I have consistently said here at the Backpack… to me the first
marker for judging a baseball season arrives around the point
when teams have played 40-games.
after a week.
twice through the rotation.
until the first injury to a starter… someone gets dropped in the
batting order… the end of the first home stand…
like 40-games because it feels like a fair enough stretch of time.
Not too soon… not too late… and it tends to take away the impact
of some hot streaks that may be involved. For instance…
began the year 5-1… Tampa 0-6… check the standings after 40-games
and you tell me if that first week provided valid evidence for
comparing these two teams.
top of that… while predicting doom and gloom in Boston, you probably
would have said that 0-6 start from the Red Sox and that 5-1 start
from the Orioles seemed amazing, because the Red Sox should be
better than the Orioles. And now… even while the Red Sox still
struggle on occasion… they did pass the Orioles.
still is alot of time left in the season. But we’re now reaching
a point where concerns are justified and you can’t say it’s still
early. What I believe works as a concept is very straightforward…
hit the 40-game mark with an even record or suffer the consequences,
because below that you’re likely done. And yes, it can be that
simple as having a 20-20 record.
you know what 90 wins is? 90-wins is borderline playoffs. It’s
like 10-wins in the NFL… it doesn’t always equate to a spot in
the postseason, but if you can reach it then you are in the discussion
as the final two or three weeks are being played. Here’s my classic
example (with math involved)…
a good team, it isn’t impossible to have 4 different 5-game winning
streaks during the year. We can agree on that, right? Well… there
you go… 90-plus wins. 4 winning streaks like that is a 20-0 addition
to your record. Split the rest of the games. Win one, lose one.
Nothing fancy. You go 71-71 in those. The result… 4 winning streaks…
even record the rest of the time… 91-71.
all it takes. 4 winning streaks. Make it 5 streaks and you win
a division title and threaten for home field during the playoffs.
None of that looks pretty. None of that looks exciting. But it’s
true. It’s so basic that many teams have gone on to have decent
records at the end of the year and yet their fans were screaming
during most of it.
the math doesn’t have to be done that way. Good teams will rattle
off stretches of 7-3 or 8-2 baseball… and after winning a weekend
series here and three out of four there… you find yourself hitting
September with a record of 76-57 and dead aim on postseason play.
it is much better to have 25 wins at this point… much better to
be leading the division… much better to have players looking good
and consistent (and healthy)… we agree on that. But 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 get right back into the playoff hunt. I think that’s fair to
you’re a fan of Boston.
that’s the case… things are looking much, much better, but they
aren’t what you expected.
I’m lying. That’s last year’s chart. But check that out… Tampa
with 29 wins. Four teams over .500. Toronto… a team that would
finish with a winning record… was in third place with 25 wins.
And Boston… today they are exactly where they were one year ago.
does it matter? (Yes.) Is it still early? (No, and this shows
final AL East standings in 2010… compared to the 40-game standings
last year… involved Toronto and Boston flipping spots. That’s
year San Diego was 24-16. They cooled off, but still managed to
enter the final weekend of 2010 pushing for a playoff spot. (And
that was pushing for both a division title and the wild card).
So when we look at Cleveland and even Kansas City in a second,
keep in mind that they might just be for real. And also keep in
mind that we are getting to a point where you should be paying
attention and not shrugging things off.
here are the current, honest, 2011 AL East standings right now…
some point you have to shift gears from saying the Boston is a
better team than they’ve played and begin to get realistic about
what is happening to their playoff chances. Just last year they
hit this point of the season in pretty much the same spot they
occupy this season… fourth place in the division… and had exactly
same record. And last year they only managed to pass Toronto.
way Tampa is playing right now is very bad news for Boston and
New York. They weathered an injury to Evan Longoria and have already
taken care of the ground they lost during a slow start. The postseason
changes being kicked around that add a team haven’t begun… likely
for next year… and so we still have a situation where at most
only two teams in a division can make the playoffs. The Rays are
impressing me enough to hold on to the belief that they are legitimately
one of the best teams in the American League.
than New York and Boston? Well… hold on to that particular Tampa
question and I’ll give you an answer at the 100-game mark.
now… the beauty of following Boston is reaching .500, sweeping
the Yankees to get to that even record, and having a good chunk
of players producing. In other words… you weren’t expecting 21-20,
but all things considered right now, you’ll take it.
don’t think Toronto or Baltimore can keep pace all season… for
two reasons. First, they simply aren’t as good as Tampa, Boston
or New York. And second, they really aren’t in a position to trade
anything that will make them as good as those clubs.
but they might be able to both win 75 or more. And that could
cause all sorts of headaches for the other three if a September
scramble for the division and wild card is at stake.
prediction: Boston to take division, Tampa to be consistent
and win wild card.
you had asked me if Minnesota could struggle, I would have said
you had asked me if Chicago could struggle, I would have said
you had asked me if Cleveland could play well, I would have said
would not have said yes to Minnesota looking absolutely lost and
Chicago looking absolutely lost and Cleveland having the best
record in the American League. All three of those things? Not
I can tell you is that… according to history… the Twins and White
Sox are done. And for me, that means this is a race to be won
or lost by the Tigers.
I pointed out in the AL East… I think the recovery for Tampa signals
troubles for Boston or New York. I still believe the wild card
comes from one of those three clubs. And that means here in the
Central… can the Indians hold on for the full year? …can the Royals
play well for the full season? I say no. I think the Tigers catch
both of them and take the division. (Heck… since the time I started
this and the time I finished it, the Tigers already had caught
it may not be that easy for Detroit. Here’s a funny one…
Anderson is a trade chip. Right? Well… so was Adrian Gonzalez
last year for the Padres. San Diego was in the hunt though… beginning
to end. The longer Cleveland stays in the game, it is distinctly
possible some trade possibilities shut down. (I know… I know…
forget the injuries and disabled list and look more for the theory
the past ten games, the Twins have gone 1-9. Think about that.
They were a really bad 11-18. And then they went 1-9. It’s the
worst record in baseball. Bad at home… bad on the road… Houston
and Minnesota are the only two clubs to have given up more than
200 runs (and as I type this, they have given up 216 and 214 respectively,
with only Kansas City close… the Royals have given up 193… (let
that sink in)).
do I expect the Indians to fade? Well… do you really expect them
to continue to lead the American League in runs scored? (Neither
prediction: Detroit to win division. Cleveland could
be a good story… but I still believe they fade and become sellers
in July. That said… pace to win 100-plus… can’t sneeze at that.
Remember this concept: the longer you keep an underdog in the
game, the less of an underdog they actually are.
Now this division is more like it. All four teams not only where
I expected them to be, but their paces are pretty darn close to
what I expected them to be. And here’s the biggee…
is putting up solid offensive numbers, while winning big at home.
is offering a balanced attack, with two starters that could easily
get hot… stay hot… and cause lots of problems for opponents.
many surprises here.
prediction: Texas wins the division.
teams look white hot here… and I think both Philly and Florida
will cool a bit. (Atlanta is right there with them… but on a pace
for 90-wins. And that seems far more likely to me than Philadelphia
big trick is that the pace being set in the NL East is bad news
for the rest of the National League. While St. Louis and Cincy
are in the neighborhood, the reality is that we are seeing a race
for two postseason positions being played out in this division.
(Much like I feel about the AL East.) Still alot of settling to
be done throughout baseball, but…
not to like about Philly right now? They aren’t giving up many
runs, and they still possess a dangerous roster that could be
getting healthier as the season goes on.
not to like about Atlanta right now? Cincinnati and St. Louis
are both scoring a ton of runs so far, but they are giving them
up in bunches as well. Good pitching likely can shut them both
down. The Braves are looking nicely balanced.
don’t get what Florida is doing. They always seem young and talented,
and stick around late enough in the year to be interesting. But
I haven’t seen enough to get a feeling for how they’re winning.
For instance… they’ve scored more than the Phillies, and have
given up fewer than both the Phillies and Braves. That’s good.
They’ve also held their own in games against both of those clubs
so far. That’s good too. But would you believe they have been
consistently winning so far? True. Out of 13 series to date, they’ve
won 8, lost 3, and split 2. And that’s included playing not just
Houston and Pittsburgh and New York… but also Philadelphia and
Cincinnati and St. Louis and Atlanta. They’re 10-4 in 1-run games.
In short, I can’t view any of it as streaky. It sure seems legit.
Add all of this up, and they are definitely a team to be reckoned
prediction: I’m sticking with Philadelphia to win the
division and Atlanta the wild card. However, I am absolutely more
impressed with the Marlins than I am by any other National League
team right now. I just don’t see how they keep winning series
after series, or 70% of 1-run games… and yet, in most measurable
ways, they seem to be consistent, absolutely in line with doing
what they do best, and… well… geez, don’t they always seem to
be involved in discussions for some surprise trade or two that
no one ever gave them a shot at being involved with?
the rule for me is .500 or you could be done. By that mark, Milwaukee
is in trouble. But… they just got Zach Grienke back. And… unlike
say Baltimore (who were 19-20 and close to .500 before the late
inning loss in Boston drove them to 19-21 at the 40-game mark)…
I would argue that both Cincinnati and St. Louis are way, way,
way overextended offensively. (Ok… wait… second time I’ve pointed
to the Reds and Cardinals as way too high offensively. I should
often when I write some of these columns, I give things the sniff
test. In short… I look things over, gather really basic data,
and decide for myself if things are what I would expect or not.
Some pass the test… essentially meaning there is nothing strange,
amazing, unusual or crazy that I can see. Nothing to do there.
Some fail… and often failure is a result of questions that come
up. Examples? Sure…
March I absolutely expected Houston to be one of the worst teams
in the National League. That they are, right now, one of the worst
in the National League makes sense. Why waste time looking too
deeply into it… unless you really are interested in the pain and
suffering that is the Houston Astros. On the surface alone, the
naïve view works, and the results pass the sniff test. Done.
you did look deeper, you see the Astros have allowed more runs
than anyone in baseball. They are scoring middle-of-the-pack,
but allow almost one run per game more than any other team in
the league. Again… basic stats… but a bit more in depth than simple
wins and losses. Was it worth the time? (Well… it wasn’t much
time to invest. But really, unless you were interested… and if
you are, you’ll move even further, and…)
to go with the Astros… bad at home, worse on the road… they’ve
lost the significant majority of the series they’ve played, and
they’ve had some strings of consecutive losses… and… see? The
deeper you go, it still gives you the sniff test results. The
sniff test provided you with essentially confirmation of what
you expected. All research did was show you why it happened. (And
sure… in many situations… what you expected to see happen does
in fact happen… it just doesn’t play out the way you predicted.)
the case of Florida… the success was ok, but the casual observation
didn’t pass the sniff test. Good in close games… no strings of
losses or incredible, broadcast leading strings of consecutive
victories. The more you investigated though, the more you learn
about how they were winning two-out-of-every-three more often
than not, and the more solid they look.
expect the Marlins to keep winning for now. I expect the Astros
to keep losing. Look outside the NL and check out Cleveland… and
I do not expect them to end September outscoring league rivals
like Boston, New York, Texas, Detroit, and so on.
tests… naïve approaches.
to Cincy and St. Louis.
one in the National League… other than these two clubs… has cleared
180 runs as I type this. 180 runs… 40 games played… blah-blah-blah
no one else at 4.5 runs a game. Everyone is below that. And yet,
somehow, Cincy has scored 218 runs. St. Louis 220. They are both
at about 5.5 runs per game and way, way, way beyond everyone else.
Heck, they’re lapping American League clubs.
about failing a sniff test. The runs scored raises all sorts of
flags. And the research does not… for me… indicate that they can
sustain this sort of productivity compared to everyone else. The
Reds and the Cardinals may have dangerous hitters and decent lineups…
they are not the two best offense in baseball. And if being the
best created the separation…
I think the Brewers may still be in this thing. After all… if
healthy, I like their pitching as much as anyone else in the division.
And their batting order has some power as well.
Louis would be the team that concerns me. Why St. Louis and not
Cincinnati? Well… if you check out their schedule over the first
40-games, neither club has played a ton of high-quality opponents.
(Check out Florida… they have played and won during a schedule
that doesn’t seem to ease off.) But… the Reds have a solid home
record (winning about 60% at home) and a winning road record.
The Cardinals are 2-wins above even at home and on the road. The
Reds have struggled outside the division, where the Cardinals
have their extra wins. In division games though, the Reds are
19-10… the Cardinals 9-9.
the past couple of seasons, clubs like Minnesota have made a postseason
living out of dominating in their division. That’s what I’m seeing
from Cincinnati right now.
prediction: I think Cincinnati looks very good to win
it. St. Louis still has time and talent, and Milwaukee isn’t done.
how about that? Out West again and things are roughly in place
to like about the Giants? Very good at home… very good in the
to like about the Rockies? Get this… 11-8 on the road.
reality is… either of the two top clubs could win this division.
But… right now… if you have to, place your money on the Rockies.
Because San Francisco simply cannot score. Remember my little
observation about sniff tests and Cincinnati and St. Louis… they
were averaging 5.5 runs a game while the closest National league
competitor was at 4.5? Yeah… well… the Giants went through a phase
where they told everyone they sucked. And then by the time you
heard it enough and looked at the standings, there they were in
first place. Sucked? Had anyone in San Francisco talked to people
in Boston or Tampa Bay? Deeper look when the naïve doesn’t
work… and wow… yeah, they do suck. The Giants are at around 3.5
runs per game, scoring less than everyone except Minnesota (and
less by alot).
interesting thing is that I do believe San Fran has some room
for improvement. They could go big… say a trade with New York
for Jose Reyes. Or, they could go average… perhaps offering to
take Marco Scutaro off of Boston’s bench. And they have some options
in the outfield for bringing in some help with the offense. The
trouble is that neither of those moves gets made with the intent
to keep either of those players long term. And… (hold on, new
thing I’ve neglected mentioning here in this article that will
matter as the season moves along is what trades might be options.
You might recall that in the season previews I kept mentioning
that names weren’t out there. Gonzalez was gone from San Diego…
and is now safely settled in Boston. Grienke was gone from Kansas
City… and Milwaukee is likely to keep him for the year. And of
all the free agent possibilities, there just wasn’t much that
would get moved unless chaos took over. (Honestly… give the Yankees
trading Sabathia the sniff test… watch it fail… and then tell
me what would have to happen for that move to take place.)
Giants have their pitching in order. They don’t need to make any
huge acquisitions in that regard. What they need is a bat or two.
And the Mets might listen to an offer that involves Beltran and
Reyes. It would have a cost involved, but not an insane cost…
since you won’t pay too ridiculously for rentals. (You’ll pay…
just not as much.) I’m not saying they need to make that type
of trade either. The Red Sox might be willing to send off Drew
and Scutaro. The Diamondbacks might listen on a name from their
roster… same for the White Sox… and where I’m heading is suddenly
very simple… all you need is one or two pieces, and the Giants
have some holes where those pieces would easily fit.
don’t think Colorado needs to make many moves. And… I’m not sure
where they have room to make moves. They’re middle-of-the-road
scoring and preventing runs… and so far, so good on the road.
prediction: I’ll take Colorado to win the division right
now. But when we get to our 100-game review, if some combination
of Jose Reyes – J.D. Drew – Carlos Beltran – Grady Sizemore –
Stephen Drew – Carlos Beltran… or whatever, considering the hole
at shortstop as just one example… have managed to be healthy (big
if on that for some of these guys) and are wearing San Francisco
uniforms, I could easily change my mind. Two small improvements
could decide this division.