April - A Month of Parity
May 1, 2008
As I stated in the TCO Season Preview, no team is flawless, and many have plenty of holes to fill. With one month of the season gone, that has been quite evident. No team has played 30 games yet, so it's still way too early to write anyone off (especially after some late season comebacks of late, such as Colorado last year and Houston in previous years), but we can still offer some opinions on what's going on in each division.
Starting in the AL East, Boston is currently on top as expected (at 17-12), but they have yet to distance themselves, with the Rays and surprising Orioles just one game back. With all the injury troubles the Yankees have had, they stand at one game under .500 and just 3 games back of the lead. If Posada, Arod, and Hughes can return healthy while guys like Mussina slowly progress, they will have ample time to climb the standings. Toronto appears in shambles after releasing Frank Thomas and is just 2-8 in the last 10 games. The Blue Jays need more than just Halladay clicking if they want to pass some teams this summer.
What was supposed to be a dominant AL Central has turned into a pool of mediocrity. Chicago has lost a few close games of late which could have given them a comfortable early lead. Instead, they are hovering just about .500 (14-12) with the Twins lurking 1.5 games behind. If Francisco Liriano can't find some magic in his arm quickly, I can't see Minnesota finishing much above .500. Cleveland, Detroit, and Kansas City are all right behind, and my guess is that Sabathia and Verlander will start to throw much better and teams like the White Sox will wish they could have built a bigger lead early in the season. As it stands now, however, Chicago's bottom of the rotation (Danks, Floyd) is giving them hope that they might be there for the long run.
In the AL West, the Angels have done a nice job early in the season, but somehow their 18-11 record is only one game better than upstart Oakland. Losing Haren in the offseason and then Harden to injury (again), I don't know how the A's are doing it. Their roster looks more like a softball team, with plenty of hitters but very few fielders. Usually those teams get exposed early on, but somehow, Oakland is overachieving yet again. Seattle has been a disappointment so far (13-15), and they will need Bedard, Sexson, and others to step up soon because Anaheim doesn't figure to drop too far along the way. As expected, Texas is terrible (10-18) and is still seeking pitching help for the 30th year in a row.
The NL East is a carbon copy of the AL Central. New York and Philadelphia have failed to live up to their expectations, and only the Marlins have taken advantage of the situation. Given the ridiculously low payroll, a 15-12 start and first place in the division is as good as a Florida fan can ask for. With all of Atlanta's woes early on (multiple injuries to the pitching staff), their inability to win a close game (0-9 in one-run games) has cost them dearly. Even though they are just 3 games back at 12-15, they could really use a cushion because they aren't the most talented team in the division, so coming from behind won't be easy. The Nationals started hot, then underwent a horrendous losing streak, only to win three in a row again, leaving them at 11-17 and realistically, no chance at anything of importance.
Chicago has done their best to claim the NL Central, but the Cardinals have managed to stay neck and neck despite the lack of an ace. As much as I'd like to dismiss St. Louis, LaRussa rarely throws in the towel and, like Oakland, the Cardinals are usually better than they should be. Milwaukee is at 15-12 and should keep that pace the rest of the year, while the rest of the division is several games further back, although I expected more out of Cincinnati, given the makeup of their roster. I still think the Reds can make a push and challenge St. Louis and Chicago before it's over.
In the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been the only true steadily dominant team in baseball so far. At 20-8, they haven't endured any slumps, and with Webb, Haren, and a semi-healthy Big Unit, a 100+ win season is reachable. On the flipside, Colorado has been a disappointment as the youth movement has struggled much like they did early in '07. At NINE games behind Arizona already, making a late splurge this year is going to be tough. Luckily, there are still plenty of head-to-head games for which to gain ground. The Dodgers have been hot of late and are now above .500 (14-13). If the starting pitching can stay solid throughout the year, the hitting woes of Andruw Jones and others are bound to get better. A wild card shot is still a possibility for LA, but I don't think they will overtake Arizona. San Fran is 3 games under .500 (13-16) but still better than people thought, especially given Barry Zito's complete ineffectiveness. At 11-17, San Diego was hoping for more early on but everyone knew their lack of offense (league low .230 BA and 3.3 runs/game) would be their undoing.
Now you are all caught up on the goings on in baseball. May figures to be a month that will begin to separate the pretenders from the contenders, so expect a couple more teams to drop off by month's end. My quick predictions are: Toronto will continue to slide, the White Sox will still have a narrow lead in the Central, Seattle will have a hot streak in them, St. Louis will falter a bit, the Mets will be leading the NL East, and San Fran will be in last by the end of May. Enjoy the games!