Breaking Balls: The beasts of the East rule
Culturally speaking, there has always been a healthy competition between the Eastern and Western United States. The fast-paced, population-dense East versus the laid-back, sprawling West – each claiming superiority in a wide variety of subjects, lifestyles and snack foods.
Of course, there was once a very unhealthy competition in this country between the North and the South many years ago. But I think we all feel that silliness is behind us now.
The West has Hollywood and the East has Broadway. The East has four seasons – winter, spring, summer and fall. The West only has one – awesomeness. There was even that East Coast vs. West Coast rap feud – is that still a thing? Also, is rap still a thing?
There are also East vs. West issues of an international nature when you’re talking about the U.S. and its relationship with China. Despite its horrific social problems, China continues to grow in wealth and prosperity, and the U.S., which also has some pretty intense social issues, continues its downward spiral and gets further in debt – to China, by the way. If it keeps going like this, we’re going to start referring to Chinese food as just “food.”
It’s not really fair to compare the leaders of our country to theirs because it’s a totally different method of government. Can you imagine how effective and efficient our politicians would be if their lives actually depended on how well they did their jobs? Nowadays, if a politician loses his job, the worst-case scenario is he gets hired as a lobbyist for a six-figure salary to play golf with his replacement. In China, the worst-case scenario does not involve being hired, playing golf or continuing to live.
Anyway, there’s no real way to quantify which side of the country is “better” than the other. For every Westerner who loves his 72-degree weather, there’s an Easterner who loves his subways and doesn’t mind the occasional homeless man fondling himself. And for every Easterner who loves his mind-bogglingly delicious pizza, there’s a Westerner who has very severe gluten and lactose allergies.
In baseball, however, there is one way to quantify which is better and that’s the team standings. And so far this year, it’s been the East Divisions all the way over the West Divisions. There are also the Central Divisions. And the East is crushing those as well. A week ago, every team in both of the East Divisions had a winning record – all 10 teams. In the last few days, two of those 10 have dipped below .500, so the last place teams – the worst teams in the East divisions – just barely have losing records.
And it’s a pretty easy statement to say that six of the best seven best teams in the whole league make their homes in the East Divisions – with Texas being the one non-Eastern team and even they are the Eastern most team in the West.
But, why? Shouldn’t great players want to move out West to enjoy the laid-back media, forgiving fans and beautiful weather? Well, you know what’s better than sunny skies? Money.
Greater populations and larger media markets lead to greater revenue for the East. Greater revenue leads to greater spending. And greater spending in the East leads to even more spending in the East to compete. And the teams that can’t spend find other ways to build financially efficient teams that can go head to head with the big spenders.
In the Central and West Divisions in the American League and National League, there just isn’t that kind of spending. It’s not that they don’t have the money; it’s that they just don’t have to spend because no one else is doing it. And none of those teams are being particularly clever about building financially efficient teams.
Not to get all math-nerd, but the statistical probability is that these East teams will settle out a little and some will fall below .500 and some will continue kicking butt and taking names. This kind of thing just can’t be sustained. A few of these teams in the East are varying parts smoke and mirrors and pixie dust. Kind of like the Dodgers – except the Dodgers are in the weak West, and Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, smoke, mirrors and pixie dust might be enough to win the division.
For all of their “luck,” one thing I will say is that just about any one of these East teams would win any of the Central or West Divisions which are strewn with borderline major league players, out-dated managerial methods and archaic overall team-building ideologies. All of this bodes well for the Chicago Cubs, who recently brought in Theo Epstein from Boston, and for whoever replaces Ned Coletti in Los Angeles when the new owners give him the boot.
Despite this Eastern dominance, the best they can do is have three teams make the playoffs. That means that at least two of these teams can kick butt all year and they are going to watch the postseason at home like you and me. Probably nicer homes. But homes nonetheless.
It’s mid-June-ish and we have a pretty good idea what these teams are all capable of getting done and while nothing is certain in the world of baseball, I am going to let you in on who’s going to make the playoffs and who’s going to disappoint their fans in the order of their current standings.
American League East
Rays – These guys are currently in first place and, by all accounts, they deserve it. They have a great balance of pitching, hitting and defense. They also have a key player out (Evan Longoria), who will only make them better when he returns. They are definitely making the playoffs.
Yankees – This team is a mess. The only reason it doesn’t look like a mess is because the Red Sox look more like a mess and the country has shifted from hating the Yankees the most to the team from Boston. Maybe people are just bored of hating the Yankees and now fans across the country smell blood in the water from a franchise in Boston that seems to have gotten too cocky after winning two championships in the last decade – despite 86 years of suffering prior to those. But this Yankees team has enough parts to make it to the postseason and back into the crosshairs of fans nationwide.
Orioles – Here’s where I have to start breaking the bad news to people. But, am I really “breaking news”? I mean, Baltimore fans must know that this success they’re having is temporary, right? Like the schlubby guy with the hot girlfriend, at some point the chloroform is going to wear off and the girl is going to call the police. This team has already begun its descent and will soon settle in at just below average. They won’t make the playoffs.
Blue Jays – This is easily the best fourth-place team in baseball. Their offense is explosive. They’re pitching can be impressive at times but is pretty erratic and sometimes the bats go quiet, but this team might have just enough to squeak into the playoffs. My prediction is they won’t. But they’ve made some nice strides and maybe it’ll be next year, guys. Just kidding. Probably not then either. Better find a way to enjoy being a bridesmaid.
Red Sox – The last-place Red Sox. Man, that sounds weird and reminds me of the ’90s, a lot. They had that really terrible start this season and then somehow climbed back up to respectability and then almost as quickly started falling apart again. Injuries, under-performance, questionable management and a variety of other bad luck have all conspired to make this one of the weirdest seasons for a team that’s had a lot of weird seasons. They have the talent to go on an epic run and win it all. But there’s just way too much bad mojo in the air, and this team isn’t making the playoffs.
National League East
Nationals – Yeah, the Washington Nationals are in first place. They were so terrible for so long that they wound up getting two of the best players to come along in the draft: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Now, both are in the majors and living up to their hype. But there are a lot of other missing parts on the team, and they’ve lost Jayson Werth for most of the season. There’s also the matter of the Strasburg innings limit. The team says they’ll cap him at 160, but what if the team is in the playoff hunt or the playoffs or the World Series? I think they’ll make the playoffs but as the Wild Card.
Braves – I said it at the beginning of the season and I stick by it: This is the team to beat in the National League. They have all the offense they need regardless of whether or not Chipper Jones takes his wheelchair out to third base. Their pitching has been a bit sketchy, and there is something really wrong with Mike Minor, but the team has a lot of backups in the minors that they could use or trade for veterans. Their manager, Fredi Gonzalez, isn’t as bad as the Rockies’ Jim Tracy (because no one else is that bad), but he’s the one big hurdle this team will have to overcome.
Mets – A winning record! A no-hitter! A super-human David Wright! And a whole lot of pixie dust. By the time September comes along, they’ll be at the bottom of the division where they belong. Sorry, guys. Your team sucks. But there’s no need to be ashamed. There are lots of other things that suck. If they were a high-school performance of Romeo and Juliet, then their fans should be the ever-supportive parents in the audience giving generous applause despite the performers’ inability to remember lines or even remotely sound like human beings.
Marlins – These guys are great. These guys are awful. Their pitching is excellent. Their pitching stinks. Their offense is robust. Their offense is comatose. Back and forth, up and down. They kind of look like they have all the right parts, but it’s like that old expression about someone’s looks: “Pretty from far; far from pretty.” But Ozzie Guillen makes a heck of a circus master. They strike me as the kind of team that will be better next year once everything settles into place. That means this year they’re going to miss the playoffs and will have to cry themselves a river through the golden sand of Florida’s gorgeous beaches.
Phillies – The last-place Phillies. Man, that sounds weird and reminds me of the ’90s, a lot. Just like their doppelgangers over in Boston, this team has suffered heart-breaking injuries, under-performance and managerial malpractice. And, you know, there’s only so much pixie dust to go around. However, unlike the Red Sox, I think these guys will make it very interesting by the end of the year. When Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley come back from injuries, the team will have what it needs to make a run. I think they’ll make the playoffs, narrowly edging out a Central Division team.
I know most of you who are fans of the teams I predict won’t make the playoffs are probably thinking, “No way, Jed. You’re just pulling this stuff out of your b-hole.”
Oh, really? You’re talking to the guy who accurately predicted the Braves’ and Indians’ collapses last year and was almost single-handedly responsible for jinxing the Red Sox into the quagmire in which they currently reside. So, dismiss my predictions at your own risk. When I make a guarantee, I stand by it.
And to all you fans of the teams for whom I’ve predicted the playoffs, I must add that I don’t really guarantee any of these results and I’m really just guessing out my aforementioned b-hole.