What do you get when you take the defending champs in each league, half of last year’s playoff field and half of the top 5 finishers in last year’s MVP voting in each league? You get two of the most disappointing divisions in baseball. The NL Central and AL East are two divisions that have been ravaged by injury, regression and under-performance.
Disappointment is when reality does not live up to perception, so we will start with perception.
Entering the season, most of the experts from sites like ESPN.com, MLB.com and SI.com picked multiple playoff teams from each of these two divisions. And there is no reason for them to to pick otherwise. The Reds and Red Sox remained mostly unchanged, and each of them are coming off playoff appearances. The Cardinals and Yankees added players across the diamond, and although the Yankees lost Robinson Cano they had a deeper lineup and a new ace in Masahiro Tanaka. The Pirates and Rays sat on their hands during the offseason, but they both hoped a stock of young players would carry them once again.
So why not pick two or three teams for the playoffs? Because injuries and slowed development can strike anywhere.
As Jen Rainwater wrote late last night, the Boston Red Sox have lost nine games in a row and are basement dwellers in the AL East.
The St. Louis Cardinals are 21st in runs scored and 19th in bullpen ERA. They have not been able to recreate the RISP dominance and the young arms in the bullpen have looked fatigued.
The Yankees elderly players are breaking down, under-performing or just not doing the job. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira have been hit with injuries and Derek Jeter‘s performance has prompted people to question his playing time.
The Reds have also been dealing with injuries. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Tony Cingrani, Devin Mesoraco and Mat Latos have all been placed on the DL this year which has affected their offense (28th in baseball in runs) and bullpen (last in the NL in bullpen ERA).
The Pirates have just been bad. They have the fewest wins by starters, they have the 23rd ranked offense and heavily used bullpen. Their lack of production from the right field position has resulted in fans clamoring for Gregory Polanco‘s promotion to the majors.
The Rays have been lacking in just about every aspect of the game. Their team ERA (3.93) is the highest it has been since 2009, a middling offense (16th in runs scored) and almost no running game(19 steals).
With the end of May in sight, these two disappointing divisions are still in position to send multiple teams to the playoffs. This is due to the surprise teams that lead each division.
The Toronto Blue Jays are flying high, having won five in a row, including a sweep in Boston of the Red Sox. The team has taken off in recent weeks the only way they know how, hitting home runs. They currently lead baseball in home runs and have hit nine more than any other team in the month of May. The power surge has helped them become one of baseball’s highest scoring teams (4th in MLB in runs) which has been enough to support a weak pitching staff (25th in ERA). Home runs are not a way to get consistent wins, but when every player in your lineup has home run power you have a much better chance.
The Brewers have been equally surprising in the NL Central, but in an exact opposite way. The Brewers jumped out to an extremely hot start. At 21-9 the Brewers were baseball’s best team through 30 games. They used a combination of quick striking offense and a strong starting rotation to build a six game lead. A free-swinging offense is bound to go through ups and downs, and the month of May has been a down one. The Brewers are 23rd in baseball in runs scored in the month and have three times as many strikeouts(180) as they do walks(57). The Cardinals are charging hard, having won nine of their last dozen games and now trail by one and a half games.
With disappointment running rampant in two of the surprising weak divisions and two surprising leaders, the rest of the season will be exciting. Will the projected powers be able to chase down the current leaders? Will the defending World Series champs fail to make the playoffs for the second straight season? We will see over the next 4 months.