Baseball has long been referred to as the ‘national pastime'. While I can't verify the truth here, one author credits the New York Mercury for coining the phrase on December 5, 1856, and regardless of whether or not that's the true origin, the expression most certainly rose to prominence in the mid-1800s.
It came about in part for political reasons, but first and foremost because baseball had swept the nation. Or at least, what parts of the nation existed. In 1855, the New York City area featured a dozen different teams. Porter's Spirit of the Times reported that "baseball players had converted every grassy lot within ten miles of New York into playing fields." Baseball showed up in California and New Orleans in 1859. It shoved its way into Massachusetts and Philadelphia and became the popular sport of choice. In early 1860, teams began sprouting along the Eastern seaboard, and by later in the year, the same phenomenon took place in the Midwest.
Baseball became what people did for fun. It became their escape. Distinctly American, people rallied around the sport as a symbol of their national identity, and it was as much a source of pride as a source of entertainment. Baseball was a pastime in that people were ready and eager to invest their time in the developing sport.
It's funny how dramatically things can change over a century and a half. ‘Pastime' has a certain definition all its own. Dictionary.com defines it as "a pleasant means of amusement, recreation, or sport." But at its heart are the core words ‘pass' and ‘time'. ‘Pastime' is simply the combination of two other words, and as such one could consider a pastime as any means by which one attempts to make the hours and days go by.
Reading over Twitter and blogs and comment threads over the past few weeks, it occurred to me that this might be the best definition of ‘pastime', at least as far as baseball is concerned. Baseball, of course, has its devoted fans. Millions of them. Baseball is in no danger of falling out of favor with the public. But for every one person expressing true interest, there have been three people counting down to the football seasons. People counting down to the basketball seasons. People thanking God or whatever they worship that the dreaded summer months are finally coming to a close, and that sports - real, interesting sports - loom near.
To tens, if not hundreds of millions of people, baseball is very clearly not their sport of choice. Rather, it is a sport to which they pay cursory, necessary attention over the summer because they have such limited alternatives. It is a sport they follow to occupy the days, to make the weeks go by a little easier until more compelling sports return. It is a pastime in that so many people watch it to pass the time and to meet their recommended daily intake of sports the only way they know how.
In that regard, it's interesting how ‘national pastime' can take on two similar but distinct meanings - one complimentary, one less so. For the summer months, baseball remains alive and well as our national pastime. It just fills that role a little differently.
I still love the game. If you're reading this, you presumably love the game, too. Attendance isn't suffering. Interest isn't suffering. Baseball isn't about to abandon its place in the national landscape. But I have to wonder how well it would do were it up against the other main sports. Remove the need to pass the time, and fewer are going to pass it.
With that depressing consideration out of the way, let's now move on to the rankings.
SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout
2010 record: 43-88
Last week's rank: 30
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30
The Pirates are playing their 124th season, so when the phrase "worst in franchise history" starts to come out, you know it's pretty bad. Dejan Kovacevic says this might be the worst Pirate team ever, and he makes a pretty strong case. At the very least, they're the first Pirate team to have five pitchers lose at least ten games since 1954.
SBN Blog: Camden Chat
2010 record: 48-83
Last week's rank: 29
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28
Has the towel been thrown yet? One of the most interesting stats so far this season for the Orioles is their record against the Blue Jays: 0-12. They will have a chance to put a win in that first column when they meet the Jays six more times in the final month of the season. Somewhat hilariously, the Orioles did manage to go 6-0 against the Angels. They allowed 2.5 runs/game against the Angels, and 5.2 runs/game against everyone else.
SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!
2010 record: 53-78
Last week's rank: 28
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22
It's not really surprising, but the Indians have had some massive roster turnover this season, especially amongst position players. Shin-Soo Choo is the only Indian to have over 100 games played this season (113). Jhonny Peralta was traded over a month ago, and he's still fourth on the team in games played (91). Moreover, Peralta was only recently passed by Trevor Crowe (95) and Travis Hafner (93).
27. Seattle Mariners
SBN Blog: Lookout Landing
2010 record: 51-80
Last week's rank: 27
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26
The Mariners are on pace to score 527 runs this season, which is fewer than 25 teams already have. Ichiro leads the team in batting average at .308, and Franklin Gutierrez comes in second at .251. This is a team in the Major Leagues. This is a Major League offense.
SBN Blog: Royals Review
2010 record: 55-76
Last week's rank: 24
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29
For a bad team, the Royals find a way to win close games. They're 24-25 in one-run contests and 10-6 in extras. Nevertheless, at the Major League level, there's no clear narrative anymore. The Royals have been stagnant since 2004. Some years it gets branded as a surprise, sometimes as a disappointment, sometimes as a hopeful step forward. When you parse through the noise and the luck though, it's the same bad team, year after year.
SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit
2010 record: 53-79
Last week's rank: 26
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24
The Diamondbacks went 4-3 against playoff contenders San Diego and San Francisco over the past week, with all four wins being by five or more runs. Barry Enright continues to defy his peripherals, opening his career with eleven starts allowing three or less runs, and Dan Hudson has a 1.85 ERA in six outings. Adam LaRoche has nine HR, 23 RBI and is hitting .333 this month; however, Mark Reynolds is batting just .182 since getting hit in the head by a pitch on August 3.
24. Chicago Cubs
SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
2010 record: 56-76
Last week's rank: 25
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25
Who says the Cubs can't be consistent? They've been below .500 in every month this season. They managed 14 runs against the Pirates last night, the fourth time this season they've reached that mark. They've done it one time against each of four divisional opponents (the Astros, Brewers, Reds and Pirates), and will get six more chances to do it to the Cardinals.
SBN Blog: Federal Baseball
2010 record: 57-75
Last week's rank: 22
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23
You know you're a big deal when Tommy John offers to help your rehab from Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile the Nats resigned Livan Hernandez to fill Strasburg's spot next season, about the same time Livan's brother walked away from the organization.
22. Houston Astros
SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes
2010 record: 60-71
Last week's rank: 21
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27
Brad Mills deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team from mailing it in after a terrible start. On June 1, the Astros were 17-34. They've been .500 or better in every month since (including 16-12 in August entering play Tuesday), and have turned what could have been an embarrassing season into a possible third place finish.
SBN Blog: Halos Heaven
2010 record: 64-68
Last week's rank: 20
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21
So reads the Angels' team page sponsorship note on Baseball-Reference.com: "Other than hitting, fielding, baserunning, and relief pitching, Angels are a much better team than the Rangers. Let's go win this thing." If nothing else, at least Peter Bourjos is showing all of his skills. He's running balls down in the outfield, he's stealing bases, he's made decent contact, and on Monday night he hit a long home run in Safeco Field to straightaway center. Bourjos looks like the sort of player around whom the Angels could build.
SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball
2010 record: 62-69
Last week's rank: 17
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20
The Brewers could have as much impact as any non-contender on the NL Central race. They have 31 games left to play, and eleven of them are against the Reds (eight games) and Cardinals (three games). If only they could find a way to play the Pirates more: after sweeping Pittsburgh over the weekend, the Brewers are 13-5 against the Pirates and 49-64 against the rest of baseball.
19. New York Mets
SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue
2010 record: 65-66
Last week's rank: 19
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19
Mets GM Omar Minaya thinks New York is "not a market where you can go young." That would explain how the Mets can call up top prospects and have them sit for Luis Hernandez and Jeff Francoeur. It also probably explains their being 11 games out of first place.
SBN Blog: Athletics Nation
2010 record: 65-65
Last week's rank: 15
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12
First, Brett Anderson deleted his awesome Twitter account after running into some trouble over a picture he posted. Then Trevor Cahill allowed eight runs in four innings against the Yankees on Monday night, raising his ERA from 2.43 to 2.82 and dealing great damage to whatever Cy Young hopes he may have had. It's been a rough few days for any A's fans trying to stay interested in their team. It must feel great to be sitting above the Angels, but that can only last a fan so long.
17. Florida Marlins
SBN Blog: Fish Stripes
2010 record: 65-65
Last week's rank: 13
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14
What has Chris Coghlan been doing after injuring his knee on a botched pie-ing? According to twitter: watching youtube videos, buying Jonas Brothers tickets, and drafting his fantasy football team in the official Marlins league. Do you think that league is awkward now that Ross and Ohman have been traded?
SBN Blog: True Blue LA
2010 record: 68-64
Last week's rank: 18
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16
The Dodgers started their road trip well, sweeping Milwaukee and taking the first game in Colorado - allowing ten runs in total over the four games - before dropping the last two games at Coors. A near no-hitter from Hiroki Kuroda on Monday helped to lift everyone's spirits. The Mannywood era in Los Angeles ended in an ejection, but he hit 322, with an OPS of 1.012, over his 233 games for them. Was it worth $40 million? A tough homestand plays out this week for LA, facing Philadelphia and San Francisco.
15. Detroit Tigers
SBN Blog: Bless You Boys
2010 record: 65-66
Last week's rank: 23
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17
No misery quite like being a .500 team long since out of it. Just go on a massive slide to end the year to make everyone feel better.
SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter
2010 record: 68-63
Last week's rank: 11
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4
The Blue Jays continue to do what the Blue Jays do: hit home runs, pitch solid starts and win some ballgames. But they're not winning enough ballgames as they still toil as the fourth-best team (in the American League East). At 17-23 against the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays, it's tempting to blame the unbalanced schedule for the Jays' tough position, but then you see that big glaring '12-0' against the Orioles and you don't feel so bad.
SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles
2010 record: 72-60
Last week's rank: 12
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15
Normally, it's been San Francisco's starting pitching which has carried them. That has not been the case this August - their rotation is 5-13, with a 5.27 ERA. Tim Lincecum has suffered the worst month of his career (0-5, 7.82 ERA), but Barry ZIto has hardly been better (0-4, 7.76 ERA). The Giants did plate 38 runs in a series against the Reds, the first time they've scored 11+ in three consecutive games since 1953, but then they dropped two of three against the last-place Diamondbacks.
SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos
2010 record: 69-60
Last week's rank: 10
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9
So much for making the most of an opportunity: the Cardinals are just 4-11 in their last 15 games, and have gone from tied for first in the NL Central to six games back while losing to the likes of the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates and Nationals. Six games is a pretty significant deficit to overcome in a 33-game stretch, but the Cards have a secret weapon: they're shaving their heads for "team unity."
SBN Blog: South Side Sox
2010 record: 71-60
Last week's rank: 14
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11
The White Sox simply exist in their own universe, and really don't care what you think. Sure, literally everyone thought their plan to play a variety of bad hitters at DH made no sense, but they did it anyway. Gave them flexibility, which in this case meant an ability to play more bad players than usual. Now, they're addressing the problem. They didn't want a full season of Jim Thome at DH for around $2 million, but they'll now take a month of Manny Ramirez for $4 million. Well played.
10. Colorado Rockies
SBN Blog: Purple Row
2010 record: 69-61
Last week's rank: 16
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10
A three-game sweep of Atlanta and a dramatic win over San Francisco propelled Colorado to a 6-1 week, resurrecting hopes of another late-season rush to the playoffs. Carlos Gonzalez has been the hottest hitter in the division, posting an August line of .344/.396/.778, a 1.174 OPS. On the other hand, catcher Miguel Olivo, who left July hitting .306, has just six hits this month. After looking a 20-win lock in early August, Ubaldo Jimenez is still stuck on 17; he is winless in his last four starts, despite a respectable ERA of 3.21.
SBN Blog: The Good Phight
2010 record: 73-58
Last week's rank: 8
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13
The Phillies are playing well, but the offense hasn't fully recovered from Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins missing extended time. After last night's one-hit shutout by Hiroki Kuroda versus the Phils, the Phightins have been shut out 11 times this season, their most 0 run-losses since 1998. Chase Utley is hitting just .184/.322/.224 with 0 homers since his return.
SBN Blog: Red Reporter
2010 record: 76-55
Last week's rank: 5
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18
If the Reds make the playoffs but no one pays to see it, will it make a sound? Monday night's Reds-Brewers game, which saw the Reds win for the 12th time in 16 tries, drew just 14,589 fans. The Reds are 18-8 in August and have opened up a six-game lead in the NL Central. They're a relatively safe bet to win the division even though they're just 5-10 against the second place Cardinals.
SBN Blog: Over The Monster
2010 record: 74-57
Last week's rank: 7
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5
The weekend series against the Rays was essentially a playoff series for the Red Sox and they failed miserably. After taking game one, the Red Sox lost game two in a walkoff heartbreaker and game three in a nailbiter. The Red Sox sit a considerable distance away in the Wild Card race and hope is all but diminished. Important note: the Red Sox have the same record as the Rangers.
SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball
2010 record: 74-57
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8
Over an 18-game stretch in the middle of June, the Rangers went 16-2. Over the rest of the season, the Rangers have gone 58-55. Those games count, of course. You can't just take a team's best stretch of baseball and throw it out the window. But if you've felt like the Rangers have lacked something in the consistency department, there's a reason for that. They've been consistent, but they haven't been consistently good. I don't know how much it matters, if it matters at all, but it would ease a lot of fans' minds to see the team play well through the end of the season. This start-and-stop pattern of theirs can be worrisome.
SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball
2010 record: 76-54
Last week's rank: 4
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7
Swept by the Phillies - managing only three runs in the process - and then losing on Monday, San Diego is on its first five-game losing streak of the season. But their lead in the NL West, at five games, is only one less than last week. They've scored more runs in August than any other month of the season, but have also conceded more as well. Their next sixteen games are all against divisional opponents; get through those, and the post-season should be assured.
SBN Blog: Talking Chop
2010 record: 76-55
Last week's rank: 6
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6
Jason Heyward's wrist must have healed. In the past eight games, he's batted .531 with four homers, raising his overall line to .278/.389/.475. More importantly, Heyward has propelled the Braves to win their last three, keeping their three-game lead over the Phillies intact. The Braves now have a 94% of making the playoffs, per coolstandings.com. This season will likely mark both their first playoff appearance since losing in the NLDS in 2005 and their first Rookie of the Year since Rafael Furcal in 2000.
SBN Blog: Twinkie Town
2010 record: 75-56
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2
Despite a 3-4 week against the Rangers and Mariners, the Twins didn't cede any ground to the White Sox. There's still a flickering of drama, but when you get down to it, the Twins are closer to having a "get the starters rest" stretch than a taut pennant race at this point. Minnesota's pick-up of Brian Fuentes was nearly universally applauded, although in retrospect it makes the Matt Capps deal seem even worse than it did a month ago. No matter really. The Twins are good enough now that they can survive random decisions, enjoy roster luxuries, and withstand injuries. Justin Morneau still isn't back, which is mildly troubling. Oh well, I'm sure a little ole brain-based issue is nothing to worry about. Lord knows the Royals wouldn't be concerned.
SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley
2010 record: 81-50
Last week's rank: 2
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3
The Yankees are still near the top of the talent heap, but it has been a rough road as of late. The pitching just isn't there for the club, especially with Andy Pettitte still out. The team is still winning ballgames, but they're not stringing those wins together. In positive news for Yankee fans, Mark Teixeira came back after missing a few games with a bang: 3 for 3, three runs, an RBI, a home run and a double on Monday night. After a miserable start, he's posted a .933 OPS since the beginning of May.
SBN Blog: DRays Bay
2010 record: 81-50
Last week's rank: 1
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
If they couldn't convince you earlier in the season, they probably have by now: the Rays are the best of the best. The Rays are 11-4 in their last 15 games, including a series win over the Red Sox to cap the week. The upcoming road will be tough, though, as the team's next 15 games take them on a complete tour of the AL East. On the plus side, with a nine-game road trip stuck in the middle, the Rays will get a chance to play in front of some fans.