz and David Hernandez gave Arizona some stability in the bullpen, which is what was really lacking in previous years. Of course Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson will get a ton of credit for a successful team they didn't really build, but Josh Byrnes can take solace in...the Padres' GM job now that Jed Hoyer basically threw it away.
7. Tampa Bay Rays 91-71 .562 Midseason rank: 7 Preseason rank: 4
For all the people who vehemently disagreed with putting Tampa up here (and there were a lot of you), I hope you've learned something. Not sure what that would be with the Red Sox collapsing instead of the Yankees, but the point is that the Rays won the wild card and finished with the fourth best record in baseball, when a lot of people just figured they were out before season started. One of the best nights of September baseball ever fixed that, and with Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings being added to Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and possibly James Shields depending on trade winds, the Rays look like strong 2012 contenders.
8. (tie) Boston Red Sox 90-72 .556 Midseason rank: 2 Preseason rank: 1
Ah, the team of destiny. Picking up Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez on a team that already featured Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Jonathan Papelbon was huge. Then they blew it, as everyone now knows, falling apart in September while the Rays played okay and losing the wild card in the span of a few minutes. Boston led baseball in offensive WAR, with two players (Ellsbury and Pedroia) above 8 WAR, and three more above 3. But injuries to the pitching and a down year from Crawford sunk what is still a damned good team that should look strong going into next year. Obviously Terry Francona was the problem, so they got rid of him, and Theo Epstein might be next. Man, I never thought building a powerhouse and grabbing 90 wins in the toughest division in baseball would lose a guy his job.
St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 .556 Midseason rank: 9 Preseason rank: 15
St. Louis also celebrated on the night the Rays won, though their story was a little less interesting because they had already beaten the Astros well before the Braves lost, and because they beat the Astros to win the wild card, and because they don't play in the AL East so they're not as interesting. Adam Wainwright wasn't missed as much as one might expect as Jaime Garcia continued to be a really good pitcher, Chris Carpenter thought he that would be a good career move for him too, and Kyle Lohse figured he'd do more of a become a really good pitcher thing. Lance Berkman had better win the Comeback Player of the Year award, and Albert Pujols had the worst year of his career while leading his team in WAR. That should be some fun offseason bidding. 2012 is iffy though, as Wainwright comes back but Berkman is no guarantee to produce and Pujols may be wearing a different uniform. Unless, of course, the recent incredibly unlikely championship provides some sort of reason to stay. It's just possible.
10. Atlanta Braves 89-73 .549 Midseason rank: 4 Preseason rank: 5
How the mighty have fallen. Atlanta joined Boston in collapsing in September, allowing the just-mentioned Cardinals to sneak past them into the playoffs. Considered the contender for the Eastern division crown for wont of a Phillies bus crash, Atlanta took a bunch of young pitching and Tim Hudson and a bunch of young-ish hitting and didn't do that last thing. The Braves finished 23rd in baseball in wOBA, with Jason Heyward showing signs of mortality and Freddie Freeman taking half a year to get going.
11. (tie) Los Angeles Angels 86-76 .531 Midseason rank: 8 Preseason rank: 17
There are far more bad things to say about the Angels than good - they traded Mike Napoli to Texas via Toronto for Vernon Wells and his bloated contract because of Jeff Mathis. Mathis and Wells were two of the worst hitters in the majors, while Napoli looked like an MVP candidate, which led to a justified purge of the front office. But a very underrated rotation led by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and some surprising depth and all-around talent made this a fairly strong team - despite a huge 2012 commitment the Angels might be able to add enough to once again not win the division because Texas is that good.
San Francisco Giants 86-76 .531 Midseason rank: 5 Preseason rank: 3
We all know this story - injuries and poor season from everyone who wasn't a pitcher or Pablo Sandoval caused a late-season crash from the defending World Champs. Most of the pieces are in place for another run in 2012, which will be hotly contested with either the Rockies or the Dodgers because it's someone else's turn now that San Diego and Arizona went already
13. Los Angeles Dodgers 82-79 .509 Midseason rank: 24 Preseason rank: 13
Lookit that, I got one right. Damn Dodgers. Rather surprising to see a team with the MVP and Cy Young favorite finish in third place, but if the McCourt sale goes through and they get a new owner in time to make a run at Fielder or Pujols, this could be a dangerous team. Everyone knows about Kershaw, but Chad Billingsley is very underrated and Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon look a little dangerous. Luckily Andre Ethier is tailing off and Juan Uribe Schmidt the bed.
14. Toronto Blue Jays 81-81 .500 Midseason rank: 17 Preseason rank: 16
Toronto's got one of the premier GMs in the game in Alex Anthopolous, and that's the big story here. Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Lawrie look to anchor a deep lineup - now if they can get some pitching (Yu Darvish?) or try to emulate the Red Sox' all-offense approach (David Ortiz? Prince Fielder?), the AL East could have a year when neither Boston nor New York reaches the postseason. Can you imagine such a crazy world?
15. Washington Nationals 80-81 .497 Midseason rank: 16 Preseason rank: 23
Somehow, giving Jayson Werth seven years and $126 million is already looking like a bad idea; who could have guessed? A strong farm that has already graduated some elite talent will look to contend possibly in 2012 and possibly with another big free agent acquisition.
16. Cleveland Indians 80-82 .494 Midseason Rank: 13 Preseason rank: 25
The other odd midseason contender from a Central division, Cleveland got things going early but faded as teams that are close tend to do. Another strong offense led by Shin-soo Choo, Not Casey Blake, and Asdrubal Cabrera as well as some nice young bats will look to beat Detroit in 2012 if they can get a largely no-name pitching staff to be more like Justin Masterson.
17. (tie) Chicago White Sox 79-83 .488 Midseason Rank: 19 Preseason rank: 12
Chicago didn't fail to the same degree as Minnesota, but after an offseason of big acquisitions they couldn't even beat Cleveland - except for the whole "postseason" thing, this was basically Major League 2, which is not worth your time.
Cincinnati Reds 79-83 .488 Midseason Rank: 17 Preseason rank: 9
The surprise NL Central champion in 2010 gave us a preview of 2011 in last year's NLDS, when they fell in three games to the Phillies. Another good offensive performance from a deep lineup wasn't enough to support the third-worst staff in the bigs - each of Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Roy Halladay by themselves was as or more valuable than the entirety of the Reds' arms.
19. New York Mets 77-85 .475 Midseason Rank: 15 Preseason rank: 21
The Mets fleeced the Giants in the Wheeler-for-Beltran deal, and managed to get the expected salary relief by giving Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee, but made a huge error in not trading Jose Reyes, and may get a chance to repeat that mistake with David Wright. That the Mets' big stories are who they did and didn't trade away is pretty indicative of what's going on there.
20. Oakland Athletics 74-88 .457 Midseason Rank: 26 Preseason rank: 20
Hey, got another one! The A's much-heralded young staff didn't quite live up to expectations this year - injuries to Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden did most of the damage, but Trevor Cahill's lack of strikeouts caught up to him as Gio Gonzalez and Brandon McCarthy of all people made the most of things for Oakland. Have I not mentioned the offense yet? Wait, there was offense in Oakland?
21. Colorado Rockies 73-89 .451 Midseason Rank: 20 Preseason rank: 11
Colorado's season ended quickly when Jorge De La Rosa needed Tommy John surgery and Ubaldo Jiminez' lost velocity ended in a trade to Cleveland where the Rockies got more than they should have but less than Jiminez is worth. Troy Tulowitzki and, after a slow start, Carlos Gonzalez anchored a lineup that had two other decent hitters in zombie Todd Helton and Seth Smith, who is rumored to be on the trade block. Of course.
22. (tie) Florida Marlins 72-90 .444 Midseason Rank: 20 Preseason rank: 18
Florida's the third straight team to suffer the loss of an ace with Josh Johnson going down early in the season - a banged-up and ineffective Hanley Ramirez didn't help. Florida has plenty of young Major League talent, but not enough pitching or offense to unseat the powerhouses in its division. The move to a new ballpark might raise revenue, but the Marlins need more than one impact free agent.
Pittsburgh Pirates 72-90 .444 Midseason Rank: 14 Preseason rank: 28
The Pirates might be closer to contention than they thought, in the running into July last year. Andrew McCutchen is a legitimate star, but Pedro Alvarez needs to become the bat they thought he could be, and Gerrit Cole, Jameson Tallion, and Stetson Allie cannot get to the majors quick enough.
24. (tie) Chicago Cubs 71-91 .438 Midseason Rank: 29 Preseason rank: 22
New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a monstrous task in turning around a team with a $140 million payroll and 91 losses. Starlin Castro and money (much of which is already committed) are pretty much the only things Chicago has going for them - a woeful major league team and barren farm system make this a major project.
Kansas City Royals 71-91 .438 Midseason Rank: 28 Preseason rank: 27
Kansas City fell apart a little quicker than Pittsburgh or Cleveland, but once again any thoughts of contention were just gravy for the team this year. One of the strongest farm systems in the game graduated a few players in Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, and Aaron Crow, but they'll have to step it up to push past the .500 barrier into the postseason. Alex Gordon and...Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer? Really? Well, they led an actually above-average offense.
San Diego Padres 71-91 .438 Midseason Rank: 25 Preseason rank: 19
2010 wore off in San Diego as they flipped their 90-72 record around to 71-91 - an offseason trade of Adrian Gonzalez hurt, but not this much. With a very low payroll and GM Jed Hoyer departing for Chicago, San Diego has a ways to go before they can put enough cheap talent on the field to win some games. Of course, that's what we thought before 2010 too.
27. Baltimore Orioles 69-93 .426 Midseason Rank: 27 Preseason rank: 29
Poor Baltimore can't catch a break - after Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman went from sleeper aces to AAA, they lost (I think overrated) GM Andy MacPhail, can't seem to get anyone to actually interview and take their open GM position, and still play in the AL East. Matt Wieters and JJ Hardy were bright spots, but this is a sad, sad team.
28. Seattle Mariners 67-95 .414 Midseason Rank: 20 Preseason rank: 30
Seattle hovered around .500 until midseason before going on a historic losing streak. Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda front a strong pitching staff that has zero run support, but young bats like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley hope to change that.
29. Minnesota Twins 63-99 .389 Midseason Rank: 23 Preseason rank: 7
Everything went wrong in Minnesota this year - the other teams in the division were playing well, they suffered plenty of long injuries, the players who were on the field weren't very good, and team WAR leader Michael Cuddyer is a free agent. After a decade of dominating the AL Central the Twins could be in for an extended period of rebuilding.
30. Houston Astros 56-106 .346 Midseason Rank: 30 Preseason rank: 26
One of the worst teams in years, Houston traded everything - Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn - for prospects and semi-prospects. New owner Jim Crane is buying a mess of a franchise, but at least they're finally committing to the rebuild they've needed for years but Drayton McLane would not allow.
1. AL East 428-382 .528 Midseason Rank: 2 Preseason Rank: 1
2. NL East 420-389 .519 Midseason Rank: 1 Preseason Rank: 2
3. NL West 406-403 .502 Midseason Rank: 4 Preseason Rank: 3
4. AL West 323-325 .498 Midseason Rank: 3 Preseason Rank: 6
5. AL Central 388-422 .479 Midseason Rank: 5 Preseason Rank: 4
6. NL Central 464-508 .477 Midseason Rank: 6 Preseason Rank: 5
Nothing particularly surprising here - the least expected observation is that the NL West, typically considered subpar, broke the .500 mark and sits in third behind the powerhouse East divisions. The NL Central, despite an influx of talent to Milwaukee and the Wild Card-winning World Champion Cardinals, remains in last place due to the Cubs, Pirates, and mostly Astros, while the general failure of the AL Central (only one team at or above .500) brings it down.