Yankees radio announcer John Sterling has a lot of catch phrases. Say what you will about most of them, but one always rings true: “You just can’t predict baseball.”
If you doubt that’s true then just look at this year’s MLB season. The Los Angeles Dodgers were going to continue to wallow in mediocrity despite their massive checkbook. This was supposed to be the year the Washington Nationals’ youth movement upped its game and made it to the World Series. The Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to run away with the AL East. And in case you haven’t noticed, none of that has happened. As the 2013 baseball season comes down to the wire, let’s try to make sense of what happened.
The San Francisco Giants, last year’s World Series champions, were considered to be a serious contender to repeat. All-star catcher, Buster Posey has been his usual self but the rest of the team has played far below their talent level. Their once-dominant pitching staff has become human (and it doesn’t help that their top prospect is currently in Queens). As of September 2, they were 61-76 and were in last place in the NL West.
The Giants’ archrival, the Los Angeles Dodgers were expected to blow other teams out of the water with their supersized payroll. On June 2nd, though, they were 8.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West. Then, on June 3rd, they called up outfield phenom, Yasiel Puig, from the Chattanooga Lookouts in Double-A. Since Puig’s insertion into the lineup (along with his .351 batting average and insane highlight reel), the Dodgers have been the best team in baseball. The Cuban rookie may be temporarily sidelined, but the Dodgers have more than enough cushion to coast home in the NL West.
With a lineup centered around all-star outfielder Bryce Harper and an elite pitching staff led by Stephen Strasburg, many predicted the Nationals to be the NL representative in the World Series. However, the youth movement has stalled; an ego and potential doesn’t win you pennants. This squad has hovered around .500 all season long and is currently 15 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are finally poised to end their improbable streak of futility. The last time the Pirates had a winning season, George H.W. Bush was the President of the United States. As of September 2nd, the Pirates need to win two more games to ensure their first winning season since 1992. This Pirate team may be a threat in the playoffs due to their combination of timely hitting and clutch pitching. He might be less impressive than a few years ago, but adding Justin Morneau can’t do anything but improve the Buccos.
In the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays were expected to be the team to beat. They made two very significant offseason trades in acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. Instead of dominating the AL, the Blue Jays find themselves in the AL East cellar, looking up at all four of their division mates (each of which has a winning record). Reyes has struggled with injuries, while Dickey has not lived up to his past few years. Is he struggling because it’s the American League or is that just the unpredictable nature of being a knuckleball pitcher? Either way, it’s not pretty.
In the AL Central, the Tigers are comfortably in first; we could see that coming, but not to this extent. They lead the league in all four major offensive categories (team average, runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging percentage). Prince Fielder protects Miguel Cabrera, undoubtedly one of the purest hitters in recent memory. Their fantastic offense aids their impressive pitching staff too. Justin Verlander has fallen off a little, but disappointing for him is still pretty good by normal human standards. Max Scherzer is an unfathomable 19-1, mainly due to the support his offense can provide him.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were thought to be in position to challenge the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics in the AL West. They signed outfielder Josh Hamilton in the offseason to protect first baseman Albert Pujols and fellow outfielder and 2012 MVP runner-up Mike Trout. After subpar seasons from Hamilton and Pujols (who’s injured at the moment and now looks to be massively overpaid), this team has flamed out.
Surprises and disappointments are all a part of baseball. Predictions are thrown out and rewritten as teams fluctuate throughout the standings. That’s why the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Everything we thought at the beginning of the year can be changed in an instant. That is the beauty of baseball.