As with our preseason version, the goal here is to be completely, unfairly cynical. If we do things correctly, by the time we’re done, you’ll believe that no one can win.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE
- BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Being 7.5 games out isn’t good, but it wouldn’t necessarily be prohibitive if they showed any signs of winning. Since their 15-8 April, they’ve gone 27-38 and have allowed 5.8 runs per nine innings during that time. The league average is 4.7. It seems unfair to pin Manny Machado with the “biggest disappointment” donkey ears given that even if he had been at his best they wouldn’t have won given the pitching, but when your sole superstar can’t get a .300 OBP together, you’re not going to have a season no matter what else happens. Special honors go not to Ubaldo Jimenez, who has made just three quality starts in 13 attempts and has the highest ERA of any starting pitcher to throw at least 30 innings this season (7.25), but to the manager and general manager who keep running him out there. To win, you have to be trying — and maybe care a little bit about dignity.
- BOSTON RED SOX
Remember, this is “Why Your Team Won’t Win,” so for the purposes of this exercise we have to be jaundiced about Boston’s current place in the standings. On a performance basis, this is one of the best Red Sox pitching staffs in recent memory, and it’s Eduardo Rodriguez’s return and perhaps a deadline bullpen addition away from being totally organized. Most heartening is that Chris Sale proved to be one of those trades-that-will-make-the-difference that has actually made the difference. Where they might let you down is on the offensive side where, to indulge in a cliché this one time, they’re still missing David Ortiz ’16. Team that’s dead last in the AL in home runs? This here Red Sox club. You’ve, um, probably heard this, but a third baseman who can play on both sides of the ball would help, and there’s no guarantee they’ll get one.
- CHICAGO WHITE SOX
This entry was written before Jose Quintana was traded on Thursday. Here’s what it said:
There was a furniture store in my hometown that was going out of business for something like 10 consecutive years. They put the, “CLOSING! EVERYTHING MUST GO!” signs up in the window and never took them down. I’ve come to understand that this is a sort of fraud, but I’m not sure who was being harmed — most likely the store’s creditors. In this analogy, fans are creditors and even though the White Sox hung their LIQUIDATION SALE banners back before the election, most of the furniture is still here. Me, I was always ready to find out what would fill that store’s space once it left, but I left town before it did.
As I wrote after the deal went down, the last big piece of furniture has now been shipped, and for a very nice return as well. Remaining odd lots David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera don’t figure to bring another Yoan Moncada or Eloy Jimenez, but if general manager Rick Hahn can deal them off for anyone more talented than your basic ambulatory human, there will be no doubt that the White Sox have won this year’s battle, which had nothing to do with the pennant race.
- CLEVELAND INDIANS
They’re finally winning with some consistency, but some of the problems that had them looking up at the Twins persist and may continue to do so. To obsess over just one of them, a season after Cleveland went to the World Series despite a catching corps that hit a major-league worst .185/.244/.320, team backstops have improved all the way up to .235/.309/.313. The Indians are in the same position behind the plate that the Red Sox are at third base: The salvation of those positions, Francisco Mejia and Rafael Devers, respectively, are at Double A and thus still not quite ready to parachute into the big-league picture. Until recently, the starting pitching bore little resemblance to last year’s, and a sustained run depends on either Danny Salazar health or Trevor Bauer competency. You may find the dragon action in the new season of Game of Thrones a more realistic possibility.
- DETROIT TIGERS
In his 10 rules for baseball success, Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy has an entry that says, “If you’re going to slide, slide. He who changes his mind will soon change a good leg for a bad one.” Similarly, if you’re going to rebuild, rebuild. He who only goes halfway will neither win nor rebuild. The Tigers’ top prospect at the moment is Harry Heilmann, and he has been dead since 1952. Thus, the test now isn’t so much trading Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera, always a tall order because contract issues make them players an acquiring organization would have to choke down sideways, but imminent free agents J.D. Martinez and the currently slumping Alex Avila. There are a half-dozen contenders who could use a platoon catcher, including the team above this one.
- HOUSTON ASTROS
Can’t even pretend here. They’re going to win something, obviously, but whether they win it all no one can say. If the 82-win 1973 Mets ended up in the World Series over the 99-win Reds, if the 87-win Yankees won the 2000 World Series over the 94-win Mets, anything can happen. Just to be pointlessly weird about things, the game’s most epic collapse would have to go something like this: The Astros play at just better than a 100-loss pace the rest of the way and finish only 89-73. Simultaneously, the Rangers get crazy hot and finish in a 47-27 (.635) fever, thereby reaching the end with 90 wins. Maybe Astros pitching isn’t equal to the offense, but that’s not going to happen.
- KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The Royals were discussed extensively in this space a week ago, and everything said there still applies: While they’re still alive in both the AL Central and wild card races, the consequences of their going for it are so dire as to make any end result short of the World Series a foolhardy pursuit. Hey, it’s whatever the fans want, and if they want the team to keep faith with them in the short term based on Jason Vargas and a prayer, well, you could do that, but then you’d also have to add to an offense that isn’t serious, not when it’s last in the AL in walks and on-base percentage. That’s going to be difficult to change by July 31, not that they’ve shown sincere interest in doing so.
- LOS ANGELES ANGELS
They were just under .500 when Mike Trout injured his thumb and just under .500 now. By that standard, they should start winning now that he’s back. It ain’t necessarily so. The good news for Danny Espinosa is he’ll never go down as the worst hitter in team history as long as Brandon Wood’s 2010 is on the books, but that this year’s team has several players who could get an honorable mention on the list is a leading indicator of why they won’t be around in October.
- MINNESOTA TWINS
They were just kidding. In retrospect, it’s hard to see what it was about the Twins that inspired the masses to a willing suspension of disbelief. By the end of May they were still in first place, but with a mediocre 26-23 record and a negative run differential. Since then they’ve gone 19-20 and have been outscored 177-214, so arguably they have much farther to fall. Reality will come in the form of a remaining schedule that is anything but soft, starting with three at Houston. There are also six games with Cleveland to go. Progress is slow: The Twins still get the fewest strikeouts of any pitching staff in the league, a very bad idea in a home-run era; they’re tied with the Orioles and the Mariners for most homers allowed per nine innings.
- NEW YORK YANKEES
They’ve had bad luck, as their 9-17 record in one-run games suggests. The Brewers are the only other contender below water in this area, and they’re 10-11. This is useful to know, but knowing it doesn’t necessarily change it; a team can have bad luck all year long, especially when Dellin Betances is walking eight batters per nine innings — which isn’t about luck, but bad performances. This is a dangerous moment in the life of a franchise, because the temptation might be to think this team is one reliever away. They’re not, and the evidence for that argument is that it’s still hard to imagine this starting rotation making it through the postseason. Given that, it would be better to hold on to the prospects and trust to Divine Providence to resolve this season one way or another.
- OAKLAND A’S
You’d think they’d been mathematically eliminated already. No great sin there given the Astros, except this team isn’t building or rebuilding, it’s just in stasis pending that fabled new ballpark. So few of the current players will be part of the next great A’s team that if Franklin Barreto and Matt Chapman don’t establish themselves in the major leagues over the rest of the season the whole thing will have almost been that pointless thing they used to warn you about in comic books — a hoax, a dream, an imaginary tale. Deadline-trading arms as well as Yonder Alonso — Fluke Rental! — may add a frisson of redemption. If not, they not only won’t win today, they won’t win tomorrow either. Note of futility: Team outfielders are hitting .215/.302/.389.
- SEATTLE MARINERS
Only four games away from a wild card, but below .500 and pitching remains a concept. Gambled and won on Jean Seugra, Mitch Haniger (though all he has done since coming off of the DL is strike out), Jarrod Dyson and Ben Gamel. Lost on a great many other bets, though they were probably a good performance out of Kyle Seager away from being .500-ish. The loyalty to Danny Valencia is hard to figure, and here’s another note of frustration: 41 years in, they’re still awaiting the first great catcher in franchise history. Dan Wilson is still the club’s leading backstop in both peak and career WAR with 3.8 (1997)/13.6, or what Mike Piazza called a slump. At this point there have been more Mike Zunino sequels than Transformers movies, and no one asked for either. Let’s say they won’t win until they take care of that.
- TAMPA BAY RAYS
They presently hold one of the two AL wild cards and there’s an argument to be made that they’ll retain it given their depth — they’ve already goosed their rotation with Jacob Faria, and Brent Honeywell waits in the wings. Similarly, Kevin Kiermaier’s hip injury and Colby Rasmus’ semi-retirement have been patched by putting Mallex Smith into center field and shifting DH Corey Dickerson to left. They might also have figured out second base and shortstop with the recent activation of Brad Miller and the acquisition of Adeiny Hechavarria. The middle infield contains possible pitfalls in that Miller might not play the keystone well enough to make his power valuable and Hechavarria might hit so poorly that he kills more runs on offense than he saves on defense. Willy Adames, hitting .341 over the last six weeks, apparently wasn’t deemed ready. The budget-aware Rays might be in as tough a position as the Royals; so many players will be eligible for raises through arbitration or are becoming free agents that the urge to trade must be palpable.
- TEXAS RANGERS
Three games out of the wild card, two games under .500, coming free agents include Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez — the incentives are for bailing out. Keep in mind that draft-pick compensation has been partially decoupled from the free-agent process, so now a team losing a qualified-offer player will receive a first-round pick only if they’re a small-market team, the departing player receives at least $50 million, they sincerely express regret for losing the player, and it was raining last Tuesday. Seriously. Everyone else gets varying degrees of not-first-round picks. Basically, you now have to deal, even if you won’t even get Gleyber Torres’ overweight cousin Randall in return for a rental. Conversely, if you want to play a Yankees-style “one reliever away” game with the Rangers, you’re welcome to try — there’s an argument to be made that just getting Sam Dyson out of town improved this club immensely. Make that one reliever and two bats, because there’s no hitter on this team having a truly strong season. They’ll find selling out easier than trading up.
- TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The total idiot who wrote the preseason version of “Why Your Team Won’t Win,” began his Blue Jays capsule with this observation:
Last July, the Jays signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a two-year contract extension with an option for 2018. He received about $4.1 million a pop. He must be an incredible guy to have in the clubhouse, because a platoon first baseman with career averages of .224/.316/.403 against right-handed pitching could overwhelm your antidepressants if he didn’t contribute something intangible to counteract all those outs.
That writer, who has since been given a frontal lobotomy, failed to anticipate that 2017 would be the year that ballplayers reinvent themselves. Smoak sought psychological help to get over his urge to belt the ball six miles on every pitch, and the result is that the hitting talent that made him a first-round pick back in 2008 finally came to the fore. Smoak’s current .294/.360/.575 landed him in the All-Star Game. Arguably, Smoak is the only surprisingly positive development the Jays have received. The question here is, which players presently in Toronto are going to play spectacularly better than they are now, such that where there’s Smoak there’s fire? Josh Donaldson? Sure. Troy Tulowitzki? Maybe. Marco Estrada, on the verge of free agency? Maybe if he’s traded to a team without Jose Bautista trying to run down fly balls. No one of these things will be enough, and all of them aren’t going to happen. Selling Donaldson at the trade deadline would, obviously, foreclose all other possibilities.
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