Here we are, roughly a quarter of the way through the season. (It’s hard to target the actual quarter point. Scheduling oddities, weather delays, and games scheduled across a ten hour range and four timezones mean that the only time all teams have completed the same number of games are before the season starts and after it ends. Note that a quarter of the schedule would actually 40.5 games, so if we were going for absolute precision, we would have to hit halfway through every team’s forty-first game. So not going to happen.)
As I write this, before any games have started on Tuesday, the Tigers have played 40 games and the White Sox and Diamondbacks have played 46. Everyone else is somewhere between those extremes, so we’re about as close as we’re going to get.
This is the point in the season where the official litany changes from “It’s still early!” to “There’s Plenty of Baseball Left!” For the teams struggling to stay conscious, TPoBL means “We can still turn it around,” while for the current front-runners, it’s more of a cautionary reminder: no division or wild card lead is safe at this point, even Detroit’s current 7 game lead. You might think that’s intuitively obvious, but to many fans, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The old mutual fund disclaimer* applies in spades. Just ask the Giants’ fans. Last year at this point in the schedule, the Giants were 25-20, one game behind the Diamondbacks, and visions of a third World Series in four years were playing the part of sugarplums in the fans’ dreams. At the end of the year, their record was 76-86, 16 games behind the division-winning (and much-hated) Dodgers. That’s why they play 162 games. Broadcasters are overly-fond of reminding us, the season is not a sprint. Annoying as the constant refrain may be, it’s certainly the truth. Anything can happen in a stretch that long.
* Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
The Giants, by the way, are currently 28-17, leading their division by three games. Fans, eager to grasp straws are pointing out that their World Series victories came in 2010 and 2012. “Surely,” they cry “the pattern is clear: even-numbered years are our years to shine!”
What else is going on? Well, let’s see. Last year’s playoff darling Pittsburgh Pirates are currently 18-25, hoping to climb back into relevance by the All Star Break and then make a late run at the division.
The Mariners have put together a baffling combination of stellar victories and hideous losses and currently sit one game under .500–exactly where most pre-season forecasts pegged them. This, I might add (in a totally non-partisan fashion, of course) with the majority of their expected starting pitchers beginning the season on the disabled list. In their case, TPoBL means “If we can stay close to .500 until they’re all back, we could do something amazing.” Kindly bystanders will refrain from pointing out that it really doesn’t matter who’s pitching if your batters go 1 for 30 or so with runners in scoring position…
Like the Mariners, the Orioles have been playing yo-yo games with their record. In their case, though, they’re currently two games over .500 and only half a game behind everyone’s favorite team to hate, the Yankees. TPoBL, to them means “Keep it up, see who we can pick up at the All Star Break, and watch the magic happen.”
Side note: If the playoffs started today, the AL would be represented by the Yankees, Tigers, As, Angels, and Orioles. The NL would have the Braves, Brewers*, Giants, Rockies and either the Cardinals or Nationals. That’s three, maybe four (depending on the results of the Cards/Nats elimination game), of last year’s playoff teams.
* This season’s feel-good team, the role held by the Pirates last year? Milwaukee has but a single World Series appearance. That was in 1982, and they lost in seven games to the Cardinals. But don’t anoint them just yet: The Nationals joined the league in 1969 (as the Montreal Expos) and have never been to the World Series. Washington’s last World Series was in 1933, when the then Washington Senators lost to the then New York Giants. Kinda sounds like the Nationals should be the feel-good team, right? Maybe. In 1961, the Senators moved to Minneapolis and became the Twins, who have six World Series appearances, most recently winning it in 1991. The next incarnation of the Senators moved to Texas in 1972, where they have two World Series appearances (2010 and 2011). So if nothing changes over the next 119 (plus or minus 3) games, I’m going to hand the palm to the Brewers.
But really, who says there’s no room for hope? If 60% of the playoff teams change every year, there’s plenty of opportunity for last year’s cellar dwellers to turn it around. Why, just look at last year’s whipping dogs, the Marlins (.383) and Astros (.315)! So far this season, the Marlins are at .511 (23-22), squarely in the chase for the NL East, and the Astros are a blistering .378, on pace to lose 100 games… Oh. Uh, hey guys? There’s Plenty of Baseball Left!