The first month of the baseball season is over, and I want to talk about how the Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics are definitely going to make it to the MLB playoffs this year. But first, there’s this:
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There’s no better way to start a column off than with a solid joke. It helps break the ice, so to speak and let the reader know he (or she) (but probably he) is in for a humorous collection of words and punctuation.
Now that our ice has been broken, let’s get talking about some baseball stuff. I haven’t written a column since the end of last season because I have been terribly busy and I haven’t been following the league very closely this season. That’s just how life is somet—
Okay, you know what? I’m going to stop myself right there. I hate lying to you good folks. The truth is I haven’t been that busy, and I have been following the league closer this year than any in years past. All right. That’s better. I understand I now have to build up our trust, but that will come. Especially when you start reading some of the really smart stuff I’m going to spew forth presently.
Taking a look around the league, there are teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers who are doing as well as expected. And there are teams like the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and New York Mets who are far outperforming predictions.
Baseball is a fickle sport. One month of success does not necessarily ensure any further success. So the teams that have started off worse than expected still have 130 games left to turn things around. It’s a marathon, not a sprint – and all that.
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So who will be this year’s gorgeous teams that started off ugly? The addition of the second wild card team in each league makes it a little easier to get in the MLB playoffs, and these three teams have had poor starts, but I will guarantee you that they make it to postseason action.
Before the season started, most experts picked the Nationals to run away with the National League East division title. Their awesome pitching staff from last season was made even awesomer with the addition of Max Scherzer and their offense was lining up to be among the league’s best. However, as the beginning of the season approached, injuries swept through the clubhouse like nerds at Comic Con.
Added to their injury troubles is the peculiar season that shortstop Ian Desmond is putting forth as he heads into free agency. Last year, he was among the very best shortstops in the league and now he’s just awful – on offense and defense. Maybe he’s slumping. Maybe he’s pressing too hard for free agency. Or maybe he just wasn’t that good. But I haven’t seen this sort of talent and performance dropoff since Kate Hudson after Almost Famous.
The injuries will heal and the hitters will hit. However, the prognosis isn’t quite so good for what is really the most troubling affliction this team has: its manager. Matt Williams is among the league’s worst at his job, but even with him weighing down the team, they will make it to the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox
Last year, this was the worst team in the American League East. The year before that, this was the World Series winner. This year they’re off to a mediocre start. With the major free-agent signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and the growth of their young stars like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, this offense was lining up to be ridiculous.
They decided to go with a starting rotation of five mediocre pitchers, using the softball strategy route and hoping to outscore their opponents. The pitching hasn’t been bad, it’s been terrible. The offense has been good, but not great. There’s plenty of hope here, though. Many of the pitching statistics have been quite good and point to just a bit of bad luck. Also, the defense is plus at almost every position – with the exception of the cartoonish fielding work done by Hanley Ramirez.
The fact that they are also in the no-longer-dominant AL East means they don’t have to worry about one of the other teams running away with the division title. The Red Sox pitching will start to settle down and the offense will crank up, and this will be one of the scariest teams to play.
This is the team that is the biggest stretch of these teams, but I also feel quite confident in naming them playoff bound. They are nine games under .500 and in last place in the American League West. However, this is a well-constructed team with lots of depth and a month of bad luck. When you’re 1-10 in one-run games, that is just bad luck. Bad luck always ends – eventually.
The question becomes “when will ‘eventually’ arrive?” Up until this weekend, the Athletics had a positive run-differential – they had outscored their opponents – despite having a losing record. It’s kind of like when Al Gore won the popular vote against George W. and his hanging chads. The electoral votes are all that count and the same can be said for wins and losses. The run differential doesn’t matter in the standings. Except it does when you’re looking at overall team performance.
I have learned from too many experiences that you just can’t count out the Athletics until they are eliminated from contention. General Manager Billy Beane will take the actions needed to prepare this team to succeed. And some of those actions might even make sense. At the end of the regular season you can count on seeing these guys in the playoffs – though probably getting knocked out early (also learned from too many experiences with the Athletics).
Honorable Mention – Miami Marlins
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marlins squeeze into the last wild card spot at the end of the season. They have a pretty solid team and if they can stay healthy (including the return of pitching ace Jose Fernandez) they’ll have an excellent shot with the benefit of beating up on the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.
One thing that Washington, Boston and Oakland have in common (besides racial tensions in their cities) is that their lackluster divisional opposition. These teams will have an easier path to the playoffs beating up on Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Houston than teams that don’t.
It’s like how much more handsome I get when I go outside Los Angeles. All those gorgeous men and women eventually left their hometowns and moved to Los Angeles. So the the bell curve for looks is severely warped here. But when I go to Chicago or Boston or Seattle, I’ve got a chance.