Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Breaking Down the Contenders

Might Make the Playoffs, Not Much Else
Pittsburgh Pirates
Of all the teams on this list, the Bucs have had the least big of a deal made out of them. They were a game below .500 at the all star break, struggling to stay afloat in a tough NL Central. Then when McCutchen go injured on August 11th, I expected them to slowly fade out of the race. But as of right now, they're 4.5 games up on the Brewers for the second wild card spot despite not having a winning streak over four games all season.
Oakland Athletics
I feel awful for A's fans. Their team's been terrible since gutting their farm system* at the trade deadline for reasons having nothing to do with the players they acquired. Derek Norris and Brandon Moss have both seen their batting averages plummet while Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have both forgotten how to pitch, with their ERAs rising in the second half of the year from 2.79 to 4.07 for Gray and 2.38 to 5.49 for Kazmir. There should be an ESPY for biggest second half collapse. I wouldn't be able to wait to find out if it was them or the Indiana Pacers.
*Keep in mind, they gave up prized shortstop Addison Russell as part of the Samardzjia deal.
Seattle Mariners
Why aren't more people talking about Robinson Cano as an MVP candidate? He and Fernando Rodney were their only big acquisitions and they've already won 12 more games this year as last year with eight to play. Wait, I can answer that question, Felix Hernandez has an ERA almost a full point lower than last year and is leading the AL in that (2.07), WHIP, (0.912) and has a FIP of 2.54. The Mariners are 21-11 when he pitches and 62-60 when he doesn't. But still, something needs to be said about Cano. What he's done for the M's can't be measured in stats, he's energized the entire lineup and made the Mariners winners.
Kansas City Royals
If you're not rooting for the Royals, you're either a Mariners fan, a Tigers fan, or a jerk. They haven't made the playoffs since 1985 and have only made it seven times in their history. George Brett is the only player in their history with more that 50 WAR. Do you get the idea? Dayton Moore is an underrated GM, getting bargains on scrappy infielders Omar Infante and Nori Aoki in the offseason. There's only problem: Alex Gordon is one of the least likeable stars in the league. Whenever he misplays a ball in the outfields, he always half-asses it going back to retrieve it, not a very good wrinkle into the scrappy underdog narrative.
Surprisingly Scary
San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey's having the quietest great year in a long time. His batting line is .310/.363/.489 with a 143 OPS+. Madison Baumgarner's been fantastic, as usual, there really isn't much to say about the Giants. They're the most nondescript contender.
Baltimore Orioles
I'm trying to think of what an Orioles' fan's reaction would be if someone told them last year that Chris Davis was hitting .196 and  Manny Machado and Matt Wieters played a combined 108 games. Whatever it would be, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be, "That's Ok, I'm sure an outfielder whose played on four teams in eight years will step up and set career highs in every category," That's Steve Pearce. He's hitting .297 with 20 homers or, three more than he had hit the rest of his career. What's more impressive is that he's doing it with a BABIP only slightly above his career average at .320.
Detroit Tigers
We live in a bizarre world where Justin Verlander and David Price have been the two worst pitchers in their team's rotation. Couple that with Anibal Sanchez on the DL and the Doug Fister swindling in the offseason and a team that just a few weeks ago was considered stockpiled with pitching suddenly looking at just two reliable starters unless Price picks it up.
The Contenders
Washington Nationals
The most balanced team in the league got even better when Bryce Harper woke up from his hibernation, hitting seven of his 13 homers in the last month, but it's their pitching that puts them apart. None of their starters have ERAs over 3.75 and, thumbing their collective nose at stat geeks, they're great despite having only two pitchers in the top 40 for strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers always have to be included in this conversation just because of the Kershaw-Grienke two headed monster in their rotation, but I'm not sold on them. Puig still needs to mature and not overthink it in the postseason. You can't forget about last year in the NLCS when he went 5-22 with 10 strikeouts. Then again, they might not need him as much this year as last. Dee Gordon's finally put it all together, hitting .292 with his usual blazing speed, and third baseman Justin Turner has been another pleasant surprise, with a .333/.399/.465 batting line in 103 games.
Los Angeles Angels
Josh Hamilton's turned his terrible contract into a slightly less terrible contract, Pujols is still playing fine, their pitching is just good enough and Trout's slapping up another great year. As for the last point, it got me thinking. Right now, Trout's hitting .289 with a .377 OBP, and 14 stolen bases. None of those are anything to turn your nose up at but is it OK to be disappointed about it? They're all career lows by quite a bit and he also has a career high for strikeouts. That's all I'm going to say because this subject definitely deserves its own column.
St. Louis Cardinals
Stupid Cardinals. Every year just when you think they're out of it they pull of a stretch like a few weeks ago when Peter Bourjos woke up they won ten of 11 games and made themselves World Series contenders again. Great, now we get three more weeks of reminders that the Cardinals exist.

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