The way the Major League baseball season has played out over the first seven weeks it is starting to shape up as one of those years where there is no dominant team and the distance between first place and last place can be covered by a napkin (except for the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins).
No team is off to such a fast start that it looks as if it cannot be caught and most teams are not off to such a slow start that things look hopeless as the season approaches June.
Right now it seems as if the good teams’ front office executives are sitting around wondering why they can’t play well every day and the medicore teams’ front office executives are sitting around wondering who the one more player is they can obtain to lift them from a few games back in the standings into a playoff position.
If we didn’t know better we might think this was the National Football League where any given Sunday trumps any weekly preparation and no team is really ever out of it–case in point that teams have made the playoffs with 7-9 records. Exact analogy or not this baseball season feels a bit like that.
Going into Tuesday’s play a look at the American League East standings is a perfect example. The New York Yankees are 28-16 in first, the Boston Red Sox are 27-18 in second, the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are tied at 23-21 and the Toronto Blue Jays are in last at 18-26. Compared to March 31 the feeling would be that the standings are upside down.
The Yankees could have been buried by injuries, but deserve everyone’s admiration for their ability to cope and win while losing player after player. No one’s been better than Mariana Rivera, who has 17 saves and been nearly perfect after returning from a serious knee injury last year. The Red Sox were supposed to struggle fighting their way out of 2012′s last place. The Orioles and Rays were contenders and after off-season moves the Blue Jays were the division favorites. It now appears this will be an action-packed division all season.
In the Central Division, the Cleveland Indians‘ off-season moves appear to be paying off royaly. The Kansas City Royals have improved, but not as much as they hoped, and the Detroit Tigers, picked as runaway winners of the division, are going to be good, but maybe not as good as planned. Seven games separate first from last.
The Texas Rangers–as they did last year before blowing it–are building an early lead in the standings. The Los Angeles Angels–as they did last year when they also spent big in the free-agent market–are falling way behind.
The distance between first, the Atlanta Braves, and fourth, the New York Mets, is just eight games in the National League East. The Washington Nationals, the consensus favorite, are kind of limping along, but by no means out of it.
Similarly, in the NL West, only seven games separates first and last. The Arizona Diamondbacks hold first and are playing better than expected. The Los Angeles Dodgers spent big, loaded up with talent, and are in last, but not so far out of it that one winning streak could catapult them into first. The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants will do damage. Even the surprising San Diego Padres aren’t buried yet.
Over in the middle of the country, the St. Louis Cardinals, who never skipped a beat when Albert Pujols jumped to the Angels last year, keep trotting out wickedly impressive arms and have a game-and-a-half lead on the Cincinnati Reds, the division favorite. The Pittsburgh Pirates seem fortified for a post-.500 run for the first time in a generation. The Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers may be losers at the moment, but they are not patsies.
Only four teams in the majors are 10 or more teams out of first place. The Astros and Marlins are two of them, exactly where everyone expected them to be. The Blue Jays, at 10 back, and the Brewers at 10 1/2 back, are the only other teams where the arrow points to “Seriously worried” on the meter of optimism.