Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Operation Meltdown

Much like a NCAA tournament bracket that predicted George Mason's run to the Final Four, an accurate prognosis of the first 30+ games of the Major League Baseball season are difficult to find. We certainly didn't expect the AL Central to return to its 2001-ish reputation of stankitude from top to bottom--which, I must add, is presently inhabited by popular preseason World Series pick Detroit Tigers. I personally believed that the Tigers would destroy any and all opponents en route to a 100-win season and a World Series victory. Needless to say, their 14-20 record and 185 runs allowed belies their talent, which is plentiful.

So the Tigers have started bad and stayed bad. At least they've been consistent. Over in the National League, the only teams that have stayed the course of filth and depression have been the NL Worst's cellar-dwellers, the defending pennant-winning Colorado Rockies and recent division champions San Diego Padres. Sure, the Rockies' run might have been an obvious fluke, but a fluke yielding a .364 follow-up? Tough to predict.

Rarely in my life has the World Series matchup been so obvious so early in the season. Only five teams have won 20 games and only two--the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks--have had that 20th win for more than two days. They are in the driver's seat; they score runs and prevent runs. They've got veteran pitchers, power hitters, contact guys, base stealers, and glorified cheerleaders. So they'll motor along to the World Series in what will prove to be a spectacularly boring season for success and a wild ride for failure. Unless, of course, the season turns on its head again and the Rangers win the World Series.

What has been really fun, though, has been seeing the strange roller coaster ride of two of baseball's most tortured franchises, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs. The pain and confusion within the two clubs' fanbases have formed from different preseason expectations.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game. I actually remember watching that game live in my grandmother's apartment in Detroit (the game was on WGN) and wondering if I was witnessing the arrival of the greatest pitcher in history. Ten years later, Wood is the Cubs' closer with a bloated ERA and 14 starts in the last four years combined. He has yet to win 15 games in a season. Such is life in Wrigley Field, yet nobody notices. Year after year, it's "The Year" for the Lovable Losers. Yet 100 years after their last World Series victory, the Cubs continue to provide baseball fans with excruciatingly unpredictable seasons.

In Baltimore, one could argue it's been an easier ten years. The Birds haven't grasped at success the way the Cubs have, but ask any Oriole fan how he has prepared for baseball season over the last decade and he will tell you that he simply puts on his O's hat, sits back, and waits apathetically for the terribleness to flow forth. For three straight years, the AL East has concluded in identical order, with the Orioles sitting poorly, yet comfortably, in fourth place. When the season opened, it looked as though that trend might change in 2008 when they sat atop the division on April 26th. Twelve days later, they're two games under .500 and sprawled alone in dead last. Now, nobody can say definitively that they will stay there, especially considering the bizarre start throughout the major leagues, but it's nonetheless a fresh new way of torturing Baltimore's long-suffering fans.


Wile E. Coyote said...

I think that the signing and now rejection of Jacque Jones is a metaphor for the Tigers' season. They probably need to start over--get rid of Sheffield, Rodriguez, Rogers, and maybe Leyland. Overhyped team that is underperforming. You cannot buy success--think Dan Snyder--you must grow it.

Benjo, the one without pants said...

i agree with you that they need to start can buy success, but you better be buying the right stuff...growth is a much better option