MLB – BEST IS IN THE WEST, BUT THE REAL RACE IS IN THE EAST

02Jun12

May is officially over and we’re one third of the way through the 2012 baseball season.  While there are a few surprises going on, the teams that were projected to be at the top by season’s end (see BASEBALL HAS FINALLY STARTED – AND THE WINNERS ARE… dated 4/14/12)  are either living up to expectations or beginning to show signs of life after starting the season in reverse. 

We could go over the fact that four of the six division winners picked here are currently sitting somewhere other than in first place, but why spend time worrying about that right now.  After all, we’re only about 51 games into a 162 game season and three out of four of those teams are within five games of first place (c’mon D-Backs, let’s get into gear!) 

Or we could brag about the AL West and NL Central divisions going according to plan.  But again, there are still 111 games left and anything could happen to alter things between now and September. 

So let’s take a look at a couple of things that are jumping off the pages at us all.  First, the best teams in both leagues are in the West divisions, as the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers are sitting with the best records in baseball. 

The Texas situation is a surprise to nobody, as everyone had them picked to win their division and most had them picked to at least get to the AL championship series, if not the World Series. 

A lot of people had the Dodgers winning their division, but not too many had them so far above the rest of the league at this point. 

The second thing that has caught my attention is the current condition of baseball in the East divisions of both leagues.  All ten teams in those two divisions have records above .500.  The difference between first place and last place in both divisions is three games. 

It’s not often you see this after two weeks of baseball, but after two months?  It’s unheard of!  Especially when you consider that the Red Sox spent the first month of the season in the cellar of baseball. 

With the turmoil going on in the clubhouse, pitching that could not get outs and hitting that either generated double-digit scores or shutouts, it looked like it was going to be the worst season for Boston in decades. 

Something apparently has clicked within the organization because they have been an actual contender over the past three weeks and have jumped from one of the worst teams in the league to a team to fear again. 

Not much better was Philadelphia.  Although they are still in last place, they have shown signs of life and a resemblance to the team that won the division last year. 

Repeating as division winner will not be an easy task for the Phillies.  There are no weak spots in this division.  All five teams have had hot streaks and cold streaks this season.  Right now, Atlanta has gone cold to fall back into the pack.  The Marlins (it still feels weird to call them Miami) have caught some fire and have pushed their way up, nipping on the heals of the Nationals. 

Over in the AL East, Baltimore was on fire early and has been trying to hang on the top spot. Toronto was up there with them for a while, but has cooled off lately. Tampa Bay jumped up to the top, and then they went cool over the past week.  This has left the door open for the Yankees to climb within 1 ½ games from the top spot.  All the while, the Red Sox have quietly made it a five team race. 

This doesn’t happen often in one division in baseball, so to see it happen in two divisions has a certain historical feel to it.  We’ll see if it lasts for the whole season or fizzles out as the summer goes on. 

Wouldn’t it be great if it did continue into August and September?  It would end up finishing like the NHL did.  With mere weeks left in the season, a dozen teams could still be in a heated battle for a handful of playoff spots. 

That’s a fan’s dream come true.  The only thing that would be better would be for the teams in the other four divisions to kick it in the gear, join the party and generate some competition for those division leaders. 

Maybe Detroit could start playing like a playoff contender.  They don’t even have to look like the dominant team that everyone thought they were going to be, just a team to be reckoned with. 

Maybe the Angels could be a bit more consistent and actually give Texas a challenge, since there’s no way that Oakland or Seattle will be able to. 

Cincinnati and St. Louis appear to be destined to battle for the NL Central, as expected, but who thought Pittsburgh would actually be mentioned in the same breath as those two teams.  Usually by June, the Pirates are sitting fifteen games back and debating over which salaries they should dump before the trade deadline. 

The biggest surprise (at least in my mind) is in the NL West.  Okay, so I stubbornly went against popular thoughts about the Dodgers being contenders.  But to be 32-19 is way above what most of their supporters even dreamed of.  The Giants are about where they were expected to be, as are the Rockies and Padres. 

But what happened to the Diamondbacks?  They were supposed to be battling for the division title.  Their fans are already wondering if they’re out of the wild card race yet!  If they don’t turn things around soon, the Dodgers will have no competition for the division title, since the Giants are as good right now as they’re going to get. 

And let’s not forget, now that the Dodgers have a bankroll as large as most medium sized countries, they can fill any gaps that come up in their lineup with a swipe of their debit card! 

The season is certainly looking like it is going to be an interesting one.  We’ll see how many teams are real contenders versus mere pretenders.  We’ll check them out again on August first and set the stage for the homestretch. 

See you then!!

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