Time for a 40-game review
MLB 2010 in mid-May

I’ve said it before… and I’ll likely say it again… there are two times during the baseball season when looking things over makes a bit of sense. (There really is a third time as well. More on that in a second.)

To me the first marker is around the point when teams have played 40-games. I like it because it tends to take away the impact of some hot streaks that may be involved. For instance…

After three games, Vernon Wells was on pace to hit 216 home runs. Ok, sure… we agree… that’s not impossible. Four home runs in three games… so that was his pace. But chances are it wasn’t going to happen. He’s settled down since then. He now has 11 and is on pace for about 42. Still not likely if you ask me, even though he is having a tremendous season, but it’s definitely more realistic.

Boston has struggled without Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury. Back when troubles first hit this pair, they were day-to-day and not even headed for the disabled list. As of preparing this column, they’ve both been out for about a month. If they had come back right away, as hoped, the 40 games removes the 4… 5… 6 games they each missed. Now, Boston has crossed the 40-game mark, both players are in the minors on assignment, and when two-thirds of their starting outfield is gone for this length of time the injuries have to be considered at least a small factor in where Boston is.

What I firmly believe is simple… hit the 40-game mark with an even record or suffer the consequences, because you’re likely done. And yes, it can be that simple as having a 20-20 mark. Seriously… do you know what clearing 90 wins is? Ok… let’s say a team goes on 4 different runs of 5 straight wins during the season. Not unlikely for a playoff team, right? That’s just one time through the rotation, and we hear all the time of a few teams running off 8… 9… 12 wins in a row. So, 4 runs of 5 victories, and we start our addition with 20-0 there. In the other 142 games, the club breaks even and goes 71 and 71. Nothing special there either. But the total is 91 wins. How about a second scenario? Break the season down into 6 months, and for our purposes we’ll say each month evenly contains 27 games. In four of those months, the club does nothing more than .500 ball. That gives us a 54-54 record. In the other two months they go 18-9… taking 2 out of every 3. That’s 36-18… and yes… 90-72 just by having two good months and four purely average ones.

Yes… it is much better to be 25-15 at this point, or leading your division… we agree on that. Yes… much better to have players looking good and consistent (and healthy)… we agree on that. But my simple concept is this… if you can at least get out of the first stretch of the 162-game marathon without having destroyed your hopes, there’s still plenty of time to run off multiple strings of 4… 5… 8 wins in a row and get right back into the playoff hunt. I think that’s fair to say.

The other time I like to gauge things is around mid-season. I say “around” because we’re really looking at a point that approaches 90 to 100 games played, but arrives before the end of July and the more-or-less unconditional trading deadline. And I like that one because, by that point you really do have a gauge on the vast majority of buyers and sellers.

Today, barely needing to take off a shoe to count their total of 2010 victories, the Baltimore Orioles are still hoping to put together a couple of stretches that will allow them to reach the upper 70s of victories (or even clear 80). I don’t think it’s happening… you don’t think it’s happening… but 120-plus to go says it could happen. They could go 65-55 over the remaining games and reach 78 wins. (Oh yes they could.) But if they hit the 100-game mark with less than 40 wins, then I think we can even more safely say it isn’t happening.

Also as of today… the San Diego Padres have a legitimate shot at the division crown, and that makes it likely they won’t be moving Adrian Gonzalez. (Who saw that one coming? I thought they’d be better than people thought… but not at an even-record or better level, and certainly not a 90-plus win pace.) If they are still leading the NL West in July, the phone calls may not be what everyone imagined in southern California.

Now that third marker I mentioned comes into play for the playoff race and the beginning of September. The trick with that is… it doesn’t matter to most of the teams. By that point we know the five or six clubs that are likely fighting for a division or wild card slot… we know which ones are just finishing out the year… and with the August absolute playoff-roster trading deadline gone, not much is happening.

Anyway… so here we are… the 2010 season and roughly 40-games played for each team. Let’s take a look at there things stand.

American League East

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Tampa Bay 29-11 117-45 85-77
New York 25-15 101-61 96-66
Toronto 25-17 96-66 64-98
Boston 21-20 83-79 93-69
Baltimore 13-28 51-111 70-92


Yeah. That’s a good word. And for those of you that don’t believe Tampa Bay is a force to be reckoned with, think they will slow way… way… way down, and New York and Boston are a given to catch them, I want you to consider something. Ready? Ok… when I started this, they were 12-1 on the road.

Now… that kind of a record shows exactly what I mean about letting some streaks cool off. Heck, Toronto… on that same day… was 10-3 on the road. Toronto will… in my humble opinion… be under .500 on the road when we finish up September. So why the love for Tampa and the appreciation for that stat?

Because it shows exactly how much things are clicking for the Rays right now.

I don’t expect them to finish 30 or 40 games over .500 on the road when the regular season is done. (Heck, at one time when I was beginning some editing this, they had lost three in a row on the road, including being shut down by a perfect game.) But it sure as hell feels like every time they come up on the scoreboard, they’re winning… doesn’t it? And that my friends is exactly what happened in 2008, when the Rays started rolling and just didn’t stop.

Boston brings me to an interesting idea. And yes… they limped to 20-20 before hitting this column at 21-20. Remember all of those fancy examples I gave just a few seconds ago about how to get to 90 wins? Ok… 6 months… 162 games… averages out to 27 games a month. If you go 15-12… which I believe we would all agree is hardly stellar for a really good team… you would finish the year at 90-72. On the same day we measured Tampa and Toronto for the examples in this division, Boston was 15-14, while going through a ton of troubles. I’m not saying they will or won’t, should or shouldn’t, catch Tampa and New York… what I am saying is put down the shovels and dirt.

Or should you?

Boston concerns me. And I’m tempted to tell you that they aren’t making the playoffs. Why? Because they just seem so out of it. And by that I’m looking at three factors.

First – To make the playoffs, they must catch either New York or Tampa… no more than two teams go from any division… and that’s saying that no one in another division will have a better record and steal the wild card. (That definitely won’t happen… the best three teams in baseball play in the American league East. Two of them are going to the playoffs.) That in mind… Boston isn’t just trying to rebound from a slow start and clear 90 wins. 90 wins won’t do it. They need to pass two clubs that are cruising toward 100-plus wins! And that’s an entirely different challenge. Will New York and Tampa slow down? Yeah… that’s likely. One of them may cross the 100-win mark, but both will not. Still, this brings us to the second factor…

Second – Uh-oh, the Yankees and Rays are both in the AL East. Let’s say 95 wins is the mark we’re targeting for wild card consideration. That seems fair. All of that means Boston needs to go something like 74-47 to get to 95, but won’t be doing so with Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago heavily on the upcoming schedule. It means… without looking it up… that roughly 20 of their remaining games still involve New York and Tampa. And even if we give them a split in those games, they go 10-10, they now need to go 64-37. We’re starting to ask them to go from blah to stellar really quickly.

Third – Everything about their locker room makes it sound like this team can’t stand each other, and has no clue what upper management was thinking by putting them together. Winning cures alot of problems… and it could cure this one very quickly… but that’s just it. They aren’t winning right now. They’re surviving.

Anyway… rest of the division…

Toronto will play worse. Baltimore will play better. And… hold on…

And New York could get themselves into trouble, but it might only be Minnesota and Detroit that cares. As of right now, your playoff race in the American League is Tampa, New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Texas. That’s accomplished by removing teams under .500 and saying that Boston and Toronto need to do more to be taken seriously. With the Yankees facing injuries and a few questions… even while winning… they may find the challenges don’t come from the AL East. And that my friends, is a surprise.

American League Central

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Minnesota 24-16 97-65 89-73
Detroit 23-17 93-69 83-79
Chicago 16-23 66-96 80-82
Cleveland 15-23 64-98 72-90
Kansas City 16-25 63-99 66-96

Nothing amazing here except that Minnesota and Detroit are both playing 90-plus win baseball. I felt the other three clubs were below average, and all of them have been.

American League West

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Texas 23-18 91-71 86-76
Oakland 20-21 79-83 74-88
California 19-23 73-89 87-75
Seattle 14-26 57-105 89-73

The funny thing with what I am about to say is to remember this: The Mariners are in better playoff position right now than the Boston Red Sox. (Ok… not completely true with both 8½ out… but would you rather be chasing Texas or Tampa right now?)

Ok. So are you ready for my observation?

The Mariners right now are playing badly enough to completely change the trade deadline. For instance…

They went out and got Cliff Lee. Chances are the hope was to win in 2010, try to convince him to stay for a reasonable but solid contract, and take the draft picks only if forced to after the season. Well… what we’ve seen is simple. They aren’t winning. The wild card is gone. And with Oakland playing well and California 4 games ahead of them, their playoff hurdles are immense without even mentioning Texas. Lee has already issued the universally understood wait-until-after-the-season-and-we’ll-see-but-I-really-like-it-here quote that means he’s planning on bolting Seattle as soon as he can empty out his locker without it looking too suspicious.

In summary… trading these guys may be something to consider. Think Minnesota wouldn’t love to add Cliff Lee to their playoff run? Definitely an unexpected name hitting the market as ones like Adrian Gonzelez appear to possibly be off of it.

National League East

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Philadelphia 24-15 100-62 93-69
Florida 22-19 87-75 86-76
Washington 21-20 83-79 65-97
Atlanta 20-20 81-81 90-72
New York 19-22 75-87 83-79

Does any team exemplify what I am talking about when it comes to waiting until mid-May than the Mets? They were looking to fire their manager in the early days of the season… then went on a run that elevated them to the top of the division… and now as we reach 40-games we find them looking to fire their manager.

Ok… fine… we find them playing below average baseball, more in the hunt than Boston, but pulling up in last place of the division. And honestly, I don’t think they can beat either Philly or Florida right now in a series.

By the way… kicking the tires on heading to Philadelphia or Washington for a game or two this summer, and I noticed something very strange when looking at the schedule. The Phillies are going to slam the door shut on the division this August. How do I know? Would you believe they have a 20-day, 19-game home stand? Three weeks at home. It’s kind of a lie… because they do play 3 road games. But… (1) Beginning on August 6th, the Phillies will play 16 home games and 3 road games. (2) The 3 road games are weekend series against the Mets. So… Philadelphia to New York… not exactly massive travel. (3) The final 7 games of the home stand are against Washington and Houston.

Atlanta is still worthy of watching. They were having some troubles, but have managed to elevate themselves to that .500 mark at 40-games that I like to keep in mind. Even with Philly a solid favorite to take the division, the Braves are now positioned back in the wild card race.

National League Central

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
Cincinnati 23-17 93-69 77-85
St. Louis 23-18 91-71 89-73
Chicago 19-22 75-87 84-78
Pittsburgh 18-22 73-89 60-102
Milwaukee 15-25 61-101 85-77
Houston 14-26 57-105 74-88

It doesn’t take long to see that Cincinnati is causing some raised eyebrows out here.

In general, it shouldn’t. While they are on pace to clear 90 wins… I feel safe saying that they won’t be within 5 games of that when the season ends.

Ahh… but just the simple idea that I think a winning record is possible should be news. The thing is… hold on… let’s start fresh with a three paragraph summary…

Point one – Don’t peek. If I told you that three teams in the AL East would be heading toward 95-win seasons, who would you have picked? Well… Boston is a wrong answer. Go ahead, scroll back up, and take a look at the AL East. Toronto is sailing along to 96 wins. The thing is… it’s not going to happen. Unless you have three teams combining an amazing amount of talent and resources, it just isn’t feasible to get three teams across the 95-win plateau. Think about it… even with Tampa winning at a ridiculous rate while carrying an unproductive DH (which they are in the process of replacing with the recent release of Pat Burrell), the American League East is likely looking at only two teams over 90 wins. (That being my expectations of Boston passing Toronto and finishing with 86-88 wins in the end. And actually… Tampa wasn’t just surviving a weak DH, they are clobbering people even with a weak DH.)

Point two – The unbalanced schedule means that teams end up playing roughly… quite roughly… half of their season in the division. So if you’ve got several high-quality clubs in the division, you’re going to be bashing each other silly… if you’ve got several mediocre teams in the division, you’re going to be bashing each other silly… and if you’re a good club in a division with several lousy teams in the division, you’ve got the potential to look amazing while cakewalking to a good record.

Point three – Two of these NL Central clubs, including Milwaukee… a preseason wild card candidate, might not clear 65 victories. The Reds have a chance to clean up while several division rivals struggle.

I’m not trying to lesson the accomplishments here. The Reds are playing well. What I mean to point out is that like Toronto playing to a 96-win level, I think there’s a wall out there with their name on it. I expect St. Louis to win the division. I expect Cincy to drop back. And I expect the wild card to now come from the East or West, but not the NL Central.

National League West

Team Currently On pace for I predicted
San Diego 24-16 97-65 74-88
San Francisco 22-17 91-71 92-70
Los Angeles 22-18 89-73 87-75
Colorado 19-21 77-85 85-77
Arizona 17-24 67-95 72-90

Well this is where the real story is… isn’t it? Regardless of what you believe will or won’t happen at the trade deadline and any surprises that might be possible, the only true questions surround Adrian Gonzalez. And if the Padres are playing like this… currently leading the division, and considering where second place is in the other divisions definitely a threat to be the wild card team… his chances of moving go way down.

Now… the Padres did do very well in trading Jake Peavy. But before you wonder why they wouldn’t then continue to try and build amazing depth by sending off a great player that should bring back an even bigger haul of potential talent, the trick is… sort of noted in the article I linked to… they traded him while he was injured. Gonzalez isn’t injured. He’s on the field… you know… contributing. Add that to the idea that now the club is winning… and we arrive at a problem spot for trade deadline excitement.

Gonzalez isn’t going any place. Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt are the big trade fish in the pond.

I expect San Francisco to outlast San Diego. The high end of their pitching staff is just too good compared to San Diego’s. But with an offense that is winning games and a bullpen that has a tendency to be reliable, the Padres could be sitting there when September rolls around.

Unlike Boston.

Los Angeles has survived some early struggles. If they can get healthy, I could see them passing San Diego quite easily. Colorado has this habit of turning on the jets at some point… but I don’t see it this year. It’s more like Kansas City… when most of the stars are producing and you still aren’t winning, there really isn’t much of a spark you can expect to find.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com