By David Mullen
Forever, baseball has been a game of lists. Who is the greatest player of all-time? What team is the greatest ever to play the game? What is the best stadium in the major leagues? If you were to start a team today, what players would you build your team around? What pitcher has the nastiest stuff?
As the pennant race begins to heat up, it is time to list teams looking from the outside in, and those that have a real chance to win the World Series in 2018.
The groundouts. The Kansas City Royals were World Champions in 2015. How the mighty have fallen. Without any pitching or power, this team has become the worst team in baseball, right behind the Miami Marlins. At least the Marlins, a team that collapsed like Kansas City after championships in 1997 and 2003, let their fans know it was coming this season. They set the bar low and have yet to reach it. Owner Derek Jeter is as popular in Miami as a Category 5 hurricane.
Two, once storied franchises are simply the most boring teams in baseball. The Chicago White Sox play in a banal stadium and have built a line-up to suit it. The Baltimore Orioles play in beautiful Camden Yards but have gutted their entire roster and been forced to start over.
It is getting old for fans of the San Diego Padres to keep hearing that they are going to build a young club, and then nothing happens. At press time, they are further out of first place than any team in the NL, even though they play in the NL West, which no team seems to want to win. The New York Mets are often injured, don’t get clutch hitting and must suffer in the shadow of the Bronx Bombers.
The Cincinnati Reds are a head-scratcher. They never seem to be going in any direction. They have Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and others, but support them with a miserable pitching staff. The Detroit Tigers play in a massive park, and don’t hit the baseball. They don’t walk either. And they have little to look forward to in the future.
The bunt singles. As frustrating as this season has been for Texas Ranger fans, at least they are letting younger players like Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar play. The Minnesota Twins are teasers. Sometimes they look like world beaters and then they can look inept. Local hero Joe Mauer is a mere shell of the player he once was.
The Los Angeles Angels have Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, and still can’t win. Every year they are expected to contend. This year, they barely competed. It is hard to fault the Tampa Bay Rays. They have a miniscule payroll by baseball standards and play hard. But quick, can you name a Rays player? And the Toronto Blue Jays are victims of playing in a division with two of the best teams in baseball.
The San Francisco Giants thought they could win with veterans this year. They haven’t. The Pittsburgh Pirates still think they can make the playoff this year. They won’t. And the St. Louis Cardinals are perennially considered a contender. Even with the red-hot Matt Carpenter, they disappoint.
The long drives. Baseball fans wait for the Washington Nationals to make their drive for the playoffs. They are chasing the upstart Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. To their credit, both teams have emerged as contenders in far less time than people thought. But the feeling here is the NL East title will go to the Nats.
The Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks look like the same team. If the Los Angeles Dodgers surge as expected, the two teams will be playing for a Wild Card spot. The Milwaukee Brewers hit like a beer league softball team, but a shaky pitching staff will keep them from a postseason celebration.
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics have 10 games left to play against each other. The strongest will survive and win a one-game, Wild Card playoff spot. It will be a dog fight, and the winner between the A’s and M’s almost assuredly will have to travel cross-country to play the powerful New York Yankees.
The walk-off home runs. No one wants to play the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. They have in MVP candidate in Jose Ramirez, and have the best manager in the AL in Terry Francona. They are running away with the AL Central without much fanfare. With so much attention given the Boston Red Sox and Yankees, the Indians just sit there with a quiet confidence.
The Dodgers are poised to make a long playoff run. They are ready to get hot as their powerful line-up gets healthy. Same with the Chicago Cubs. Without Javier Baez, who know where they would have been this season. But a healthy Cubs team is a formidable challenge come playoff time.
That leaves the best three teams in all of baseball in the AL. The Yankees are in a bit of a funk without Aaron Judge, but have too much talent not to turn things around. It is just that they are relegated to a Wild Card playoff spot because the Boston Red Sox have shined all season. In a showdown last weekend, the Red Sox swept the Yankees.
Despite the impressive season the Red Sox have put together, the defending champion Houston Astros remain the best team in baseball. They are perfectly built for playoff baseball.
The final out. I still believe that the Astros will beat the Dodgers in the World Series, and then make the list of two-time baseball champions.