Back on Opening Day I wrote about six teams that I thought could be interesting to watch as the year progressed. These were teams that I didn’t necessarily think were any good, but ones that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around before the season started. Unlike pre-season darlings such as the Padres, Red Sox, and White Sox, these teams’ storylines weren’t quite written out and expectations were incomplete.
Well, we are nearing the half way point of the season, and we know a little bit more. Not much more, as teams, especially in the American League, are still bunched together and any outcome is still possible. In fact as I write this, the Oakland Athletics have recently gone 20-11 since starting the year 14-30. The A’s, which boast one of the most formidable starting rotations and clutch lineups in baseball, have started to overcome some of their early season shortcomings, specifically injuries, an average bullpen, and atrocious defense. Who’s to say that they couldn’t overcome their 10 game West Division deficit, or easier yet, 7 game Wild Card deficit?
Originally I picked six teams, one from each division. Up to this point, only one, the Milwaukee Brewers, has completely unraveled by firing their manager and sinking to the second worst record in all of baseball. As for the others, four of the five are playing over .500 baseball, with the final team, the Cleveland Indians, at one point earlier this season boasting the best pitcher on the planet, Corey Kluber. So let’s take a look at what’s happened so far this year and if it’s gotten any easier to peg some sort of identity to each of the six.
On Opening Day I wrote that the season in Milwaukee “could be a disaster.” Well, disaster is an understatement for the Brew Crew. After starting 7-18, the front office acted quickly and fired Manager Ron Roenicke, replacing him with Craig Counsel. The Brewers have since gone 25-30, a marked improvement, but far from inspiring. Going into the season, I had thought that the pitching staff was questionable. My foresight was proven correct as this team has since given up the third most runs in the National League. What I was not prepared for was an offense that would be fourth from the bottom in the league in runs scored. Unquestionably injuries to star players on the offense have hurt. So-so seasons from Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun coupled with horrible ones from Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez have not produced fun baseball at Miller Park. Trades involving these veterans would be a good thing for an organization whose window of opportunity seems closed for the foreseeable future.
New York Mets:
I called the roster of the Mets a “jumbled mess.” I specifically pointed out aging veterans Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon mixed alongside young, talented, and injury prone players such as catcher Travis d’Arnaud and the rest of the studs in the starting rotation. Well, up to this point, the veterans have delivered, and many of the young players have been great but have often found themselves on the disabled list. After starting the season hot, the team has since cooled down to settle a few games above .500. The Mets boast one of the best home records in baseball at 29-12, but also support one of the worst road records, only having two more wins than the lowly Phillies. The pitching has been great, the defense has been iffy, and the offense has been pretty anemic. It looks like the Mets are a year away from truly contending, but it’s been a fun team to watch thus far. Imagine if David Wright was healthy all season.
San Francisco Giants:
I had predicted that the group of veterans on the Giants, namely Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum, would have “some tricks left up their sleeves.” To date, Peavy has been injured and Hudson and Lincecum have just been decent back end of the rotation pieces. What has been impressive is the younger players, especially Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Angel Pagan up the middle, and their impact on this exciting team. Exciting in that the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals are the two teams this year that have the Los Angeles Dodgers’ number and also that there is a solid core of players for many more seasons to come. Manager Bruce Bochy is looking to snap the “odd year” curse. With Peavy coming back and the veterans staying healthy for the postseason, my prediction just might actually happen.
There were a lot of questions going into the season, and for the most part, many of those questions remain unanswered. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have shown flashes of brilliance, but have been inconsistent in their dominance. The rest of the rotation has remained suspect. The bullpen has been reliable, but far from elite. Jason Kipnis has had an MVP-type season, but the contracts of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher remain glaring blemishes. Terry Francona has kept the team afloat, but newly acquired Brandon Moss recently stated the team has lacked “heart” all year. This team still has potential to turn it around, but either the offense or pitching has to improve.
The darlings of the first half, the Astros are winning because of good pitching, solid defense and timely, if inconsistent, hitting. On Opening Day I pointed out that the bullpen would improve but had a feeling that the young rotation was “full of unknowns that could surprise.” The bullpen has been the second best in the American League (after the mighty Kansas City Royals) and Dallas Keuchel is a bonafide Cy Young candidate leading a solid rotation. Admittedly the offense is what was expected of it (many home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts), but it’s been working for first year manager A. J. Hinch. The addition of rookie Carlos Correa has provided a very welcoming spark. A veteran starter or two could make this young team legitimate contenders once reaching the playoffs. Is the World Series in the cards for this young team? Right now I’d say no, but the foundation is set for years to come.
The Orioles have quietly scored the fifth most runs in all of baseball, while boasting a solid pitching staff ranked 13th overall in ERA. Oh, and they’ve also committed the fewest errors in the American League. Across the board, these birds are a fundamentally sound team. Admittedly, I still don’t understand how they’re doing all this, but last year’s Manager of the Year Buck Showalter might have something to do with it. For all the talk of the Toronto Blue Jays’ juggernaut offense, or the Tampa Bay Rays’ excellent pitching staff, or the New York Yankees talent, this is still the defending division champion. And since they do the little things right (although we don’t know how they do them), there’s no reason to doubt that this team will make it back to the postseason. I’m sorry if I burst anyone’s bubble.
Featured Image: Via The Sporting News