I have to begin this piece with an admission: I was wrong. Wrong on at least two counts. The Cubs’ 4-3 road trip to end the first half of the season wasn’t the wipeout I thought it would be. They split four games with Atlanta and then took two of three from the Mets, which I didn’t see coming at all. Perhaps my crystal ball is on the fritz.
But even more importantly, I was wrong about Ryan Dempster being shelved until after the All-Star break. He came back on Sunday and looked solid. He still has maybe four starts with the Cubs, and he knows the score as well as anyone else. This is his walk year, and any trade requires that he waive his five-and-ten rights. But a trade out of Chicago gives him a chance to play in meaningful games this September — and possibly October — which is when his free-agent value would really start to climb. For Dempster, the auditioning season has now begun.
So, what’s the “second-half donnybrook” all about? There are currently four teams — the Cubs, Padres, Rockies, and Astros — all within a half-game of each other for the dubious distinction of Worst Team in Baseball. Each team has tasted victory less than 40 percent this season, while the entire American League, by contrast, has no teams at all in this this category.
Only three American League teams (the Mariners, Royals, and Twins) are below .500, while the Senior Circuit has eight teams that are presently underwater (the Marlins, Phillies, Brewers and — just barely — the Diamondbacks, in addition to the four sub-.400 teams listed above).
None of these four bottom-feeding NL teams has a legitimate shot at the playoffs this year. They play for the future in the second half, of course, and at least one of the teams could pull away from the others, to the good. And, as a fan, I hope it’s the Cubs. Their season has been over for at least a month now, but perhaps they can give us some hope that things are looking up, down the road.
Houston is the defending champ in this race to the bottom, and they’ve now claimed a half-game advantage over the other three teams. But the Cubs’ final games of the year are a three-game series at home against — you guessed it — the Astros.
It’s at least theoretically possible for the Cubs and the Astros to play an October series that would determine who’s the Worst Team in Baseball. And, in case you’re wondering, “October” spelled backwards is “Rebotco.” That sounds about right.