Why your team won’t win | NL second-half edition

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

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.


Years ago, before Joe Gordon had been added to the Hall of Fame, I asked Bob Feller why his former teammate had never made it. “LIFE ISN’T FAIR,” he shouted. (I’m not sure if Rapid Robert, now departed this mortal realm, was a little deaf or just thought I was an idiot.) I can hear Feller saying that about this year’s D’backs, who are somehow receiving one of the best staff-wide pitching performances in the game but are still stuck behind a Los Angeles Dodgers team that is performing at a historic level. Life would be more fair if the offense didn’t have so many vulnerabilities: The D’Backs are arguably the worst team in baseball against left-handed pitching, and they’re hitting only .236/.304/.391 out of the desert, a figure that also flirts with worst-of status.


Flirting with .500 a year after losing 93 games is a kind of victory in itself. Though perhaps the BBWAA should hand out a “Most Improved” award, doing so without courting future embarrassment when every other winner regresses in the following season is a deterrent. Is John “The Sun Will Come Out” Camargo going to hit .333 going forward? How about Matt Adams slugging .600? Is Freddie Freeman as a third baseman, making room for another bat (and blocking off mediocrities like Adonis Garcia) an ongoing thing? Is Sean Newcomb going to keep dancing around those walks? Will there be a starting rotation at all? The Braves have a fine farm system. They’re racing Ronald Acuna up the ladder like they’re trying to make a deadline, Ozzie Albies awaits, and Mike Soroka and Koby Allard aren’t all that far away. One still expects an additional step back before the true step forward. 


They won’t win because they got far enough behind the Milwaukee Brewers that it will take roughly a 95-win pace the rest of the way to take the division title, and that’s only if Milwaukee fades. If the Brewers only play .500 the rest of the way, they’ll finish 86-76. That’s weak, but the Cubs would still have to go 41-30 (.577) to pass them by one. If the Brewers keep doing what they’ve been doing, the Cubs will have to win nearly two-thirds of their remaining games. The same math applies, give or take, to the wild card. This team has the capacity to go crazy the rest of the way, so you can’t rule them out; the acquisition of Jose Quintana certainly won’t diminish that possibility. But wait—John Lackey is about to come off of the disabled list. Can they prevent that?


The Reds have the worst starting rotation in recent memory, although the always-ambitious Baltimore Orioles are now contending with them for the title. Raw ERA is a crude measure, but for the purposes of this survey course it will suffice: The best rotation baseball ERA-wise is the Dodgers at 3.23. The average rotation has an ERA of 4.48. The Reds have an ERA of 6.04. The Orioles are at 6.02. The Miami Marlins are next at 5.05, or about a whole run better. This is an accomplishment, given the competition includes bankrupt 1930s Phillies and Browns teams. Neither of those franchises even exist anymore! If you see this getting better any time in the near future, please share your euphoria-inducing drugs with me care of FanRag.


Winning percentage by month: .615, .586, .556, .417 (July, incomplete). Eureka, they pitch — er, pitched. Since May, they’ve been carting a 5.09 ERA. As usual, it would be fascinating if they had players who were sufficiently patient so they could have a road offense, but no, they’re hitting .251/.314/.386 when having to order room service. They might hold a wild-card spot by default, and then anything might happen if the pitchers remember how to overachieve.

Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black, front left, takes the ball from starting pitcher Jon Gray, who had given up a single to Cincinnati Reds' Tucker Barnhart during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 5, 2017, in Denver. Catcher Ryan Hanigan is at left. The Rockies won 5-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


They’re presently 10.5 games up and on a pace for 111 wins. Clearly they’re going to win something. As with the Houston Astros, winning it all is less of a sure thing just because there are two-to-three layers between the regular season and the World Series. Injuries could happen. Alex Wood’s Fairly Godmother (not a typo) could repossess his magic ball gown. Clayton Kershaw could continue to pitch to a 4.55 ERA in October. As Eric Stephen suggested a couple of Infinite Inning episodes ago, Adrian Gonzalez could come back and the manager insist he plays. Maybe they could stand to have one more reliever, so that Chris Hatcher need never wear a Dodgers uniform again. Read the Book of Job. Stuff goes wrong because Divine Providence is capricious and, at times, outright mean. When bad things happen, some people will say, “I’m being tested,” as if the test-maker were doing them a huge favor. Who needs to be tested? What’s wrong with a pancake breakfast followed by a long nap, and when you wake up, everything is just where you left it? You might even have an even number of socks in the drawer. We can dream.


Paraphrasing Adam Ant: Don’t hit, don’t pitch, what do you do? Actually, with the seas rising, Miami puts one more in mind of Donovan, but never mind; forewarned, forearmed, and the team is for sale, but these assets won’t be moved inland. With a weak starting rotation (see the Reds, above) they won’t win now, and add in a desolate farm system and they might not win in the future, even if Derek Jeter or some other august personage takes over from Hell’s Ambassador, Jeff Loria. A possible salvation/price-enhancer would be to unload their better position players, but given that some of them are signed through the end of time (or the end of Miami, whichever comes first), Jeter might have to take out another mortgage to subsidize the rest of Giancarlo Stanton’s career.


I was this close to writing “Trade Eric Thames now!” at the end of April, because there was nowhere to go but down. Given that he’s hit .206/.333/.452 since, I’m not entirely sure I would have been wrong. Still, part of my reasoning there was that, contra Buffalo Springfield (last music cue for a while, I promise) nothing was happening here. My bad, because this is real. Now, what “real” means is complex, because recently they’ve been romping against the Marlins, Orioles, Yankees, and Phillies. Starting in about a week they’ll see the Nationals, Cubs, Cardinals, and Rays, and “real” may look more like breaking even. Fortunately for them, breaking even will likely be enough to make the postseason. That they can get through a long series at that point, well, as the Magic 8-Ball used to say, ask again later.


They’re 13 games out of the division lead, 9.5 behind a wild-card spot, and somehow still fascinating. They say they’ll be sellers now, and whereas the focus will be on rent-a-players (you know the list), let’s assert that potential departures should include Yoenis Cespedes because (A) he’d arguably bring a bigger return then that aged lot, and (B) as good as he is, as much fun as he can be, the dude can’t stay healthy. That’s not the kind of thing that will get better between now and 2020, given those will be Cespedes’ age-32 through age-34 seasons. His contract gives him no-trade protection, but maybe he’d enjoy being a member of the Dodgers for a while. There are approximately 85.5 million reasons to think about it. Otherwise, ready produce includes not a great deal more than Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, though apparently they will never, ever be ready. At least they could have some high-quality company in Las Vegas as the big-league team continues to suppurate.


The Phillies are one of the truly exciting teams of 2017, because they have the potential to be the mirror-image, the negative doppelgängers of the Astros or Dodgers. Those teams might win 110 games. The Phillies might lose 110. If they meet, the universe will end, as in that Star Trek episode. Sayeth Mr. Spock, “Jim, madness has no purpose, or reason, but it may have a goal.” Seems like there’s an internal contradiction there, Leonard, but OK, let us assert that the Phillies do have a goal — to improve. Last season, they went 71-91 with a team that in a fairer world would have lost 100 games. Their current pace is for 108 losses, and you’d be hard pressed to say madness’s goal is being served. With the exception of Aaron Nola, the starters have been bad, and here’s the thing about good starters on bad teams: All you’ve done is wind the clock closer to the big arm injury; good season or bad, it’s still mileage. Player-wise, Nick Williams is up, but Rhys Hoskins waits behind a weak player, Maikel Franco has died in the majors and J.P. Crawford has died at Triple-A. Yes, yes, Scott Kingery, yes, Sixto Sanchez, but they’re not enough. The revolution is not coming.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 09: Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Pat Neshek (17) releases his pitch during the Major League Baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Philadelphia Phillies on May 9, 2017 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)


They regained Andrew McCutchen’s bat and lost seemingly everyone else. Just to be part of the gang, McCutchen sacrifices most of his offense to bad defense, so it all evens out. Otherwise, this is very much a team in stasis. The players to win a World Series aren’t here in sufficient depth on either side of the ball. Key prospects, such as Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman, are rowing backwards this year. The return to relevance that began in 2013 may be over. The question is (A) will the pitching reinforcements (Tyler Glasnow, Mitch Keller) surface in time to form a real rotation before the current major-league starters entropy (that is, are injured, traded, raptured), and (B) even if they do, will there be hitters around to support them? They’re not in evidence now.


Their chances are just a little worse than that of the Cubs, so it’s probably time to think about next year. They’ve been properly pragmatic about salvaging their season — some teams embrace a self-defeating loyalty that defeats real improvement. No so with the Cards, who have had no hesitation about pushing Almedys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta to the margins (or out entirely) when they failed to perform. You can argue that if they had figured these things out as the end of spring training they might actually be winning their division right now, given the weakness of the teams above them and a Pythagorean record that suggests they be over .500 with better luck. By that standard, we might also admit that Alex Reyes’ torn UCL might have been a deal-breaker before things had even gotten started.


They’re out-playing their projected record by seven games, which is kind of a disaster given they were counting on another top-three draft pick. Yes, the Padres can’t even tank right. They’ve given a great many kids playing time, which is what they should be doing, but none has exactly run with the opportunity. Maybe we have to wait for SD:TNNG, San Diego: The Next Next Generation.  Fortunately, that show includes Fernando Tatis and Cal Quantrill, so maybe it will be the one to take.


The Giants are on their way to losing 100 games for the first time since 1985. That’s an accomplishment,  because this organization has been so good for so long it was also the team’s only season over 98 losses. That edition had Will Clark, Robby Thompson and Chris Brown waiting to contribute. This one doesn’t. The good news is everyone except Eduardo Nunez is signed for another year (arbitration eligibility notwithstanding). The bad news is that everyone except Eduardo Nunez is signed for another year, even Denard Span. We’re all Span-fans here, not least because his beard has more grey than mine does. Unfortunately, grey also describes his defensive play these days. This helps explain one of the Giants’ problems, specifically that they’re second to last in the league in defensive efficiency. Since they can’t hit, undermining a weak pitching staff with shoddy glovework seems like a bad idea.


They’re nine games up in the loss column, so clearly they’re going to the big dance. The back end of the rotation is weak, but that will matter less in October, when they can lean on Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg. Their weekend trade with the Oakland A’s for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle may finally patch the leaky bullpen. It suggests that ownership is actually interested in winning a championship, which heretofore had not been certain. Whether that translates into a championship or not is obviously TBD, and also waits on future injuries for which replacements may not be on hand. “Wilmer Difo?” is a complete sentence, albeit you have to know what the verb “to Difo” means and who Mer is. It’s not a puzzle you want to try to solve between April and October, which is why Stephen Drew is playing a lot. 


More Coverage:

To Top