Let’s play a little game called, “Just the Tip.” Just for a second, just to see how it feels. Now let’s see which MLB teams can hang over the course of an entire season. Every year, someone comes out of nowhere and contends longer than they were supposed to. It then becomes a game of “will they or won’t they.” This year there are two teams that have come out of nowhere to lead their respective divisions at the time of this post. There are also two honorable mention teams that just so happened to meet in the World Series last year, but still, they don’t necessarily look like the best teams in their divisions.
The Giants, defending World Champions, don’t look like a championship team, but their pitching has kept them atop the NL West. Not sure if that’s so much a credit to the Giants, when you consider the division just seems pretty bad top to bottom. The Rockies have underachieved, and the Dodgers and Padres are pretty much irrelevant. Arizona has been a surprise, but no one really believes they can hang around and contend for the NL West crown. For that we say, the Giants will.
The Rangers, on the other hand, came into this season more or less as favorites to win the AL West. But, a lot of people saw either the Angels reclaiming the division, or the A’s making the jump and riding their pitching to a postseason berth. Instead, the Rangers have played just well enough to hold a 5 game lead over the Angels in the division. Their offense was never in question, but they’ve had surprisingly strong pitching that has kept them perched atop the AL West.
On to the real surprise teams of the 2011 campaign. I’ll start with the Indians because I sort of saw this coming. To be honest though, I’m sort of waiting for the team to fall off, as part of me doesn’t really believe they are for real. I at least thought that Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner could manage to stay healthy, and combine that with two guys who I knew would be solid this year, Asdrubal Cabrea and Shin Soo Choo, and it seemed the Indians were poised for an improbable run at the trophy this year. Unfortunately, Sizemore and Hafner have been sidelined often, Choo’s blood-alcohol level has exceeded his batting average, and Asdrubal Cabrera is left with few RBI opportunies costing him much deserved MVP attention. I’m also questioning whether that starting rotation can hold their ground for the remainder of the season.
Finally we come to the Pirates. I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but if they did, post a link showing off your premonition like I am once again HERE. Like many good teams, they’ve ridden their pitching to a division lead in late July. I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw this. I believe the statistics say it was 1992. That’s a long time. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Pirates have the longest streak of futility in ALL of professional sports. Is that right? Either way, I’m a big time Pirates fan this summer and fall. I wonder how many players I can name on that team….? Let’s count. Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ryan Doumit, Joel Hanrahan ….that’s all I’ve got. But I’m on board. Will they hang on? Not a chance. With Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati (my other World Series pick) all chasing them, they’d be lucky to finish third this year.