Yesterday I wondered if we might have missed something about the Dodgers and/or the Angels. You know, something that might have saved us the embarrassment of picking those teams to win their respective (and respectable!) Western divisions, only to see them sputter along all season with seriously losing marks.
All my wondering basically led to the possibility that maybe we should have been suspicious about Josh Hamilton -- and in fact we were rather suspicious! -- but nobody saw this coming ... and even if we'd seen this coming, we wouldn't have guessed the Angels would be a distant third in the standings at this point in the campaign.
Still, I found the exercise worthwhile. So I'm repeating it for a couple of Easterners, as the Blue Jays have been just as disappointing as those Westerners, and the Nationals aren't terribly far behind in their disappointingness.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I looked at the possibility of "fixing" the Nats, and concluded that a) replacing Danny Espinosa with Anthony Rendon might help a little, but b) there wasn't much else to be done, since the roster's the same roster that everybody thought was going to win a hundred games just a couple of months ago.
That was before Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg both hit the Disabled List. Fortunately, Strasburg's due back later this week, while Harper seems on the mend, if just tentatively. So again, full speed ahead; while the Nationals remain far behind the division-leading Braves, at 31-31 they trail only four teams in the wild-card standings.
Might we have seen any of this coming, though? Were there any good reasons to not think the Nationals would cruise to 90-some wins this season? Well, Espinosa was terrible because he started spring training with a shoulder injury, and then hurt his wrist, and then tried to play through it all. I suppose we could have paid more intention to the shoulder injury, but the rest of it ...
On the hitting side, the only other big red flags are Jayson Werth's injury-marred season, which might have been semi-predictable considering his history, and the utter inability of the key non-catching bench players to produce anything at all -- .185 with zero walks and negative-4 home runs -- which wasn't really predictable.*
* exaggerating a little about the walks and the homers, but not the average
On the pitching side, everything's been mostly fine, except the No. 6 starters have been terrible -- fortunately, they've rarely been used -- and Dan Haren's not making anybody forget about Edwin Jackson. We don't expect No. 6 starters to fare well, and perhaps we should expected Haren's struggles to continue; much like Joe Blanton, Haren throws a ton of strikes but too many of them are FAT and get socked long distances. Should we have expected so many long distances, though? Haren's given up 15 homers in 77 innings. Last year it was 28 in 177 innings. If Haren keeps striking out six times more batters than he walks, his ERA is going to come down because he simply can't keep giving up this many home runs.
Well, he can. He probably will not.
Which is to say that we couldn't really predict his 4-7 record or his 5.45 ERA. He was supposed to be the Nationals' No. 5 starter, sure. But he was supposed to be a good No. 5 starter.
About the only thing we might have predicted is that various Washington Nationals would get hurt. And so they have, but more than usual. I think the real problem was predicting 100 wins for the Nationals, because you need luck to win 100 games. Predicting that the Nationals would be the best team in the East, if not the league? Even in retrospect, I don't see any good way around that. The Nats seemed stacked and -- excepting Espinosa and the pending situations with Harper and Strasburg -- still seem stacked.
The Jays, on the other hand ... You know, they brought in three new starting pitchers. All three were changing leagues. One was old and coming off a career season, and another was injury-prone. One of the holdover starters (Ricky Romero) wound up starting the season in Class A, and the other (Brandon Morrow) currently has a 5.63 ERA. Much like Haren, Morrow seems like roughly the same pitcher he was last year, except he's given up 12 homers in just 54 innings. Last year he gave up 12 in 125 innings, so, no, we didn't see that coming.
On the other hand, Morrow did miss a big chunk of last season with a strained oblique muscle, and when he did pitch his strikeout rate was down significantly from the previous two seasons. And Romero struggled terribly last season.
In retrospect, while the projections all showed the Blue Jays winning 90-plus games, there must have been a low level of confidence with those projections, right? Considering that all five projected starters offered some cause for pessimism?
Among hitters, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, and Brett Lawrie have and played worse than we might have guessed, while Jose Reyes has hardly played at all. Next to those disappointments, Adam Lind's breakthrough, after three straight lousy seasons, seems almost irrelevant.
So have we learned anything from these teams? Probably not from the Nationals, although maybe we shouldn't expect young players to thrive for a whole season until they've actually done it. But the Jays have taught some of us to distrust teams with question marks of one sort of another filling every slot in the pitching rotation. I'll cop to overestimating the Blue Jays. I just don't know we could have known they'd be in last place in June.