Where there’s a winner, there’s a loser.
After the initial dust settled from the participants bursting through the starting gate, the standings began to stabilize and a clear, albeit unfinished, picture emerged. The Royals? Good. The Cardinals? Good. The Rockies? Back to the basement after their hot start.
Of course, where some fell, others rose. Perhaps too fast, as it appears.
With over thirty games played by each team, there are bound to be surprises across the board. With that, certain teams — intentionally left off the list below — may have already done enough to be legitimate contenders, but the following five MLB teams are most likely over-performing and ready to regress.
Tampa Bay Rays
There are transitions, and then there are complete overhauls. There is no team in Major League Baseball that looks more vastly different than its 2014 Opening Day counterpart than the Tampa Bay Rays. Amidst the typical bevy of smaller transactions, two of the highest-profile moves of the past twelve months included the trade of ace pitcher David Price and the franchise’s winningest manager, Joe Maddon, opting out of his contract to move to Chicago. Making matters worse, the top piece that Tampa Bay received in the David Price deal was Drew Smyly, who started three games for the team, this year, before tearing his labrum. Smyly is hardly alone in his trip to the disabled list, as he was reluctantly welcomed by mainstays Matt Moore and Alex Cobb.
The beaten and battered condition of the Rays’ roster has resulted in eight pitchers starting at least one game for the team, with seven starting at least three games. Teams are not expected to survive with such inconsistency from the starting rotation, but the Rays have actually turned a potential negative into a positive. Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Nate Karns — the team leaders with eight starts apiece — have shouldered the load for Tampa Bay in the absence of their comrades. Odorizzi and Archer each currently have ERAs under 3.00, and Karns, with the highest ERA of the three pitchers, has only lost one game.
The amount of injuries the Rays have sustained has yet to drag the team under, but Tampa Bay is currently skating on thin ice. Indeed, pitcher Matt Moore should return from his elbow injury sometime mid-season, but the club needs to start pushing runs across the board in an effort to relieve some of the pressure from the pitching staff. If the offense can’t offset whatever setback the over-performing staff might endure – currently, the Rays score the seventh-fewest points per game – Tampa Bay will quickly get lost in the American League East.
San Francisco Giants
As the old adage goes, “The current generation of the San Francisco Giants only perform in even-numbered years.” San Francisco looked well on its way to confirm this suspicion when the team jumped out to a 3-9 start, but then defied the powers of collectively accepted beliefs by stringing together five consecutive wins and returning to a .500 winning percentage.
How? The Giants score the second-fewest runs per game in the league — saved from taking the top honors by the hapless Phillies in a one-team race that is already decided — and, while their team ERA ranks in the top-ten for the league, it isn’t dominant. Team leaders Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are performing at their expected level, and former ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is putting together his best season in years.
In fairness, the Giants, neither a disappointment nor a surprise, have yet to establish whether 2015 will break or reverse their pattern. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. With the Giants generally performing well, offensive runs are still at a premium and they continue to teeter on the edge of a winning or losing record. Without a clear wave on the horizon ready to push them to shore, the Giants should get washed out.
Look which team decided to emerge in the American League Central race. The Twins, recently an afterthought due to a string of 90-loss seasons and a change at the managerial position for the first time in a decade, have turned a 1-6 start into a winning record. Even more surprisingly, Minnesota recently went on an offensive tear, bludgeoning nearly every opponent in its path.
The most interesting key to watch in the Twins sudden entrance into the American League Central race is their ability to remain competitive when two other powerhouses also exist in their division. It’s reasonable to expect an upstart team to find the drive needed to keep its dream alive when wins are resulting in days atop the division leaderboard, but it’s asking a lot for a team to remain at its best when its hard work is paying off with nothing more than a potential second Wild Card berth.
Unfortunately, Minnesota is not only the third-best team in the American League Central, but probably will not be one of the five best teams in the American League, overall. Unless another unprecedented power surge appears, the Twins’ hot streak should cool off shortly.
Cincinnati is about to draw the short straw due to poor timing. The Reds had every right to emerge as a surprise team — last season — but chose to put off their collective success one more year. It will likely cost them.
The same players that have helped the Reds hang around in the middle of the division — Billy Hamilton, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, etc. — were all capable of doing the same last year. Had it happened, the Reds could have conceivably competed for a Wild Card berth. This year, it already looks like Cincinnati won’t receive an invitation to the division race — the Cardinals and Cubs should have their hands full with each other, all season — and the Reds will, at best, travel to a visitor’s ballpark for the National League’s one-game playoff. Unfortunately, that looks like the ‘best-case scenario.’
In all likelihood, the Reds will remain in mediocrity, with their arrow pointing downward. They may have players that excel in specific areas – e.g. Hamilton’s speed and Frazier’s power – but the team doesn’t do anything particularly well, as a whole. The fact that they have yet to be eaten by the bigger fish in their pond is somewhat surprising, but their days are surely numbered.
New York Yankees
Snap judgements are dangerous. They often lead to the misuse of small sample size in determining the projected path of a team. That is, until said team confirms such expectations.
Specifically, the New York Yankees opened the 2015 season looking like the worst team the franchise has produced in years. For weeks, they proved this hypothesis incorrect, then recently suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rays. New York has reached the apex of the roller coaster, and the first few ticks of the coming decent have begun.
On a given night, one-third of the Yankees’ lineup are automatic outs. Despite how well they perform defensively — and it is arguably overrated — Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew have a combined batting average of .373. Gregorious is inches above the dreaded ‘Mendoza line’, and Stephen Drew would need to string together four consecutive hits to be above .200. Even if he hit safely in his next ten at-bats, Drew would still be under .250.
The Yankees have been held together by a solid pitching staff – although the forever-questioned elbow of Masahiro Tanaka remains an issue — and the one-two punch of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Neither has played 150 games since 2011. The Yankees will not only need a full season from each, but a full season at this ridiculously high pace.
Even without potential injuries looming, the Yankees simply lack the firepower to compete for a full season. Manager Joe Girardi, once again, has his team playing over its head, but it seems like nothing short of a prolonged magic act will keep it there. That, or an unforeseen mid-season trade, reminiscent of Yankee teams of the past.
Unless the cavalry is coming, New York is an army about to realize it’s unprepared for the coming war.