By: David Weiss
With the conclusion of the first half there are several non-Mets related stories that will be fun to follow. While the Mets are looking to the future, many other teams have story lines that are rather intriguing. Here are some questions to ask for the second half.
Can two AL East teams win 100 games?
Since the start of wild card play in 1995, this happened just once. In 2001 the A’s won 102 games, which was shockingly 14 fewer than Seattle. They were so far ahead of the other teams it was just absurd. This could happen again. The Yankees are on pace to win 106 games and the Red Sox 112. While this may seem like an unrealistic pace, fangraphs.com estimates that they will both win over 100 games.
For this to happen, both teams just need to keep playing the way they have been. The Red Sox have an excellently designed team. The Yankees have a lot of mashers and if they upgrade the pitching, 100 wins could become a reality.
Will we see four 90 loss teams in the AL central?
While the east has two heavyweights, the central has four featherweights. With the Tigers, Royals and White Sox going into the season with low expectation, it is no shock that the Indians are running away with it. The Twins are the big disappointment compared to last season. On July 4th, all four teams not located in Cleveland were on pace to lose 92 or more games. Since that point, Minnesota has gone 9-2 to gain some respectability.
However, this horrendous play is virtually unprecedented. The Chi Sox are on pace for 106 losses and the Royals are on pace for 116. In 2002 the Royals and Tigers each lost 100 or more games. It was the only time it happened in a five-team division. Having three teams lose 90 games is somewhat common. Four of five losing 90 games has never happened. It seems improbable with all of the intra-division games. While most people think the Twins will not end up with a 90 loss season, it could happen and Indian fans would have an enjoyable summer.
Will the longest playoff drought end?
When the Mariners won 116 games in 2001, they seemed to be on top of the world. They won 93 games each of the next two seasons. Normally that is enough to get into the playoffs, but alas it was not. Had someone told me after 2001 that the M’s wouldn’t make the playoffs again for 17 years, I would have thought they were nuts. After all, they were in a four-team division which gave them a the best odds. There was a 25% chance they’d win the division and 28.6% chance of making the playoffs in the 14-team league. When an extra wild card team was added, the probability of making the playoffs increased to one in three.
Never the less, they somehow never made it. In the 16 full seasons since then, they have averaged 77 wins, which isn’t terrible. They have twice won over 90 games. They have won 85-88 games four times. Unfortunately for Seattle, they just could never get over that hurdle. This year, they have an excellent lineup led by Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Baring a major collapse, they should reach the playoffs. That would leave the Marlins with the longest such drought.
Will Washington miss the playoffs?
On the fourth of July, the Red Sox completed a sweep in Washington. The Nats were a game below .500 and the horizon looked bleak. The players held a team meeting and the conclusion was that it was ‘do-or-die’ time. The next night they were down 9-0 to the lowly Marlins in the fourth inning. It looked like meeting was a dud. But then out of nowhere, the Nationals began to comeback. Five innings and 14 runs later, Washington had a tremendous win. They took the next two games and it looked like a scene from a movie.
In the final game, Miami blew out the Nats. They then lost a series to Pittsburgh and split one in New York. As of now, Washington is 48-48. While they could likely improve, a lot needs to go right. Harper needs to pick it up. The rotation depth is noticeably lacking with Strasburg on the shelf. They also need to get some more bullpen help. It is far from over but they look awful right now.
Can St. Louis rebound from the Matheny firing?
The Red Birds are not an organization known for making mistakes. However, many people are not sure that firing Mike Matheny was justified. Since 2000, they have gone to the playoffs two thirds of the time and won the division half of the time. They have won the World Series twice and lost twice. They haven’t been below .500 for a decade. It is fair to say that they are the best run NL franchise.
However, the last two years the Cardinals have only been good. They were very much in the wild card race both times, but fell short. This year they are just mediocre. Going into the break they don’t look like they’ll win the division and the wild card is becoming increasingly less likely. The main reason is that Dexter Fowler suddenly forgot how to play the game of baseball. Add in the fact that Marcel Ozuna and Kolten Wong have been underperforming and this team looks like a ghost. As a result, Matheny got the pink slip. The second half will be an interesting one for this team and time will tell if the Matheny move was the right one.
Is there a gigantic bust in the Bay Area?
The Gigantes had a splashy offseason. The trade for both Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. Austin Jackson was added as insurance. The thinking was that these guys would help an already imposing lineup featuring Posey, Belt, Panik and Pence. Instead, they have committed the same sin as the Mets. They got older when everyone else is getting younger. Currently, they are just a couple of games above the .500 mark.
While their players have been healthy enough for the most part, they aren’t as good as they once were. Of the top 13 players in terms of plate appearances, only two are below 30 years old. As a team, the Giants rank really low overall. They place in the bottom third in the majors in runs scored (23rd) home runs (25th) and OPS (21st). They have been getting good pitching and have a solid bullpen. However, all their big preseason moves haven’t panned out that well.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)