I wrote this column exactly a year ago. At the time, it was the Tigers and Braves who had fallen off majorly. This year, those two teams were out of the picture a long time ago.
It’s almost September. We’re getting close to a month left. This is not the time to fall off as a baseball team. But these three teams have, and are now in holes that could be tough to climb out of.
Here’s the team that everyone is now freaking out about. Why? Because they had the highest expectations out of the three. This was not supposed to happen. This team was projected at 92 wins this season, per PECOTA. And yet, for the 2nd straight year, they’re disappointing.
You could say there’s more excuses this year. They’ve been down multiple starters for most of the year, guys like Denard Span and Anthony Rendon have missed much time. However, they’ve got a super rotation, with six starters (that was the thought at the beginning of the year). Doug Fister got moved to the bullpen after posting a 4.45 ERA and sub-par strikeout per nine rate. Bryce Harper has been the best player in the NL this year, and has a 7.0 WAR, best in the MLB.
So what’s happening? Well, in August, their offense has batted .232/.298/.373, significantly worse than prior months. The pitchers are 4-12, and have a 5.23 ERA. Everything’s collapsing, and you can’t really blame it on one guy, or part of the team. Since the trade deadline, they’ve been overtaken by the Mets, who bought everything they’ve needed and are cruising.
The Nationals are 4.5 games behind New York in the NL Central, and are 9.5 back of a Wild Card spot. How’s that possible? Well, the three best teams in the NL record-wise are in the NL Central, creating a cluster that wasn’t there in July. So really, if Washington wanted something to blame for their sudden collapse, they could blame it on the league. But they should know it’s their problem. It’s happened before.
New York Yankees
While the Yankees are still up a game on the Blue Jays in mediocre AL East, New York has taken quite the tumble lately. On July 31st, the non-waiver trade deadline, New York was six games up on the Blue Jays and Orioles. Now, on August 18th, Toronto sits a game back of the Yankees, with Baltimore four games back.
The Orioles best hope is the AL Wild Card. I don’t believe they’re good enough to make a run for the division, and haven’t all season. So they’re out of the division race.
It’s New York or Toronto. As most predicted (including me), the Blue Jays have made a run. That’s New York’s biggest problem.
Unlike Washington, the Yankees can blame others. Toronto, since stocking up at the Trade Deadline, has been on fire, winning 13 of their last 15 games. They’ve soared up the standings, and into people’s playoff predictions, like mine.
So what does New York have to do? Well, stop having pitchers get hurt would be helpful. Bryan Mitchell, in his 2nd career start, was struck in the face by a ball last night against Minnesota, and left the game in 2nd inning (he’s got a broken nose a result). Michael Pineda is on the DL, leading to the call-up of Luis Severino. The Yankees still have a top ten rotation per WAR, and have a 3.11 ERA in August. Playing better defense would help, as their DRS is 28th in the MLB. The terrible defense and issues on the left side of the infield has led them into trade rumors about Chase Utley. Utley would contribute much on the defense side, but brings a liability to the plate.
This race is gonna go down to the last couple days of the season, and it’s gonna be great. Toronto shows no signs of letting up, but I also expect New York to shape up here, making this race seem competitive again.
Los Angeles Angels
The Astros have been the biggest surprise of the season in terms of beating projections (sorry Yankees, Royals, and Twins). And because of their shocking season, the Angels have suffered.
I’ve written about it before, but the Angels biggest problem have been the off-the-field issues. There was the power struggle between Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipito, and then the C.J. Wilson controversy, which is settled by him having surgery. They’re only hurting themselves. If there was a stat for off-the-field distractions’ negatively impacting a team, the Angels would be first.
LA’s offense has tanked in August, as they rank 28th by batting WAR in the MLB. They’ve made moves to boost it, but so far it hasn’t made an impact. The Angels have a very decent bench, with a surplus of utility and power. It’s a mechanics thing for LA right now; guys just can’t hit in one of the most important months.
The Angels’ pitching has been pretty average all year, and has kept that trend through August. There are guys who could step up, such as Jered Weaver. Weaver’s had a down year compared to his amazing 2012 year and solid 2014 campaign. His WAR’s never been lower in his career. An increase in production would help the Angels majorly.
The Astros aren’t going away, as they have a 2.5 game lead on LA right now. The Angels are playoff caliber, I mean, they have the front-runner for the AL MVP. Only half a game out the Wild Card, LA has to keep it together. A slip can cost them more than they ever imagined, especially in the crowded AL.
Again, they’re only hurting themselves. Like Washington, there’s no one to blame.
Part 2 coming sometime later this week about the latest risers in baseball…..