The season is two months old now, a time when we can usually separate the contenders from the pretenders. Well, usually. It turns out that there is a wealth of teams that we thought would be contenders that have fallen short of expectations so far. With so many teams like this, it is hard to tell who is really out of it and who isn’t. Surely at least one of these teams will be able to step back from the brink and get themselves back into the playoff picture. Who will it be?
San Diego Padres
The Padres went all-in this offseason to try and build their club into an instant contender. Some questioned the timing of this gambit given that the Friars share a division with the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants and the financial juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers. Turns out that line of questioning was pretty spot on because the Dodgers and Giants are currently two of the best teams in baseball. The Padres… are not. They actually have a losing record right now and have an increasingly large hole to dig themselves out of if they want to challenge for the division crown. That is looking like it is going to be impossible to do since they will have to leapfrog not one, but two excellent teams. You stay classy until next year, San Diego.
Chicago White Sox
Oh, look. We have another team that spent a bunch of money in the offseason to try and turn themselves from a sadsack loser into a legit contender overnight. How’s that working out for you, Pale Hose?
If anything, the White Sox should consider themselves lucky to be just four games under .500 seeing how they have the worst run differential in the American League. They also made the same mistake as the Padres by trying to load up for a World Series run despite being in a stacked division. The Royals are the defending AL pennant winner and fueled by Devil Magic. The Tigers remain a quality contender. Heck, now the Twins suddenly have the best record in the division which nobody could’ve planned for, but still, it is decidedly inconvenient. Even if/when the Twins come back to earth, the South Siders still need to jump everyone in the division, including the Cleveland Indians who had been a popular sleeper pick entering the year.
Speaking of the Tribe, their sleeper status is officially checking in as “still asleep.” They are one game under .500, but there are signs that they might wake from their slumber soon. They’ve been on a modest hot streak of late thanks in part to Jason Kipnis blowing up and Danny Salazar remembering how to pitch. There are still over 100 games left to be played, but Cleveland might have already dug themselves too deep of a hole thanks to the aforementioned competition that they would have to pass to challenge for the AL Central crown. However, they do have a strong offense and pitching staff that has the larges ERA-FIP gap in the league, and not in a good way. So if that pitching corrects itself more to the true talent of the staff, Cleveland could be primed inject themselves into the thick of the AL Central race in the second half of the season.
There may not have been a trendier pick to go to the World Series than the Seattle Mariners. Many thought that the pitching would be fantastic and that Nelson Cruz would help turnaround Seattle’s moribund offense. The Mariners rotation has been ravaged by injuries and poor performance and the lineup has been comically inept outside of Cruz and Kyle Seager. The hopes for Seattle turning it around hang on the theory that Robinson Cano can’t possibly continue to be this bad and that the rotation will get healthy, eventually. That might not be enough though if the upstart Houston Astros continue to play at their current level.
The A’s have the worst record in the American League by a mile, so they must be dead in the water, right? You’d think so but, in typical Billy Beane fashion, there are numbers that suggest Oakland’s untimely demise might’ve been prematurely reported. Despite their 21-33 record, the A’s actually have a +3 run differential. That kind of thing can happen when a team is 3-15 in one-run games. No team can possibly sustain that level of futility in one-run games, indicating that the Athletics will be primed for a rebound once their luck turns around. Wouldn’t it just be the most A’s move ever to be this bad for the first third of the season only to go on an ungodly hot streak for the rest of the season to runaway with the division? It wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory that a team from Texas collapsed in the second half and got lapped by a surging Oakland squad.
Pretty much the entire AL East
For crying out loud, AL East. Get your act together. This is embarrassing. The AL East is supposed to be a power division and yet here we sit with the Yankees “leading” the division with a 28-25 record. The preseason darling Boston Red Sox have fallen flat on their face to start the season at 23-29. But you know what? They’re only 4.5 games back! They’ve been an absolute dumpster fire this season but could take the division lead if they just get hot for two weeks. As for the rest of the division, the Rays have lost half their rotation to injury and can’t hit a lick, but are one game out of first. The Blue Jays barely even have anything you could call a starting rotation and within striking distance. The Orioles finally look like they are going to stop overachieving, but do you really want to be the one to tell that to Buck Showalter? So, yeah, let’s not go counting anyone out in the AL East, even if the Yankees are the only team in the division currently over the .500 mark by more than a game.