The Major League Baseball season is in full swing and with the trade deadline behind us there isn’t much left teams can do to improve their lot from the outside. Organizations will rely on call ups and youth movements to energize rosters as they make playoff pushes. Dave McCullough performs a standings checkup as August drags on and teams do their best to deal with mounting injuries and tired veterans
Baseball’s season is intentionally long; over 162 games, there are rarely any pretenders who make the playoffs. To win enough games to qualify for the postseason, a team has to actually BE good, not just have a good run, or to get hot at the right time. The length of the schedule – a game every day (ok, most days) for about six months tests not just the depth and talent of a team, it tries every aspect of the team – the pitching staff, the lineup, the defense, and the coaching staff. Teams with fatal flaws will fall to the wayside as the calendar turns from spring to summer, and finally, to fall.
The dog days of summer is a phrase used to make August seem more pleasant than it is. Truth is, most of America is baking in the summer heat and humidity, and sometimes the only breeze to be found is at the ballpark, as hitters swing-and-miss at fastballs that set off radar guns to the same numbers as the mercury in the thermometer. In August, the trade deadline has come and gone but teams have not yet emptied their minor league coffers with reinforcements. The dog days are relentless, and they are the proving grounds where contenders are separated from pretenders.
With the advent of the second Wild Card, few teams are eliminated from the playoff picture entirely, even as the days get shorter and the odds get longer. Even the pitiful six – the fifth-place team in each division – are still, mathematically, alive in the postseason race, though their fans have written off their chances and begun to look to the future. In Minnesota, where uber-prospect Miguel Sano has burst onto the scene with a .250/.342/.491 line, the future seems so bright they are chomping at the bit for this season to end and for the next one to begin. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, another day means another pitching transaction, as a long line of replacement-level and worse drek parades through the clubhouse for a team just playing out the string. The pitiful six have won fewer than 50 games this season, and all of them are thinking more about their draft pick positioning than they are the playoffs at this point.
Conversely, only one team is already planning its postseason roster and rotation – the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs. A double-digit lead over their hated rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, has Cubs fans thinking “this is our year.” Only time will tell if Lucy wins again or if Charlie Brown finally comes out ahead and the Cubs can exorcise their postseason demons.
Elsewhere, the pennant races are starting to heat up. Washington, Texas, and Cleveland can feel pretty good about themselves and their positioning for the postseason but still need to survive the blast furnace of August and the final month of the season to earn their playoff position. Meanwhile, any club over .500 is thinking – rightly – that they are one hot streak, and week, away from that second Wild Card slot. The New York Yankees, who traded several veterans at the deadline and have had a couple more call it quits in recent weeks, are even dreaming about winning eight straight and getting right back into the race. At the very least, their fans have the debuts of Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and other prospects to keep them entertained.
Things are not looking great for the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals, or their opponents, the New York Mets – but neither is yet eliminated. Playing out the string isn’t yet the “goal” of many teams outside the pitiful six. As August continues to run hot, so will most of the teams in Major League Baseball. While it is getting close to “do something or we’re dead” time, even the below-.500 Royals could get back into the AL Central race with a hot streak that matches the weather.
The spirit of #RallyMantis will live on.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) August 14, 2016
This level of parity and competitiveness bodes well for baseball fans. The final 50 or so games of the season will be both meaningful, and contested, in just about every city on just about every night. The scoreboard will have playoff impact on every night and fans will have the chance to sweat out the fate of their baseball club in addition to just sweating in the late summer heat. With fall just around the corner, it’s time to celebrate what has been a great baseball season – and to look forward to what promises to be a sweltering conclusion.