It’s time to stop thinking these MLB teams will turn around

It occurred to me while watching the Cleveland Guardians beat the Detroit Tigers on Thursday that there are a handful of teams with fewer than 50 games remaining on their schedules. This means that, for those teams still in contention and especially those who are still trying to live up to expectations, simple math starts to become significant.

With August almost half over, it becomes difficult to say a won-loss record or a MLB division lead is a fluke, and the opportunities to change the narrative of a season start to get scarce.

Take the Boston Red Sox, for example. Five games out of the AL Wild Card, with 35 of their last 50 games against the AL East. On the one hand, that means a lot of chances to make up ground against teams ahead of them in the Wild Card chase. On the other hand, the BoSox are 12-29 so far within the division, and their team ERA since the All-Star break is the worst in baseball. All of which means that something substantial would have to happen for the Red Sox to make up that five-game deficit, and time is starting to work against them.

Or the Chicago White Sox. Many experts have treated it as a given that the White Sox were the best team in the AL Central, and that eventually they would get hot and leave Minnesota and Cleveland in the dust. But consider that Chicago’s last five series have been against Kansas City, Texas, Kansas City, Oakland, and Colorado. That’s a schedule that screams “get hot.” But the White Sox went 8-8 in that stretch, and lost 2.5 games ground to Cleveland, who now leads the Central.

Now Tim Anderson, possibly their most valuable player, is out for at least a month. Everything about the White Sox so far screams “average.” It would only take a week or two of playing the way the experts thought they would for Chicago to grab the division by the throat, but consider the math. Assume it will take at least 86 wins to make the postseason. Chicago would need to finish 30-20 to do that. The longer they wallow around .500, the better they have to play to get 10 games over .500. It won’t be long before the math gets daunting.

Seattle is one of the teams that represents the flip side of that equation. The Mariners rode a 14-game winning streak to put themselves in the middle of the Wild Card race, then they added Luis Castillo and Carlos Santana, among others, at the trade deadline. Now the Mariners are competing for Wild Card spots with teams from the AL East who will be playing each other a bunch over the next six weeks, while Seattle, playing in the AL West where only Houston has anything at stake from this point forward, will have a bunch of games against bottom-feeders who are already thinking about next year.

The calendar dictates that Seattle, along with Cleveland and Baltimore, has evolved from cute surprise story to being part of a pennant race. The Guardians have won five straight and taken the division lead with a roster that is younger than most Triple-A teams, and their starting pitching is just now beginning to look like everyone expected it to. The Orioles have responded to the front office selling off assets at the trade deadline by winning eight of 10 in August. With 42 of their last 51 against teams in playoff contention, they still have work to do.

But they’ve done a lot just to get to this point. If it isn’t already, it will soon be time to admit that all these MLB teams are who their records say they are.