The All-Star Game has come and gone; while it is by no means the actual midpoint of the season, or the end of the first half, it is still a moment in time, when we have no real stories, no real news, when the collective baseball world briefly pauses to catch its breath and look around, perched at the edge of the high dive, before the great plunge back into the deep end, back into trade speculation and standings-watching and the rapid ramp up to buying and selling and planning for autumn's chill excitement.
And given we are smack dab in the middle of that breath-catching, it seems only fitting we look back as we look around, and see where we are compared to where we thought we would be, don't you think? I've been looking back to the beginning of the season here lately; reading preview articles and listening to preview podcasts and marveling at how far away it all seems.
On opening day, the morning before the Cardinals officially kicked off the 2015 season in Chicago, playing the Cubs in that half-completed version of Wrigley Field we all saw on ESPN, I wrote a column previewing every team in baseball. Two sentences each (or less), running through the standings as I saw them, trying to say something insightful about each and every team from the least to the great. And now, I will review what has happened, and where we stand, and how right or wrong I was. And I shall do it in the same brief format.
Here is the original post; I will not be reprinting the material here, so check it if you want the context. Now, without further ado (since ado is the exact opposite of what I've tried to accomplish with these condensed, rapid-fire thought bullets), let's get right into it. I'm doing the standings as I projected them, rather than as they are, so you can see where I went wrong more easily without having to compare the posts.
American League East
Boston Red Sox -- I thought they would be able to outhit their pitching issues, but said issues have been even worse than expected, and the offense has been merely good, not historically great as seemed possible before the season. They've been hot as of late, though, Clay Buccholz has shockingly emerged as a stabilising force, and there is still better pitching on the way than they began the year with, so perhaps this Boston ship can still turn before the iceberg.
Toronto Blue Jays -- The pitching has been wretched, even worse than expected, and the offense has been brilliant, even better than expected. They still miss Marcus Stroman, and the bullpen has been a huge issue, but more than anything this is a team whose Pythagorean record is bizarrely out of whack with their actual won/loss record, miles better than any other team in this division, and at this point I honestly don't know what to make of that.
Baltimore Orioles -- The Orioles have been close to what I expected: solid up and down the roster, with no true holes to speak of. They've underperformed their peripherals as well, though, and find themselves sitting in third place in a division that seems incapable of deciding what it really wants to be this year.
Tampa Bay Rays -- I said the Rays would struggle to hit, and they have; I said they would pitch brilliantly, and they mostly have, with a few more injuries than expected having hurt them on that side of the ledger. They are essentially what we thought they were: a low-variance, pitching-reliant club trying to scratch and claw enough runs to hang in the race.
New York Yankees -- One of the real surprise teams of the season so far, the Yankees have been healthier and sluggier than I would ever have guessed. They're still very thin on the pitching side, though, particularly in the rotation, while the bullpen has been every bit as good as advertised, helping keep them at or near the top of the division.
American League Central
Cleveland Indians -- The biggest disappointment of the year, for me, the Indians have struggled badly with the bats in spite of Jason Kipnis being amazing, and the pitchers have done this weird thing where they look theoretically dominant but put up mediocre real-world numbers. In a division with just one actually good team, it's too soon to count Cleveland out, as their rotation could carry them up the standings in a hurry if they get on a roll, but it's probably a little late to expect them to contend for anything more than a wild card berth at best.
Chicago White Sox -- The Southsiders have been flat-out dreadful this season, with below-average pitching and the worst offense in all of baseball, and their big offseason shopping spree now looks like an horrific miscalculation. It's honestly tough to figure out how a team boasting this starting rotation and the continued magnificence of Jose Abreu can be so bad, but the White Sox, they found a way.
Detroit Tigers -- The Tigers started off hot this year, and made us all momentarily believe that maybe Father Time was just going to forget about this team. But now Miguel Cabrera is hurt, and one of the best offenses in baseball is missing its centerpiece, meaning the club will have to count on a better performance from what has been an appallingly bad pitching staff aside from David Price; it may seem far-fetched, but a partial teardown in Detroit this year might just save them from going full Phillies.
Kansas City Royals -- I'll admit it; I was completely wrong about the Royals. Everything Kansas City was hoping would go right coming into the season has gone right, from Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and especially Lorenzo Cain taking huge steps forward offensively to their amazing defense continuing to support a quality pitching staff (in particular a still-amazing bullpen), with a healthy sprinkling of Chris Young being unbelievable helping to make the whole thing go.
Minnesota Twins -- The Twins looked, coming into the season, like they were a season or two away from being good. They've gone all 2013 Cardinals on the league, though, clustering their hits in a completely unsustainable way, though, and are coming dangerously close to having to be taken seriously as a very strange sort of contender.
American League West
Oakland Athletics -- The Oakland Athletics are, by many measures, one of the best teams in baseball this year. Sadly, those measures do not include won/loss record, which puts Billy Beane in the position of deciding how aggressive and opportunistic to be in selling off pieces of a team that has no right losing as many games as it has this year.
Seattle Mariners -- I thought the Mariners were thin on offense and rode an unsustainable bullpen performance in 2014 to contention, so I expected them to fall short of a division crown but be in wild card contention, well short of the World Series predictions many prognosticators were slapping on the M's. Instead, the offense has completely tanked, the pitching has been far short of what was expected, and the Mariners are right back to looking up at the majority of teams in the American League.
Anaheim Angels -- The pitching has been surprisingly stout, and Albert Pujols looks healthier than he has since leaving St. Louis. The Angels are better than I expected, even if it still feels like they're overperforming to me.
Houston Astros -- The future arrived faster than expected in Houston, as their power bats and non-power arms both took a step forward this year that I thought might not come until 2016. This is a legitimate club, although I still wonder if an offense built around so many high-strikeout, high-power hitters will prove vulnerable to long slumps.
Texas Rangers -- The Rangers have actually held it together this year better than I thought they would, even if they are still a deeply mediocre team overall. It's hard to really even analyse this club, honestly, since so much of their sorrow seems to be directly related to chronic poor health as a whole.
National League East
Washington Nationals -- The Nationals are really good, as expected, if not quite as dominant as maybe we all thought looking at that rotation. Max Scherzer is unbelievably awesome, and Bryce Harper has become the thing we all thought he might be, but this is still a team that seems vulnerable to breaking down in terms of health.
Miami Marlins -- I thought the Marlins would hit a ton, led by their trio of young, brilliant outfielders, and the pitching would improve as the year went on and Jose Fernandez came back from Tommy John surgery. Instead, the offense has been bizarrely awful aside from Giancarlo Stanton, and the pitching has been exactly middle of the pack, which has all led to yet another dark summer in Miami, complete with managerial wackiness and the typical Jeffrey Loria shenanigans.
New York Mets -- The Mets are basically exactly what I thought they would be: awesome young rotation arms and a not-so-good offense. Actually, the rotation is maybe even a little better than expected, and the offense a little worse, leading to a whole bunch of people wondering very loudly why the Mets aren't doing something to try and improve this club.
Atlanta Braves -- Atlanta came out of the gate hot this season, and made it look for a moment like maybe we had all badly underestimated the moves they made over the offseason. Time, however, has told the tale, and the Braves are, in fact, the club we thought they were, very short of both pitching and hitting, and things are probably going to get worse this year from here on out.
Philadelphia Phillies -- Seriously, have the Phillies still not traded Cole Hamels? Um, here's a second sentence.
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals -- I wrote in April the rotation had break down potential, especially at the top, and the offense could still be a concern. Well, the top of the rotation broke down in a big way, and half the offense has spent time on the disabled list, but the most complete team in baseball has weathered all storms and ridden the emergence of a young dynamic duo of starters in Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha to the best record in baseball.
Pittsburgh Pirates -- The Pirates are beginning to be hateable, and there's really no higher praise I can offer them. Great young outfield, emerging ace at the front of the rotation, and they've managed to replace Russell Martin with another very productive ex-Yankee catcher, making me wonder exactly why the Yankees can't seem to figure out to just fucking keep those guys around.
Chicago Cubs -- The Cubs have been better than I expected this year, but not because the offensive monsters have all arrived and started bashing a year or two early. Instead, the pitching has been surprisingly good, even with a mediocre Jon Lester making my offseason poo-pooing of any Cardinal pursuit of him look quite prescient.
Milwaukee Brewers -- I didn't see the Brewers' pitching staff self-destructing the way it has this season, and the offense hasn't been good enough to make up for the deluge of allowed runs. Given the quality of the division and the real lack of near-term reinforcements on the horizon, Milwaukee is in as dire a straits as any team in baseball looking forward.
Cincinnati Reds -- I said in April the Reds should have started their rebuild two years ago; their owner and GM still seem hesitant to embark on such a course of action. I really don't know what else to say; there are stars here Jocketty and the Redlegs could sell for excellent returns to get the turnaround moving in the right direction, but until the decision is made it's going to continue to get worse in Cincy.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers -- Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are still the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball, and the pitching overall has held up better than expected considering a spate of injuries. The offense has been surprisingly mediocre, though; if it wasn't so tough to find a spot to upgrade on their roster I would expect them to make a couple midseason trades.
San Diego Padres -- I told you the Padres weren't going to be all that good this year, projecting them to be the second-place team in a fairly wretched division. Well, they aren't very good at all, and have actually been even worse than I expected; if the friars had just held on to all the players they dealt away in the offseason they would not only look better going forward, they would likely actually be better right now.
San Francisco Giants -- The Giants are better than I expected, thanks in large part to Brandon Crawford's continued development into an elite-level shortstop on both sides of the ball and the sudden emergence of something called a
Chris Matt Duffy as a major league third baseman. I have to admit; looking at the Giants gives me the same sort of feeling that everyone else must get looking at the Cardinals: how in the hell do those SOBs keep coming up with so many good players, and just keep winning?!
Colorado Rockies -- I expected the Rockies to be pretty bad. The Rockies are pretty bad.
Arizona Diamondbacks -- The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are also pretty bad, but have one truly transcendent talent standing over at first base and an offense overall that has kept them hovering around even par in a way I didn't really foresee. They still can't pitch at all, though, and the front office seems flat-out crazy half the time.
For my World Series pick, I took the Cardinals, and I actually feel pretty good about that. You pick a team to win it all, and you have to like your chances when they hit the ~90 game mark with the best record in the game. Still, it's a shakier roster in certain ways than I expected, and there are opportunities for improvement, particularly on the offensive side of things. The Redbirds also need to find some way to manage the innings of both Carlos and Pac-Man going forward; I badly want to see both of them starting games in the cool afternoon sun of October, and that isn't going to happen if some innings don't start getting banked relatively soon.
All in all, I feel okay about these predicitions; the AL in general is more of a jumble than I expected, and the Astros certainly arrived faster than I expected. But overall, I feel like what I thought of baseball in April is mostly true in July. Except the Mariners are way, way worse, which maybe we should all just get used to betting on at this point.
Baseball begins again soon, everybody. For now, though, let's enjoy this last bit of breath. Once it starts back up, it will go in a hurry, from trade season to the stretch to the playoffs; it always does, after all.