Give me parity over dynasty. Give me the unknown rather than predictability. You won’t find the level of competition seen in Major League Baseball in any other sport. I won’t re-hash all the numbers because it’s been done time and time again – including a piece I wrote for my lowly personal blog before making the transition to the big time (this is the big time guys, so stop laughing!).
Just take my word, or read the words of others, that more unique teams make the postseason each year in baseball than any of the other major sports. And this season is proving no different if we look at the standings as they are coming into play today.
As you can see, when compared with the final standing of last season, there are four new first place teams. Obviously, I don’t expect the standings to remain the same the rest of the season, but I thought it would be interesting to see how each of these four “newcomers” (the Dodgers, the Reds, the Nationals, and the White Sox) made their way to first.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Let me first start by tooting my own horn – and yes that’s perfectly professional baseball lingo. In a post I wrote for Chicken Friars prior to the start of the season, I predicted the Dodgers as the division winner. Surprising to most, the Dodgers have the best record in baseball at 41-25. So what’s different?
The biggest problem facing the Dodgers last season was not a lack of talent. After all, they had the player who likely should have won the National League MVP in Matt Kemp. The true problem was distraction. Frank McCourt had spent all the team’s money, was in the middle of a messy divorce, and Major League Baseball was forced to take over control of the team. Say what you will about blocking things out, players are human beings and are affected by these things.
Even with all the distractions, the Dodgers still finished 82-79 and in third place in the National League West. Given some stability in the front office, it would make sense that this team could compete. Now, with the new ownership group in place, and Magic Johnson flashing his trademark smile from the comfort of his box seats, the Dodgers are playing like winners.
The Reds made the postseason in 2010, but they finished under .500 last season. Despite very few changes, the team seems to have turned things around. They started slow this season and looked as if they would follow in the footsteps of last season’s failure. Instead, Joey Votto is hitting like an MVP, and the Reds are getting clutch hits.
The difference this season may be the reduced talent throughout the entire National League Central. The Cardinals lost their manager and their future Hall of Fame first baseman. The Brewers lost their MVP-caliber first baseman. The Pirates, Astros, and Cubs all did little to improve. The division was wide-open for the Reds.
Now, after the Cardinals hot streak has cooled, the Reds are in a position to take full control of the division. Votto’s bat has heated up to a place you’d expect for the huge contract he signed in the offseason, and the pitching staff has the 6th best ERA in the league.
Like international spies under the cover of darkness, the Nationals have quietly been stocking up on top-level talent through the draft and free agency. Their efforts have culminated in an incredible start to this season. While most could tell this club was on its way to being great, not many expected it to happen this soon. But it has.
The Nats’ pitching may be outperforming its true talent level, but not by much. They rank first or second in almost every pitching category you can find. Their staff simply dominates despite mediocre hitting. Bryce Harper’s appearance on the big league level, and Ryan Zimmerman’s return from the DL have helped boost the Nationals offense, and the boost can be seen in the standings. They’re 13 games over .500 and own a four game lead over the Atlanta Braves.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are the only team in the American League Central with a positive run differential. Sound familiar? We were saying that all year long about the Detroit Tigers, and what happened? The Tigers won the division.
The White Sox are a good team, and they were a good team last year. Unfortunately, they struggled with injuries and underperforming players last year. Adam Dunn has stepped up and performed more like White Sox fans expected him to. In addition, the White Sox have received surprising contributions from Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.
Jake Peavy, who it seemed would never return to his Cy Young-like ways, is pitching like he did while he was with the Padres. He is 6-2 this season with a 2.91 ERA. It’s the first time he’s had an ERA under 3.00 since 2008. Chris Sale, on the other hand, has stepped up out of nowhere to be the club’s ace. The 23-year old is 8-2 with a 2.46 ERA. He is in the discussion for the AL Cy Young.
With the addition of two more postseason teams to this year’s play-offs, parity in baseball will continue to increase. The level of talent spread out across baseball is wide open. No longer do we see teams with all the talent on one roster. But then again, in a few weeks, these standings will probably look completely different.