Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Well, approximately one-sixth of the baseball season has now passed. All teams have a month of games on the books. I know I’m not the only one who is surprised by the way the standings have looked so far. In fact, it’s pretty refreshing to see the way some things are shaking out. The question is: Are we seeing the beginnings of some real new trends, or will the same old postseason players come storming back over the rest of the campaign to make the playoffs yet again?

Let’s look at the AL East. As I write this, the Tampa Bay Rays have slipped to second place after being percentage points ahead of the Red Sox for the division lead yesterday morning. No, you are not on anything—it’s just the truth. It’s also the latest in a season—yep, the beginning of May—that the Rays have been in first. Baltimore got off to a torrid start and has since cooled a bit, but even so, the Orioles are tied with the Rays, ahead of the under-.500 Yankees in fourth. What about all those predictions that said this was Toronto’s year to finally keep up with the Joneses in the division? Right now, the Jays are in last place—I wonder if they could use a slugger like, say, Frank Thomas right now, but he’s back with Oakland and starting to swing the bats a little better. The Blue Jays are only 4.5 games out of first, but they better get crackin’, or the deficit will become insurmountable.

In the Central, the division-leading White Sox are only one game over .500, and the rest of the teams are at or below it. How sad. After coming out of the box very poorly, the Tigers have won 8 of their last 11, and even though they are in fourth place, they are only 1.5 games out of first. The Twins started poorly also, but not as poorly as Detroit, and they are also coming back, but not as strongly as Detroit. Minnesota is in second place with a .500 mark, only a half-game ahead of the Tribe. Kansas City is taking the opposite tack from the Tigers. After a hot start, the Royals have lost 7 of 10 and are back in their usual spot—dead last.

In the AL West, I’m sure everyone expected the Angels to be doing well, and it’s no surprise that poor Ron Washington’s Rangers are in last and sinking. But how about them A’s, who have matched the Angels game for game, are tied with them for first, and own the best collective ERA in the majors? This was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year, as far as that goes in Oaktown, since almost everyone is always a youngster there, but instead, the A’s are off to their best start in quite a while. At least, it feels that way, though I don’t have the numbers handy. I’m used to seeing the A’s bomb early and then fight back and surge ahead by the All-Star break. This hot month of April is something new. And what happened to the M’s? Early scouting reports from spring training had the Mariners being the team to beat in the division, but Seattle seems as if it’s just limping along at the moment at four games under .500.

Over on the Senior Circuit, in the East, the Marlins—the Marlins?—the Phillies, and the Mets are all clustered within a half-game of each other at the top, while Atlanta struggles (despite Larry Jones hitting over .400) and Washington is too streaky to figure out its own way. The Marlins are overachieving, the Mets are underachieving, and the Phillies are playing about where they should be, despite injuries—this could be a fun race to watch, but it’s doubtful the Marlins will be able to maintain the pace over the bulk of the season. The way the Mets are playing, if they don’t get it started soon, the race will turn into a cinch for Philadelphia.

Lo and behold! In the NL Central, the Cubs are playing well! While they aren’t in first place, they are right behind the Cardinals at the top of the division, and the expectation is that they will be strong the whole year and compete in the postseason for their first World Series title in 100 years. The Milwaukee Brew Crew is also playing well, in third place. Next, Houston is under .500. The Pirates were expected to do better, but—hey!—here they are in second-to-last place. Only the Reds are worse, and they fired their GM last week.

The Diamondbacks are the surprise of the West, no doubt, as they chug along at a .690 clip. It could be revealing who wins the series this weekend between the Snakes and the Mets, since Arizona is clearly the cream of the National League, and the Mets are trying to show they belong up there while ridding their collective nostrils from the stink of last season’s collapse. (The Mets won last night’s game, 7–2.) Joe Torre’s Dodgers started off slow, but they’ve reeled off seven wins in a row now and are threatening to show the D-backs that the division isn’t won yet. Predictably, the Bonds-less Giants are doing poorly, and former ace Barry Zito, his huge contract, his 0–6 record, and his 7.53 ERA have been banished to the bullpen for now. Unpredictably, both the NL-Champ Rockies and the Padres are badly struggling, already 9 and 9.5 games respectively off Arizona’s pace.

So that’s where the standings are today. Any guesses who will catch fire and who will fizzle? Is it too soon to start thinking about the wild card? (Maybe not in the NL West!) I’ll keep my eye on the division races and report back again sometime soon!


Ed Attanasio said...

Don't forget my Dodgers, Meat. We've won 8 of 9 and will be playing your Mets this week!

Meathead said...

Check it out, Ed--I did mention the Dodgers, who at the time had won seven in a row, and said they were going to compete with the D-backs for the division!