A Summer with Not a Lot at Stake
We are a little more than one-quarter of the way into the season … and already these are the teams with a less than one percent chance of making the postseason:
FanGraphs 0.0%; Baseball-Reference 0.2%
FanGraphs: 0.1%; Baseball-Reference 0.3%
FanGraphs: 0.2%; Baseball-Reference <0.1%
Kansas City Royals
FanGraphs 0.3%; Baseball-Reference 0.3%
FanGraphs 0.4%; Baseball-Reference 0.4%
FanGraphs: 0.5%; Baseball-Reference 0.8%
Those are the six teams that BOTH FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference give a less than one percent chance. In addition to that, FanGraphs adds Oakland (0.1%), Colorado (0.2%) and puts Arizona JUST over 1 percent (1.1%). Baseball-Reference, meanwhile, writes off the Cubs (0.1%) and the Marlins (0.6%).
So, that is a total of 11 teams that are basically out of it already. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to put the Rangers and Mariners on that list too, no offense to either club, and being brutally honest, Cleveland is probably not going to be there in October, either. And, even as I send all my love to Ellen Adair, it’s a long road back for Philadelphia too.
So, that means before we even get to June, 15 out of 30 teams are more or less playing for next year already (or, in most cases, for two or three or four years down the line). And, more to the point, it means that 16 teams are fighting for 12 playoff spots.
Do we really need 110-plus more games to choose 12 teams out of a 16-team pot?
This is a question the powers at MLB simply have to ask themselves: Do they really want a season where the last FOUR MONTHS are played for almost no purpose, played only to watch a handful of teams jockey for position, played only to determine if the Giants or Padres are going to get the wild-card spot, played only to determine how the White Sox, Twins, Rays and Angels are going to divvy up the last two wild-card spots?
I just got back from Cooperstown, where I was researching my upcoming book WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL. It was wonderful in every way. But there’s a moment that stands out for me. Margo and I were eating lunch in The Doubleday Cafe (Slogan: “A drinking town with a baseball problem”), and all around us was baseball … baseball card shops and a baseball wax museum and the rest. Everybody wore baseball caps, and everybody talked about Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, and if you looked closely you might have seen an actual Hall of Famer like Fergie Jenkins or Ozzie Smith or George Brett walking down the street.
Only on the television screen there in The Doubleday Cafe, ESPN played. And on ESPN, they were talking about the New England Patriots and quarterback Mac Jones.
In late May. In Cooperstown.
Sure, I know, the NFL is much bigger than MLB, this is no secret. And it’s no secret that NFL talk is pretty much a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year thing for ESPN … you gotta talk about what people want to hear about.
But in this context … it was kind of heartbreaking. Nothing significant had happened with Mac Jones as far as I know (I guess he had reported to OTAs in good shape or something). They were simply talking about him because pontificating about how Jones will play in his second season reaches more people than talking about, say, the typically awesome start of Mike Trout, or Mookie Betts’ absurd month, or how the Yankees and Dodgers have become almost unbeatable, or how home runs have skyrocketed the last three or four weeks, or how Justin Verlander at age 39 is dominant again.
Baseball’s long season has always separated the sport from everything else. It is America’s only every-day game. This builds from the idea that you cannot determine greatness in baseball over one game or a few games or even 81 games like in the NBA and NHL. No, you need to see the teams play over six months, in cold weather and hot, through hot streaks and slumps and injuries, at home and away, in day games and at night, against righties and lefties, in close games and blowouts.
Now, though, you don’t need to be a great team to win. You don’t even need to be a good team. At this moment, there are 12 teams with winning records, and, as mentioned, 12 teams will make the postseason, with a more-or-less equal opportunity to win it all.
Even that doesn’t give the full picture, because seven of the 12 teams with winning records are in the American League, which means that if the season ended today, a team with a losing record (Atlanta) would make the postseason. There’s a reasonable chance that will happen, by the way, a reasonable chance going forward that a team with a losing record will make the postseason and, as the years go on, a reasonable chance that a team with a losing record will win the World Series.
That wouldn’t be the best.
I do find it sadly ironic, in the Alanis Morisette way, that in an effort to make the season MORE exciting — by adding playoff spots so that more teams are in contention — the baseball powers have actually made it LESS so. What is there to talk about for the next four months?
Yes, of course, us baseball diehards will always find daily moments that thrill us and make us laugh and get our minds whirling. And I suppose there always will be a controversy — Josh Donaldson calling Tim Anderson “Jackie,” Tommy Pham slapping Joc Pederson over fantasy football, Gabe Kapler staying off the field during the National Anthem — to get some talk-radio and ESPN attention (though none of that has much to do with baseball).
The 162-game season itself — which has long been the heartbeat of Major League Baseball — makes less and less sense. I personally would love to see MLB try to do something cool and different with the season. Lots of people have lots of fun ideas, but there’s no point in going over those because most baseball fans’ first reaction to any radical change is “No, that’s stupid, that would never work, etc.,” and that’s not the point here.
No, the point here is only that it’s May 30, and MLB is already pretty much split into two categories: teams that are ready for October and teams that are ready for the offseason.
The next four months don’t mean all that much to either group.