it's lonely at the bottom
sorry folks, my brain is on baseball overload recently:
at the halfway point of the baseball season, there are only 6 teams more than 10 games out in the Wild Card standings, which is fairly amazing considering all the sky-is-falling, "we can't compete!" nonsense that's been blowing around in recent years. let's look at these teams and why they are where they are:
Montreal (28-55) - no more breath need be wasted outlining the plight of this team (if you want more info read this, the 2nd of a 3-part series in the Washington Post that describes why Bud Selig's rule over the game is a tainted sham. links to the other two parts of this must read can be found on the right hand side of the article). but they weren't helped by injuries to Carl Everett and Nick Johnson, two of their top hitters, protracted slumps from other hitters (Vidro, Wilkerson) and a depleted farm system that is bone dry at the highest levels. their slow start doomed them to cellar-dwelling in an otherwise wide-open division.
Kansas City (29-53) - after last year's fast start and year-long contention, many figured that this team was poised to make some noise this year in a division that lacks any dominating teams. yet they've fallen behind the rebuilding Tigers and Indians thanks to a stark lack of pitching, sub-par years from several players and, of course, injuries. quick, name one of the Royals starting pitchers. fine, you can have partial credit for Kevin Appier, who has made 2 starts this year. you know things are bad when your top prospect (Zack Greinke, who is looking Saberhagen-esque so far), is your best starter but can still only manage a 1-6 record. but a team disappointed in their Juan Gonzalez signing? who knew?
Arizona (30-55) - just 2.5 years removed from their World Championship - one of the sweetest moments of t.s.o.a.'s life, and not because we're D-Backs fans - the Snakes have crumbled, losing an ace, their top slugger, their manager, and a whole lotta ball games. trading Curt Schilling got them some pitching depth and a decent prospect that they then used to land Richie Sexson, but Sexson is now out for the year with a severely dislocated shoulder, while the other players they traded to the Brewers are playing a major part in that team's resurgence. they were looking hopeless on June 15th and they are 4-18 since then. we'll see whether they trade Randy Johnson, but this is a team that needs to get younger. the good news is they have the minor-league system to do so.
Seattle (32-50) - this team just plain stinks, and the excitement that is Ichiro! has even worn off to the point where i don't even care to watch them. old players have declined predictably, mediocre free agent signings have been mediocre, and pitching suspects have been suspect. they have been a bit unlucky and they got a nice package for Freddy Garcia, but i'm not sure they're in the best hands. they have a lot of interesting pitchers in the minors so they may not be too far from getting back into the thick of things.
Colorado (33-50) - just a confusing team. they prove year after year that anyone can hit there. yet the pitching always stinks, even when adjusted for the ballpark. the main problem seems to be that they simply never get any good pitchers. don't you think a Roger Clemens or a Curt Schilling would manage to do OK out there? until they actually field a major league pitching staff (*cough* Shawn Estes *cough*) they have no right to complain that they can't win playing in Coors. somebody has to win the 81 games played there per year, right?
Baltimore (36-46) - after finishing April at 13-10, people were getting excited that the big offseason signings would make this team relveant for the first time since 1997. that talk is all but dead, even though Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez have continued to perform well. Rafael Palmeiro has declined, but at least he isn't embarassing himself the way Sidney Ponson has been. and too many other pitchers have been sucktastic as they stand 2nd to last in the majors in ERA and walks (ahead of only Colorado). perhaps this offseason they'll spend some of that free agent dough to land a capable hurler or two.
while all of these teams are flawed, one interesting about all of them except Kansas City and Montreal (and even those two teams won 83 games a piece last year) is that they have strong revenue streams based on relatively new ballparks and a track record of high attendance figures. these aren't poor teams. and yet they lag behind teams like the Brewers, Twins, As, Devil Rays and Padres - teams with smaller payrolls - for want of pitchers who can get somebody out when it counts. only Montreal has close to an average pitching staff, and they have socred the fewest runs in the majors. the Royals, Orioles, Rockies and D'Backs meanwhile rank in the bottom 6 in ERA and WHIP.