As playoffs approach, surprising standings prove games truly played on field, not paper
By Hal Bodley
What's going on here?
Detroit and Boston are in last place, poised for a long winter. Washington's playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. San Diego and Seattle can forget about the postseason. And here come the Royals, Blue Jays, Mets and Astros, giddy and riding high.
It just goes to show preseason predictions are fun, but they're often not worth the paper they're printed on -- at least this season.
This will go down as a summer of the unexpected.
Throughout Bud Selig's tenure as Commissioner, he frequently spoke of giving fans hope for the season in the spring. That has been so true this year, with so many teams still in contention for at least one of the four Wild Card spots.
As we approach Labor Day, none of the American League preseason favorites are where they were supposed to be.
In the National League, only the Cardinals and Dodgers have been true to form. They seem a lock to win their divisions.
Instead, the Red Sox have been the biggest disappointment in either league. The Nationals have been a disappointment in the NL.
The upheaval in Boston goes deep. General manager Ben Cherington is gone. Capable longtime president Larry Lucchino is stepping down and, sadly, manager John Farrell is missing the remainder of the season as he undergoes chemotherapy for lymphoma.
But the biggest change with the Red Sox also involves another team that's been a huge disappointment, the Tigers. They were expected to prevail once again in the AL Central.
Soon after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Dave Dombrowski, one of the most successful general managers of the past 20 years, parted ways with the Tigers. Within days, he was named Boston's president of baseball operations, which sent shock waves throughout MLB.
Dombrowski, a baseball traditionalist, earned his stripes with the Florida Marlins, then turned the Tigers into a perennial division winner and took them to the World Series twice. As an aside, within the past 15 months, nine general managers have left or been replaced.
Before 2015's first pitch, I thought with Toronto's superb offense, the Blue Jays would contend. And if the defending division champion Orioles faltered, second place would be within reach.
The Yankees had their worst showing since 1992 in 2014, finishing 12 games behind Baltimore and in third place. The aging team seemed no better than fourth in 2015, with the Tampa Bay Rays last.
The Yankees have led the weakened division most of the year, and had it not been for the significant additions Toronto made at the Deadline, they would still be there. A Wild Card berth, if the Yanks don't win the division, is virtually certain.
Former GM Jim Bowden says Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had the best Trade Deadline in Major League history. He obtained former Cy Young Award winner David Price, bolstered the bullpen with Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins, added speedy outfielder Ben Revere and obtained one of the game's best shortstops, Troy Tulowitzki.
Now, if the Blue Jays don't land in the postseason for the first time since 1993, there should be an investigation. It appears they'll have right-hander Marcus Stroman, who tore his ACL during a Spring Training field drill, back next week. Stroman, 11-6 during 2014's rookie season, had ace potential before the injury.
There were those who said the Royals were one-year wonders after making it to the World Series for the first time since 1985 last year before losing to the Giants. The Tigers were supposed to easily repeat.
Today, Kansas City is the best team in the AL, from top to bottom. Period.
"They really believed in their ability to get back to the World Series," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Last year, during the postseason, they finally realized how good they are. What has been so amazing to me is they haven't dropped their intensity or their energy -- not one day."
The Astros were the surprise of the AL West last year, but they weren't expected to challenge the Mariners, whose additions, we all said, would propel them to the promised land. They've been another of the year's big disappointments, mired in fourth place. Former GM Jack Zduriencik was dismissed last week.
Meanwhile, the Astros seem headed to the postseason.
But look out for the Rangers. At the Deadline, they were 50-52, seven games back. They've won 20 of their past 30 games since then, are eight games over .500 and just two behind the Astros. And on Sept. 14, they begin a four-game series against Houston. Stay tuned.
"We're not aiming for the Wild Card right now," says Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. "We're aiming for the division, and we have plenty of games in September left. It has been fun the way we are playing as a team. The pitching has been amazing, the bullpen has been terrific and we're playing great defense. We need to keep it up and continue the momentum."
There were those who said the Nationals, with the costly addition of Max Scherzer to complement an already awesome rotation, had no flaws. A World Series was within their reach.
Injuries, inconsistency and the recast Mets have pushed Washington to second place in the NL East. Their only hope now for the postseason is to overtake the Mets -- they begin a crucial three-game series Labor Day and end the season against them. They're too far back for a Wild Card.
In the end, this has been a marvelous season -- heartache for many, joy for others. It's testament to the credibility of the 162-game marathon and the accurate adage that the games are played on the field, not on paper.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.