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The Deep Six: Under-Appreciated Baseball Realities Coming Into The Home Stretch

Far too many people refer to this part of the baseball season after the All-Star Break as the “second half.” In fact, by the time we finish this weekend return to the regular season, we will be close to 100 games played.  That means we are actually in the last third of the season.

As we head into the home stretch of the season, the pennant races are well-formed as are several stories which have hit the ad nauseum stage of over-reporting…tell me that as a baseball fan you aren’t glad the Manny Machado trade is finally over so you can finally stop hearing about it. But on the other hand, there’s many tales which are just as compelling, but don’t get nearly as much attention.  That’s why once again, we here at Dubsism are here to keep the proverbial eye out for you, the blog-reading public.

1) The Epic Awfulness of the Kansas City Royals

The baseball world has been fixated on the epic-level terrible that is the Baltimore Orioles; complete with the aforementioned departure of Manny Machado. But nobody is talking about the Kansas City Royals, who as of this writing have a winning percentage every bit as god-awful as the birds in Baltimore.

Every season shows us some seriously bad baseball, but lest we not forget the Royals won a World Series less than three years ago. Granted, the O’s have made three trips to October in the last seven seasons, but why are they at baseball’s center stage of suck and not the Royals?

My best guess is that despite the recent championship, over the last twenty years the Orioles have had more long-term success than the Royals. Or it could be as mediocre as they are, at least the Orioles aren’t in a small city smack in the heart of “fly-over” country.  I have some dear friends who live in the greater Kansas City area, but that doesn’t change the reality; unless we’re talking about barbecue or the mob headquarters in “Casino,” nobody cares about Kansas City.

NOTE: Any comments disputing this claim must include which Kansas City barbecue institution –  Arthur Bryant’s, Gate’s, or Oklahoma Joe’s – is your favorite and why.

2) The Sudden Emergence of the Oakland A’s

When the discussion shifts from seriously bad to surprisingly good, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves dominate the conversation.  But nobody seems to have noticed the Oakland A’s are certainly in the race for October.  Not to mention, we are fast approaching the trade deadline and the A’s have announced to the baseball world they are buying, not selling for the first time in recent memory with their acquisition of Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets. Granted, they are still trailing the suddenly-better-than-expected Seattle Mariners, and the AL West is headed by the Houston Astros, who are arguably the best team in baseball.

Therein lies the big obstacle between Oakland and October.  The A’s have three series left with Seattle, two with Houston, along with a trip to Colorado and a date with the Dodgers.  The “acid test” will come around Labor Day when Oakland has consecutive series at Houston (from whom they took three out of four last week), and home to Seattle and the New York Yankees.

In other words, don’t look now, but the A’s are pretty damn good.  But if they want to play in the post-season, they will need to do a bit more buying.  I just don’t know how much the A’s have on their debit card.

3) The Mysterious Mediocrity of the Chicago Cubs

I can already hear the bleating of Cubs fans as they clutch their beads and wail about how this seventeen games above .500.  That may be true, but this team has the streaky nature of any team which depends on the long ball for its offense.  If you doubt that, ask yourself a question.  Why aren’t the Cubs 10 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.

I understand these are not your usual “20 games back at the break” Brewers; they missed the play-offs last year by a single game,.  Since then, they’ve added players like Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.  But that notwithstanding, the Chicago Cubs won a World Series in 2016 and were in the National League Championship Series last year. One would think the Cubs should be running away from a team which is just as long-ball dependent, but it took a seven-game slide by the Brew Crew for the Cubs to pass them.

I also understand Cubs’ fans will point to the Yu Darvish injury as part of the issue…and they’re not wrong.  But that’s also not the whole story.

A big reality when it comes to the Chicago Cubs is the Milwaukee Brewers have more in common with the North Siders than anybody wants to admit.  I’ve already hit on the fact they both live off the home run.  As of this writing, the Brewers have 126 team dingers, behind only the Rockies and the Dodgers in the National League. The Cubs rank in the middle of the NL pack with 103.

Then there’s the matter of the pitching.  The Brewers have a rotation built on a bunch of .500 quality pitchers.  The dirty little secret is that with the exception of Jon Lester, so do the Cubs.  There’s really no denying Lester is the difference maker for the moundsmen of the North Side; at this point the man legitimately belongs in any completely premature “Cy Young” discussion. Having said that, the Cubs’ pitching staff from stem to stern is an exercise in mediocrity.  The “difference maker” for the Brewers is in their bullpen, which might be one of the best in baseball.  As long as the Cubs’ roster of relievers features Pedro Strop in a prominent role, they will never ascend to that status.

All that leads us to the real reason why the Cubs…resplendent with their “Murderer’s Row” lineup…aren’t lapping a team trying to give the division away. Of the Cubs 58 wins to this point, 19 of them…a full one-third…are by a margin of five runs or greater.  Conversely, of their 41 losses, 11 of them are by as wide a margin.  One way or another, half this team’s games are “blow-outs.”

That doesn’t paint the whole picture, but consider this.  The Cubs are the worst team in baseball for both stranding runners per game (8.07) and stranding them is scoring position (4.10).  It’s a pretty safe bet they aren’t leaving many of those ducks on the ponds in those “blow-out” wins.  That means for all that power, the Cubs simply aren’t very good at making a run or two when they need them.

That’s a problem for a team which can’t rely on pitching and defense when the long balls don’t come.

4) The Washington Nationals Don’t Appreciate The Role of Manager

It’s pretty easy to make a case that over the last five seasons, there hasn’t been a team with a bigger record of underachievement than the Washington Nationals. This is a squad which has in that time featured a dominant pitching staff, and one of the most formidable line-ups in all of the game.  But it that same span, out of three trips to the post-season, they’ve have yet to win a  post-season series., and the signs are beginning to point to the Nationals missing the play-offs entirely in 2018.

The reason is simple.  The Washington Nationals have no leadership because they don’t appreciate the role of the manager.  If you want to see a team with no leadership, look at what happened in their dugout over this past weekend.

Star players going after each other is never a good sign, and it isn’t the first time it has happened in this “leader-less” time…which if you think about it…goes back more than five years.

This all starts when then-manager Jim Riggleman abruptly quit in 2011 because general manager Mike Rizzo wouldn’t discuss a contract extension with him.  Since then, the Nationals have had four skippers, none of whom seemed to cure what ails the Nats. First, there was Davey Johnson who was lured out of retirement on short notice upon Riggleman’s sudden exit. When Johnson went back to being retired, Rizzo turned to Matt Williams, who was completely unprepared for the job. When it was clear the time to part with Williams, Rizzo gave Bud Black a low-ball offer which he refused.  Then Rizzo brought in another guy ready for retirement in Dusty Baker. Now, Rizzo’s gone to another first-time manager, and the fact that the Nationals are a .500 team six games behind the upstart Philadelphia Phillies speaks for itself.

5) The Cincinnati Reds Are The Best Last-Place Team In Baseball

If the season started on May 1st, the Cincinnati Reds would be a .550 team right now.  But it doesn’t, and the Reds 7-22 start in April is why they are stuck in the NL Central cellar.  But how many last place teams do you know that have three guys with at least 60 RBIs at this point, and one of them is not former MVP and potential future Hall-of-Famer Joey Votto. That how you get a ;last place team which ranks in the top ten in Team RBIs, top five in Team Hits, and second overall in team walks. Imagine where this team would be if they didn’t have last-place-worthy pitching?

Oh, and don’t look now, but who has this team performing this well all things considered?  The same Jim Riggleman whom the Nationals wouldn’t pay.

6) Tim Tebow Would Have Been A Major-Leaguer This Season

The news this morning that a broken bone in his hand will require season-ending surgery is the definition of anti-climatic, because Tebow was most definitely going to be in a big-league uniform this season.  Even ESPN, the kings of coming to the party late, were starting to catch on to the idea that Tebow was likely to get a call-up after his appearance in the Double-A All-Star Game.  We could argue all day about the merits of such a promotion; the guy strikes out more often than a chess club captain in a room full of cheerleaders.  But the fact remains the New York Mets are a train-wreck, they have all the characteristics of a team getting ready to have the trade-deadline yard sale, and side-show or not, Tebow would have given Mets’ fans a reason to show up in September.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

One comment on “The Deep Six: Under-Appreciated Baseball Realities Coming Into The Home Stretch

  1. Pingback: The 2018 Baseball Trading Deadline – The “Shark Week” Comparison | Dubsism

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