7/17/2013 10:23 A.M. ET
The 2013 Major League playoff teams will be ...
Four of six current leaders will win their division, one other will earn Wild Card
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
Sorry, baseball division leaders, but you should wait several weeks or a couple of months before you develop plans to drape bunting around your ballpark.
Contrary to popular belief, Major League teams leading their division at the All-Star break aren't guaranteed to reach the playoffs. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only 50 percent of such teams actually won their division during the past five years, including just two of six teams last season.
This isn't the best of news for the Braves, Cardinals, D-backs, Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics. Those are the division leaders entering baseball's unofficial second half, and they'll all have at least one challenger capable of making their lives miserable down the stretch.
That said, I'll tell you who will sit atop of each division at the end of the season, and here's a hint: Those recent percentages from the Elias folks involving division leaders at the All-Star break who eventually go all the way are about to rise in a hurry.
National League East
The Braves lead now, and they'll lead at the end.
This is more of an indictment against the rest of the division than praise for a team that can pitch with anybody but has the most flawed offense in the game. While they hit a slew of home runs, the Braves strike out more than anybody not named the Astros. They also rank in the bottom third of baseball in stolen bases, and when you combine that with all of those strikeouts, they often have an inability to manufacture runs.
Which leads to this: The Braves have spent most of the year leading the Major Leagues in getting shut out.
So there is hope for the Nationals, among the game's most underachieving teams. As long as the Nats have the likes of Bryce Harper at the plate and Stephen Strasburg on the mound, Atlanta can't exhale, even with a six-game lead over second-place Washington.
Remember, too, the Phillies are 6 1/2 games back, and provided they don't have a fire sale by the approaching Trade Deadline, they'll have enough talent to provide a last hurrah with their creaky roster.
As for reality, the Braves have resiliency to go with their solid starting and relief pitching. They've survived a bunch of early injuries, and they also own more come-from-behind victories than anybody in the NL.
The Cardinals lead now, and they'll lead at the end.
The Pirates? You can't take them seriously. Only the Cards have a better record in baseball than the Bucs, but here is part of the Pirates' problem: They are in the same division with the Cardinals. In addition, haven't we've seen all of this before with Pittsburgh -- like last season and the season before that? Yep, and the Bucs are off to another prolific start before the All-Star break (yawn), but this is their most gifted roster yet.
Still, until the Pirates prove they actually can keep from collapsing during the second half of a season for the first time since -- oh, say, 1992, which is the last time they had a winning year -- you have to go with the Cardinals.
Even though the Cards slumped in late June, they've rebounded to become what they appeared to be during the opening two months of the season: Unbeatable. They haven't a glaring weakness despite a pitching staff flooded with rookies. Plus, like the Braves, the Cardinals perfected the art of overcoming injuries, including those to shortstop Rafael Furcal and starter Chris Carpenter.
What about the Reds, you say? They're solid. Solid enough to become the top Wild Card team in the NL, but not enough to overcome the Cards.
The D-backs lead now, but the Dodgers will lead at the end.
I'm sure you saw that coming. Just like many saw the return from the ashes in recent weeks of this underachieving yet absolutely loaded NL bunch from Los Angeles. To paraphrase the famous tirade by former NFL coach Dennis Green, the Dodgers are just about who we thought they were.
To be fair, the Dodgers did have a bunch of injuries, but when you spent more than $220 million to build a roster, nobody cares about your aches and pains. They want results, and the results finally are coming for a bunch that has reached .500 at 47-47 after a wretched opening stretch.
As much as Yasiel Puig has zoomed out of nowhere to help the Dodgers with his bat, arm and glove, the return of former All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez from injury has propelled them more. They've always had a Clayton Kershaw-led pitching staff to justify their spending all of those big bucks. Sort of. And speaking of those big bucks, what should be scary to the rest of the division is that the bosses around Dodger Stadium have deep enough pockets to spend even bigger bucks. They'll likely do whatever they can the rest of the way to get whatever else they need to surge past their mediocre competitors.
I know. The D-backs' lead is only 2 1/2 games, and the Rockies, Giants and Padres are within six games of the Dodgers. It's just that none of those teams have the Dodgers' bank account.
NL Wild Cards
The Reds will grab the top spot with all of their All-Stars and near All-Stars, and the Nationals will unleash a mighty streak before long to give them that second spot.
That's right … no Pirates postseason … again.
American League East
The Red Sox lead now, and they will lead at the end.
Courtesy of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, Boston is proving its slide toward oblivion during the past couple of years was a fluke. The Red Sox's lost team chemistry is back. They also don't have to worry about a Yankees team that remains mostly a toothless threat since it has lacked the bulk of its stars (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson) this season.
No question, the Rays will push hard the rest of the way with their splendid combination of pitching and managing (Joe Maddon), but they can't hit like the Red Sox.
Among other things, Boston leads the Major Leagues in runs scored, RBIs and on-base percentage, and the Sox are second in batting average and slugging percentage.
Here's the other thing: Clay Buchholz is coming back. The right-hander has been on the disabled list since early June with a neck strain, and when he returns, it will equate to Boston trading for a pitcher with a 9-0 record and 1.71 ERA.
Even though the Blue Jays are playing better after a season of struggle, they remain a last-place team by 5 1/2 games. And the Orioles nearly hit as well as the Red Sox, but only the Astros and the Twins have a worse team ERA in baseball than Baltimore's 4.39.
The Tigers lead now, and they'll lead at the end.
See a theme going here?
The Indians are just 1 1/2 games behind the Tigers, but don't blink. If you do, it will be the last time the rest of the year you'll see Cleveland this close to the top of the division. That's because Detroit is about to explode.
No, really, the Tigers are, and they'll do it this time after threatening to do so all season.
Not only does Detroit have baseball's best player, Miguel Cabrera, within striking distance of obtaining back-to-back Triple Crowns for the first time in baseball history, but Torii Hunter is having a renaissance season. Plus, Prince Fielder is pretty good, and so are other Tigers when it comes to hitting and pitching.
That Detroit pitching features Justin Verlander, owner of two no-hitters and nearly a bunch of other ones, and Max Scherzer, who started Tuesday night's All-Star Game for the AL after accumulating a 13-1 record and a 3.19 ERA during the first half.
The Tigers also have future Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland. Now if only Detroit had a closer. No worries, at least not from its division.
The Athletics lead now, but the Rangers will lead at the end.
And, no, it doesn't matter that Oakland is pretty good, and that Texas trails by two games, and that these are many of the same A's who caught and passed many of these same Rangers down the stretch lasst season to win the division.
This is a different season, and the Rangers are flashing signs of resembling the Braves when it comes to resiliency. For instance: They lost veterans Josh Hamilton and Michael Young during the offseason. Even so, they've remained vibrant enough to remain in contention to reach a third World Series in four years -- with much help from super pitcher Yu Darvish (8-4, 3.02 ERA before going on the disabled list with a shoulder strain) and slugger Adrian Beltre (.316 batting average, 21 homers, 55 RBIs).
Nobody else in the division matters, not even the loaded Angels, who keep hinting at showing a pulse during the second half after a terrible start.
AL Wild Cards
You can't ignore what the Rays are doing. They rank 11th in the Major Leagues in ERA, ninth in batting average, second in fielding percentage and first in overcoming an awful home ballpark.
The A's won't win the AL West, but they'll pitch and claw their way to the AL's second Wild Card spot.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.