While we the fans are witnessing just the third occasion where three opening round series have gone five games (first since ’01), many teams are sitting at home, trying to piece together what went wrong. Some teams (the Red Sox) are trying to find a new manager to change the atmosphere in the clubhouse while others (the Chicago Cubs) are completely desperate just to make it back to the post-season that they are willing to trade players for a new general manager.
The So Close Yet So Far’s
Boston Red Sox – an unheard of collapse from an organization which invented choking. The Sox learned the hard way that pitching is not just a fad but it’s a premium. The injuries to Clay Buchholz and Diasuke Matzusaka, the interchanging of Kyle Weiland, Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield, and the overall presence of John Lackey were the detriment to this club this season. While I believe Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Buchholz are a solid top three, they need to find someone to take Lackey off of their hands. Even if they have to pay a majority of his contract, it would be beneficial to have him lose games for another team than keep his drunk, cancer-stricken-wife-divorcing-self in the Boston club house.
Cleveland Indians – the opposite of Boston. The Indians came into this season with zero expectations, yet were in the playoff picture up until September. A young team with promising pitching (Josh Tomlin & Justin Masterson) and solid position players (Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Shoo Choo, Carlos Santana) seem to rally behind manager Manny Acta and should be competitive for the foreseeable future. A full season with Ubaldo Jiminez and another bat in the lineup – and maybe a full, healthy season from Grady Sizemore – and the Indians should be able to compete in the Central.
San Francisco Giants – the Giants experienced a bit of a World Series hangover. They scored one or less runs more than any team in the majors this season. I don’t care how good a teams pitching may be, if you can’t conjure up more than a run a night, you are not going to be winning many games. The acquisition of Carlos Beltran proved insignificant and what looked like a promising move at the time will be judged as a horrible, near-sighted move which may come back to haunt this Giants team. While Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are a young, proven rotation, this offense needs a boost in a major way. The return of Buster Posey will certainly do wonders, but it may not be enough.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – will Kendry Morales ever play again? Mark Trumbo had an outstanding rookie season, but he was heavily depended on to provide offense on a nightly basis. Never a good sign. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana are a young, strong triumvirate and with Jordan Walden shutting the door at the back of the bullpen, the Angels can focus on acquiring offense. I still can’t understand why they just gave up Mike Napoli, but hopefully a healthy Morales will bolster their offense next season.
Cincinnati Reds – Edinson Volquez needs to reinvent himself. He came into the Reds organization after being traded for Josh Hamilton and seemed like the ace of the future. After his first electrifying season he has faced a two year slump plagued by a high ERA caused by a flat fastball. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs, and Jay Bruce are all constant staples in the Reds offensive production. But outside of Johnny Cueto the starting rotation runs thin. The lack of balance on this team is what caused them to fall behind the Brewers and the Cardinals and miss out on the second season.
Atlanta Braves – injuries, over worked youth, and the sophomore slump are what caused the NL Red Sox to collapse in September. At points of the season, Jair Jurrjens looked like a CY Young candidate. Then he, along with Tommy Hanson, went down with injuries, and forced the Braves to rely on Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy down the stretch. Rookie relievers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel impressed all season long. Kimbrel set the rookie record for saves in a season, but in the process he threw more innings than Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman ever have. By the end of the year, Kimbrel was simply over worked and not nearly as effective. And, while this offense was productive for most of the year, sophomore Jason Heyward had a miserable season. After a dominant rookie season, Heyward had a slump which encompassed 162 games. The Braves have plenty of pieces, they just need to get healthy.
Florida Marlins – Josh Johnson is one of the best pitchers in the league, when he’s healthy. He was cruising along until he got injured this year which, in turn, simultaneously shut down the Marlins season as well. Hanley Ramirez had a horrible season, plagued with lack of hustle, injuries, and plenty of misfortune. There is hope though. Since 2007, no pitcher in the league has thrown more complete games while allowing one or less hits than Anibal Sanchez. Leo Nunez had his second consecutive above average season coming out of the pen for the fish and Mike Stanton is slowly becoming one of the best power hitters in the league. Between Logan Morrison and Ozzie Guillen, the Miami Marlins may be home to the most interesting/entertaining clubhouse in all of the league.
Seattle Mariners – while the Mariners had another miserable season, there were actually some major bright spots. It is highly possible that Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez develop into the best 1-2 punch in the entire league. Dustin Ackley came in mid-season and added an immediate spark to their lineup. Justin Smoak, at times, looked liked the top prospect they traded Cliff Lee for. With Miguel Olivo behind the dish, Brandon League and David Aardsma coming out of the pen, and King/Pineda on the hill, it seems as though the Mariners have plenty of pieces in place. Now it’s time to see if they hold on to their pitching or if they will trade to try and acquire more players. Either way, they have some young talent in Seattle.
Washington Nationals – the Nationals are in baseball purgatory. This season, they basically waited on two things. First, they were waiting on Stephen Strasburg to return from injury (which he did in about a years time). Second, they continue to wait for Bryce Harper to develop in the minor leagues. Assuming Harper gets the call up to the big club next season, phase one of the competitive Nats should be good to go. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen have proven to be one of the top relief tandems in all of baseball. Wilson Ramos, Michael Morse, and Danny Espinosa have all become reliable every day players for the Nationals. Assuming Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman rebound from their pedestrian 2011 campaigns, this Nats team may only be a pitcher away from being in the Wild Card hunt.
Kansas City Royals – while he registered among the worst fielding first basemen in the league, rookie Eric Hosmer showed glimpses of why he was rated as the best prospect in the best farm system in the league. Along with Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francouer, and Melky Cabrera, there is no reason why this team should not be a threat to score plenty of runs on a nightly basis next season. Their problem isn’t hitting though. The Royals need Dan Duffy and Luke Hochevar to become the top of the rotation guys they thought they drafted. Joakim Soria had a subpar year out of the pen, but he is not their issue. This team needs an ace the rest will fall in line after that.
The Desheveled, Dismayed, and Disasterous
Los Angeles Dodgers – Matt Kemp is one of the best position players in the league. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in the league. Other than those two, the Dodgers are a trainwreck. The fact that they finished above .500 shows how truly pathetic the Pittsburgh Pirates have been over their past 19 losing seasons.
Pittsburgh Pirates – remember that stretch this season when people thought they would actually contend for a playoff spot? What caused everyone to drink the Kool-aid? Andrew McCutcheon? Excellent, five tool player. Neil Walker? Solid infield talent with quality bat. Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez? Not even close to full potential. Their pitching staff? Joel Hanrahan needs a lead in order to truly be effective. This staff needs more than Paul Maholm and James MacDonald.
New York Mets – rebuilding is their only option at this point. I’ll be shocked if Jose Reyes stays in town. If he does bolt, David Wright might as well be moved as well. Pitching, hitting, fielding, age… The Mets have a lot to improve on. Their division doesn’t help them either.
Baltimore Orioles – for consecutive seasons now, the Orioles have dominated September. Their pitching is still suspect, but their offense has some decent pop to it. With Buck Showalter readying to shift to the GM position, more talent may be en route to Baltimore. Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis, Matt Weiters and J.J. Hardy can supply their offense with plenty of pop. The O’s just need the pitching to match.
And The Rest
Toronto Blue Jays – Jose Bautista was not a one year wonder. Ricky Romero continues to be one of top lefties in the American League. This team seems to be sputtering in the mud and they need a few more pieces before they can move up in the AL East.
Minnesota Twins – Teammates are as impressed with Joe Mauer’s commercials as they were with his MVP. In order for the Twins to get back to the playoffs, they will need Justin Morneau and Mauer to get back on top of their game.
Chicago White Sox – Ozzie Guillen es no mas. Adam Dunn es no bueno. The White Sox need continuity more than anything. Talent is there, chemistry is not.
Oakland Athletics – the best thing to happen to the A’s over the past year was Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane. On the real diamond, their hitting needs to start emulating their pitching in order to get back to the playoffs.
San Diego Padres – the post-Gonzalez era was much like the Gonzalez era: playoff-less. Cameron Maybin actually resembled the prospect who was traded for Miguel Cabrera, but this team has a ways to go.
Colorado Rockies – Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are two of the best players in all of baseball. Since they are young veterans, the Rockies thought it would be smart to trade their best pitcher for prospects. The Rockies now need pitching. Go figure.
Houston Astros – the worst team in the league. Carlos Lee is not nearly enough of an attraction to put fans in the stands. This team needs a makeover.
And the piece de resistance… The Chicago Cubs. Ah yes, America’s bastard son who was sent away to boarding school and was never allowed to come home. With an inflated payroll chalk full of John Lackey-esque players, and no GM to speak of, the Cubs may be contemplating parting with their best current player (Starlin Castro) in order to turn their organization completely around with a new GM – Theo Epstein. While this may seem like a ludicrous proposition, let’s look deeper under the surface. Theo Epstein is the only person to put together a team of players and win a World Series in Boston since 1918. If he were to go to Chicago and win a World Series for an even more downtrodden organization, with an even worse inherited team, he would be undoubtedly considered the greatest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Will Castro ever become the greatest shortstop of all time? Probably not, even though he has gotten off to a hell of a start. But the question remains: will an organization so desperate to win that they would be willing to trade their best player in order to gain an advantage in the front office? It’s an interesting idea to say the least.
But in my experience…Bill Belichick was acquired, from the Jets, for a draft pick. If you don’t think every Patriots fan is happy with the way that deal turned out, you’re out of your mind.