The old, conventional wisdom says, “You can’t win the division in April, but you sure can lose it.” This is becoming the case for several of baseball’s cellar dwellers as the calendar nears the close of the first month of the MLB season. Exactly which of these teams are already out of the race, and which have just stumbled out of the gate, is another question.
There are several factors which play into the chances of a team clawing back into playoff contention. The most influential of these, may be the division in which the team plays. Every MLB team plays 24 series against teams in their division so the quality of competition they will be facing with such regularity weighs heavy.
In the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles have still yet to crack 10 victories and have a winning percentage well below .300. In other words, their winning percentage wouldn’t even be good if it were a batting average. The O’s path will be long and hard if they have a prayer of contending for a spot in October. They must play the powerful New York Yankees, the scalding hot Boston Red Sox, who are owners of one of the best records in baseball, and the somewhat overlooked Toronto Blue Jays who have a pitching staff which is unusually deep. Baltimore is in danger of falling 10 games back already, and the odds of them making a playoff run are already becoming astronomical. Count out the O’s.
The Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox both have winning percentages even worse than the Orioles and somehow have a better shot to make the playoffs. These members of the AL Central have better (but still not good) chances of playing in October because they play one another. The Detroit Tigers are not a team that has the talent to play in the Fall, and the Minnesota Twins are yet to show their true colors, hovering around .500 currently. The Cleveland Indians are the only team in the Central who seems to be a lock to make it to the Postseason, everything else will fall into place in time. Consider the Royals and White Sox, alive in the hunt despite their poor early-season results.
The Miami Marlins made lots of news in the offseason, and nearly all of it was terrible for the club. Miami saw a mass Exodus of talent from its roster, sending the reigning MVP to the Yankees, and its other two star outfielders to the NL Central. New owner and former Yankee, Derek Jeter, was seen at a Miami Dolphins game after skipping the Winter Meetings, which are typically a media and free agent frenzy attended by owners and general managers. The Marlins are already behind in the division by double-digit games and have a gauntlet of teams developing in front of them. The New York Mets are showing their extremely strong pitching staff, the Washington Nationals have a lineup rich with talent, and the Phillies and Braves are both seeing flashes of excitement and promise from young lineups. Truthfully, the Marlins were out of the race before Opening Day.
Lastly, and in this case, least, the Cincinnati Reds. There was no expectation that the Reds were going to shock the baseball world and take the NL Central by storm, but so far, they have failed what little expectations they had. The team has been swept in four of the six full series that they have played and have already found themselves more than 10 games under .500. They are the owners of the worst record in the league, and play in what seems to be the deepest division in baseball. All four of the teams on top of them in the division race have playoff aspirations of some sort this year, and those same teams will benefit in the win column by getting to play the Reds so many times this season. Cincinnati is a proud organization with one of the best players of this generation, but Joey Votto and crew will not be seeing the leaves change from the baseball diamond this year, nor will already terminated skipper Brian Price.
Last year, baseball was as polarized as ever. There was a total of 18 teams which finished below .500, including the entire AL West apart from the eventual World Champion Houston Astros. The correction and increase in parity is encouraging to see for the health of the league, but there will always be very bad teams, these are the few that will fill that void this season.