We are coming up fast on Labor Day weekend (and no, I do not add the ‘u’ to labour in this case, as it is a proper noun and thus spelled exclusively in one fashion, in case you’re wondering), and thus, the final big milepost of the regular season. This year’s single trade deadline has robbed the August-September changeover of some of its previous intrigue, unfortunately, but even so, seeing that magical word September pop up on the calendar, or the bottom corner of your computer screen, or your phone’s home page, has an altogether galvanising effect on the nervous system of the baseball fan.
So I had an idea this year, something I’ve actually thought about doing in the past, but never quite got around to doing. Each spring for the past several years — I don’t recall how many exactly at the moment — I have written, either on the morning of Opening Day (when it fell on a Sunday), or, in the case of this season, the day before, a preview-slash-prediction piece in which I attempt to give a synopsis of every team’s situation opening the season in no more than two sentences. I’ve never officially gone back to those pieces and checked to see how things turned out, though. I mean, I remember what I wrote most years, and can usually tell you which teams are doing significantly better or worse than I expected, and how, but I’ve never gotten around to actually putting that down into a column. So that’s what I’m going to do today. Look around baseball, see where the thinking both in general and in my own head was right, where it was wrong, and why. I’m not going to go team by team, but rather division by division; lots of these teams just don’t require me to say much about them.
Here is this year’s preview piece; review it if you like, but it’s not necessary. We’ll go in the same order here, starting out West in the junior circuit.
This one feels almost like a gimme, at least at the top. The Astros have been as awesome as expected, the Angels have still managed to waste yet another year of Mike Trout despite having the sort of luck 29 other teams would kill for in getting Shohei Otani on a league-minimum contract, and the Mariners have been predictably dire. The Rangers have been better than expected, largely because I did not expect an early-30s reinvention and takeoff by Lance Lynn, and an equally stunning Mike Minor revival. I find it very strange that the Rangers did not find a taker for either of those two pitchers at the deadline, considering the teams they will have to chase down for any future playoff spots and their own roster of position players, which is full of players either aged or mediocre or both. Oakland has been about as good as I expected, though the players who have been the best haven’t been exactly the cast I would have predicted.
Speaking of, has anyone noticed Marcus Semien is having an absolutely incredible season? I wonder if the A’s will be looking to move him anytime soon, considering their constant need for churn, and if a certain midwestern ballclub might be interested in a very good shortstop they could maybe move to second base, or third...
- White Sox
I did not see the Twins coming. At all. I thought they were a good solid club, but sort of caught in the middle the same way the Cardinals have been. Plenty of good players, not enough star power to lift them up. What has happened in Minnesota is really an argument for the philosophy of just having zero bad players, as even with the emergence of Jorge Polanco as a star-level shortstop it’s hard to really pinpoint the one guy on the Twins who defines them as a club. The moral of the story here is that sometimes when you have a big group of solid players who are all between 24-28, several of those guys will all get about two steps better, and suddenly your team as a whole has transformed into something much better. The Twins have nine starting position players; none of them has an OPS+ below 100. Also, it helps that Nelson Cruz apparently has a portrait of himself in his attic that has only warning track power.
The Indians are sort of the opposite number of the Twins; where Minnesota is defined by top-to-bottom solidity and quality, without a true superstar to drive everything, Cleveland was largely defined prior to this year by a hall of fame level core, and much of what has happened in 2019 to depress their win total is essentially just the sort of thing that can happen when all your value comes from just a handful of players. A couple injuries, a couple down years, whatever happened to Jose Ramirez for roughly one calendar year, and suddenly you’re looking up in the standings. Carlos Santana is having a career year at 33, which helps, and Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger have stepped up to hopefully give the Indians a new pitching core to replace Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, but all the same Cleveland is in a dog fight I did not really expect.
The rest of the division is basically a race to the bottom, with the White Sox being only normally bad, and the Royals and Tigers being that special kind of bad you don’t often see. The Tigers have been even worse than I expected, while the Royals have been about what I thought, and so Detroit is miles worse than even the still quite crappy but not ‘03 Tigers level bad Kansas City club.
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
I thought the Yankees’ poor starting rotation would hurt them more than it has; turns out when you’re on pace to score 900+ runs a lot of things tend to fall by the wayside. You know that thing I said a moment ago, about the Twins having nine regulars, all of whom had an OPS+ over 100? Well, the Yankees have nine starting position players, none of whom have an OPS+ under 110. They also never lose leads due to a ridiculous bullpen. Pretty good formula, really.
What has surprised me even more, though, is the falloff of the Red Sox, who I thought coming into the season had one of the three best core groups of talent in the game. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have been joined by Rafael Devers as certifiably awesome players, but Andrew Benintendi has taken a step back, and the pitching has taken a step back without realising they were standing right in front of the stairs, and are now nowhere to be seen. Faint groaning can be heard off-camera.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has been almost exactly what I expected, a run-prevention powerhouse stuck playing in baseball’s most top-heavy division, though Boston’s struggles this year has altered that calculus quite a bit. At the moment the Rays are on the outside of the wild card picture looking in at Cleveland and Oakland, and they lack a superstar player who can really push the franchise to the next level, it seems. Tough to be a Rays fan.
Toronto is bad but incredibly exciting, as the era of the Second Generation has begun north of the border. Probably not next year in Toronto, but maybe 2021. They’ve still got substantial team-building to do, but the future is bright for the Blue Jays.
The less said about Baltimore, the better.
Hey, everybody. I was planning on doing the whole league today, but something just came up a few minutes ago I need to deal with. Thus, the tiny bit I had written about the National League has been cut, and will be placed in a second column. Apologies for doing it this way.