Red Sox, Rangers should stand tall, but Indians will fall in AL division races

I’ve always looked at statistics the same way women look at men: It doesn’t take much to manipulate them.

For example, statistics show that the Patriots’ Tom Brady ranks among the best quarterbacks of all time. Reality: When Brady went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season, Matt Cassel—who hadn’t played a down of competitive football since high school—took over, finished off the Week 1 win and went 10-5 the rest of the way. Cassel’s record since leaving New England for Kansas City: 14-17.

Statistics also show that Robert Horry has more NBA championship rings than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash combined. Reality: Outside of maybe Adam Morrison (nearly $17 million earned for 1,200 career points), Horry is the luckiest player in NBA history.

The point: When handicapping sports, you should never completely ignore statistics. But you don’t want to become paralyzed by them, either. I bring this up because every year baseball experts trot out numbers to show the importance of being in first place on Memorial Day.

Yes, it’s true that since 1995—when MLB reconfigured its leagues from two to three divisions and added a wild card in each league—more than 60 percent of teams in first place on Memorial Day went on to qualify for the postseason. And in each of the last two years, five of eight playoff participants (63 percent) were in first place on the final Monday in May. But it’s also true that from 2003-07 three teams that were buried by more than 10 games on Memorial Day rallied to reach the postseason. And two of those clubs (2003 Marlins and 2005 Astros) played in the World Series.

So those teams that were in prime playoff position on May 30 shouldn’t necessarily rush to make October reservations, nor should those squads on the outside looking in throw in the towel. Here’s my forecast for how the season will play out, starting with the American League and followed next week by the National League (all stats are as of May 30).

Note: After going 2-0 in Arena Football (winning $300) and 0-2 in the NBA playoffs (losing $500), my bankroll sits at $7,286.

AL East: Red Sox lead by one game over the Yankees, 1½ games over the Rays.

Prediction: Amazingly, Boston rallied from a horrific 2-12 start to lead the AL East on Memorial Day. Offensively, the Red Sox have no equal. However, when you have to dispatch a clubhouse attendant to get your No. 5 starter (the ancient Tim Wakefield) out of the nursing home every five days, you’ve got some pitching issues. That said, Boston’s staff is still better than New York’s, and its offense is much more consistent than Tampa Bay’s. The Red Sox can (and will) outbid everyone for a top-flight pitcher at the trade deadline and win the division by five games.

AL Central: Indians lead by six games over the Tigers.

Prediction: Cleveland arrived at Memorial Day with the best record in baseball (31-19) … and the biggest red flag: The Tribe had a slew of players and pitchers enjoying career years, and the odds of unknowns such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt LaPorta and Josh Tomlin all sustaining their hot starts are greater than the odds of LeBron James being named Cleveland’s Man of the Year. Instead, give me the veteran-laden, pitching-deep Tigers, who play the Indians 15 more times. Detroit wins the division by three games, actually holding off the White Sox (not Cleveland).

AL West: Rangers lead by one game over the Angels, 1½ games over the Mariners and Athletics.

Prediction: Easily baseball’s most competitive division, but it won’t be six weeks from now when Texas begins to pull away. Despite the loss of sluggers Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz for several weeks, and with normally lights-out closer Neftali Feliz slumping, that the Rangers made it to Memorial Day in first place proves how complete this squad is. Oakland, Seattle and L.A. will hang around because of strong starting pitching, but none will be within six games of Texas come the end of September.

AL wild card: Yankees lead by a half-game over the Rays.

Prediction: With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, New York has a starting staff that’s much more recognizable than Tampa Bay’s rotation of David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis; but it’s just not as good. And with the Yankees’ offense aging faster than Gary Busey’s liver, pitching will prove the difference here, as I see the Rays punching their postseason ticket during a season-ending, three-game home series against the Yankees.

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