Preseason prognosticators make me giggle

After Pujols signed with LA, everyone but Cards fan thought he would inevitably lead the Angels to a World Series title. Have these folks seen his slash line this year?

As temperatures warm up across the United States, we’re starting to see baseball season truly get ramped up. It’s mid May and as some teams are starting to rise to the occasion, others hardly look like the heralded clubs they were just 6 short weeks ago. Outside of the Texas Rangers dominating just about everyone in the American League, no sports writer, talking head, or baseball expert out there expected the Los Angeles Angels to be picking up the rear in the AL West, 5 games UNDER .500. Same could be said about the Detroit Tigers, another preseason darling, who are only 1 game back of AL Central leader Cleveland, do find themselves a measly 17-17 on the year. Oh, and we can’t forget the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins, the two preseason favorites in the NL East who are picking up the rear in the NL East. Fortunately for Miami, they actually sport a winning record on the year.

What does this all tell us?

Well, not much. Most teams have only played 30 some odd games, and there is a hell of a lot of baseball left to be played. On the other hand, it tells us that making preseason picks is damned hard to do. While many felt that Albert Pujols would have some sort of adjustment period to the American League, no one expected him to be batting a whopping .196, with a .234 OBP, a miserable .275 slugging percentage and has exactly ONE home run. It’s the kind of shocking slash line that is far more damning than the one Braves slugger Dan Uggla sported for the first half of 2011. Uggla’s a solid ballplayer, but he’s not a future hall of famer, Pujols is and for some reason the slight dip he’s had in his numbers took a nosedive so far this season.

We all get caught up in the moment of the start of baseball season. Some like the trendy picks and think that any team that has Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder is going to dominate, but what so many tend to forget is the longevity of baseball season, the triumphs and struggles of all players, and how that above all, baseball remains a team sport. Sure, the Angels plunked down the wealth of a small country to sign Pujols and CJ Wilson, but it’s going to take more than those two for the Angels to bring home their first World Series championship in a decade.

Texas on the other hand isn’t about letting one player carry the team (although Josh Hamilton could make a pretty good argument for that). Texas built a team from the ground up, and is so stocked, they could afford to let Wilson sign with LA and still manage to have the best team in the American League. It’s about balance, and some teams have figured it out that it can be the key to your success. Tampa, St. Louis, and Atlanta among others are franchises that develop players, and find ways to patch the holes when you lose players to injury, free agency, or struggles.

Atlanta for example, hasn’t been damaged by Jair Jurrjens early season struggles that ultimately led to his demotion. In fact, Atlanta just finished up a 7-2 road trip that included sweeps of Colorado and the world champion Cardinals. The team is balanced and it’s led to early season success. The Braves are playing good baseball and seem to be far better than the preseason third or fourth place team they were picked to be.

Now, the standing could look very very different in just a few short weeks. There are a few teams that look truly lost (Minnesota, San Diego, and Kansas City for example) but many teams are close, and within just a few games of the division lead. However, we’re halfway through May and we’re seeing teams like Baltimore continuing to find ways to win baseball games, regardless of their payroll or lack of previous success. Sure, they could find themselves kicking dirt with Boston by season’s end (you don’t think Boston is going to recover, do you?), but for now, the Orioles are among the top teams in baseball and for a sport and especially a commissioner that prides itself and himself on parity, this is a dream come true. I mean, how nice would it be to see a playoffs that look like this:

AL East: Baltimore

AL Central: Cleveland

AL West: Texas

AL Wild Card 1: Tampa Bay

AL Wild Card 2: NY Yankees

NL East: Atlanta

NL Central: St. Louis

NL West: LA Dodgers

NL Wild Card 1: Washington

NL Wild Card 2: NY Mets

Who in their right minds made those picks just 6 short weeks ago? Who in the right minds is still picking those teams to finish this way by season’s end?

Not many, but for me, it’s a great sight to see.

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