What matters is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
For the last few years, this seemed to be the motto for teams like the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles. Texas and Baltimore didn’t care how many runs their awful pitching surrendered and how many games they lost so long as their offenses put on a show. The Nationals only cared how their young players developed, not whether the team won. Florida only strove to trade anyone making over $8 an hour.
But the baseball world as we know it seems changed.
The American League East is not ruled by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees or the upstart Tampa Bay Rays, who were last year’s AL East champions. Instead, the Toronto Blue Jays are harnessing Roy Halladay’s arm and riding it to the top of the division, and Koji Uehara has given the Orioles some much-needed pitching. It’s still early, but these teams look completely rejuvenated and ready to compete.
The AL Central and West, meanwhile, have flipped roles. The West used to be the one in which weak teams strove for mediocrity and where the division-winning Angels were the only team that ever had a realistic chance to win. The Central was marked by relative parity for years. Now the Central is weak, with the Detroit Tigers lacking pitching and the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins lacking bottom-of-the-order hitting. The Cleveland Indians are looking more miserable than a freshman leaving the macroeconomics final.
The West, by contrast, is strong from top to bottom. The Seattle Mariners are finally getting results from former bust Erik Bedard. Felix Hernandez is blossoming into a star even bigger than Hannah Montana. And their young players are learning to hit. Texas finally found some pitching with the emergence of Brandon McCarthy and the revitalization of Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood. The Angels are still good, and the Oakland A’s once again look like geniuses as their young pitchers baffle hitters and new acquisitions Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi provide some instant offense.
The National League is completely wide open. The number of teams that could win the National League title is equal to the number of teams in the National League minus one. Every single team has improved this year. The San Diego Padres and Chase Headley finally have a little bit of offense to complement their strong pitching. The entire Central division has addressed its biggest needs. Outside of the Chicago Cubs, there doesn’t really seem to be a National League team that deserves the title of “frontrunner,” so equal are most of the teams.
So the usual structure of a league dominated by Boston, New York and Los Angeles seems to have been upset. The economic downturn brought player values down to the point where every team could afford the players it needed to compete. Baseball fans everywhere are in a veritable tizzy over their team’s chances — this really could be your year.
Unless you’re a Nationals fan. At least there is some sense of familiarity. At least I still know I’m watching Major League Baseball. Even if the O’s are good, the Marlins look great and the Padres don’t stink worse than L-Dub’s bathrooms, I can find comfort in the fact that my Nationals are winless — 0-7 as of press time, baby.
I like being winless — it means the Nationals will have a good draft pick. Here’s a prediction for you: In the 2014 season, the Nationals will win the World Series behind the dominant pitching of Stephen Strasbourg —this year’s almost certain No. 1 pick — and the home run power of next year’s top prospect, whoever that may be. And when that happens, baseball as we know it won’t exist.
0-162 this year: the sign of the baseball-pocalypse.
Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.