Just a few scant minutes ago, our own Grant Brisbee -- or as we like to call him, "Our Own Grant Brisbee" -- published a column in which he identified and ranked this season's four most disappointing teams. That's our own Grant Brisbee for you, always accentuating the negative.
But fret not, Fearless Believers! Because Our Own Rob Neyer is a purveyor of positivity, and so I'm going to present the four teams that, while facing long odds for sure, still have small-but-measurable chances of reaching the postseason.
Why five? Because that's how the math worked out. I went looking for teams whose chances are worse than 1 in 5, but better than 1 in 20. And it turns out there are four of those teams. Give or take a percentage point or two.
Let's start with the New York Yankees. Not so long ago, they seemed deader than Leonid Brezhnev. But thanks to a dynamic young third baseman with a brilliantly imaginative nickname and the return of an ex-superstar or two from the Disabled List, suddenly the Yankees look like contenders again. Granted, they're eight games out of first place and they trail a platoon of squads in the wild-card standings. But we're still counting the Orioles as contenders, aren't we? Well, the Yankees are just a game-and-a-half behind the Orioles. If the Orioles have a real shot, then so do the Yankees. No matter how much you piss and moan about it. Besides, won't September be more interesting if the Yankees are at least in the conversation? No, we don't want them to win. But we do want them to think they can win.
Next up: Those plucky Kansas City Royals, who just refuse to die. First they win 17 of 20 and join the Bud Selig Memorial Wild Card Fray. Then they lose seven straight to remind everybody that Wil Myers plays for another team now. And then they win five straight to rejoin the Honorary Fringe of the Memorial Fray. If the Yankees have a real shot, then so do the Royals, because the Royals are just one game behind the Yankees.
Before we leave the American League, room must be spared for the Cleveland club, which enters the weekend just slightly ahead of both the New York (American) club and the Kansas City club. In the wee hours of Thursday, the news came tearing across the telegraph lines ... Cleveland acquires ! Now, you might reasonably wonder why the Indians would be interested in Jason Kubel, considering that he's sort of like Jason Giambi, except worse (if you believe his numbers since last August, anyway). Well, Reed Diamond works in mysterious ways. If he could fool Brad Pitt into taking Ricardo Rincon off his hands, maybe he can do anything.
Now to the National League, where just a week ago it seemed all over but the positioning in the National League Central ... and you know, it still seems mostly like that.
Except the Diamondbacks are still hanging around. Yes, they're dead in the West. And a six-game deficit in the wild-card standings is highly problematic. But there is one ray of sunshine: They have to catch just one team in the wild-card standings. If the Diamondbacks take really good care of business -- say, win 20 of their last 30 games or something -- they need just one team, which is to say either the Pirates or the Reds -- to play poorly in September. At which point the highly problematic becomes the reasonably possible.
And finally we come to the Nationals, now just half a game behind the Snakes. Just a few weeks ago the Nationals really looked dead. But after winning eight of their last 10, people are getting excited. Well, at least a couple of people. First it was Bryce Harper, and now Davey Johnson. Hey, Davey's right: Stranger things have happened.
So which of these latecomers has the best shot? Considering they all have roughly the same ground to make up, let's ignore the standings and focus on three factors: How good they've been, how good they were supposed to be, and who they have to play down the stretch. I'll measure the first by third-order wins, the second by preseason projections, and the third by making a list (for myself) of everybody's schedules. Three-point system, nine points the maximum.
So the Yankees get one point for how good they've been, two for preseason expectations, and one for having a tough schedule that includes 12 games against bad teams but 17 against the Orioles (7), Red Sox (7) and Rays (3). For a grand total of just four points. But I will add one bonus point for having Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Curtis Granderson in the lineup. Finally. So that's five points for the Yankees.
The Indians get three points for their schedule (17 games against lousy teams), two points for how good they've been, and one point for preseason expectations. Sorry, no bonus for Kubeling up. Which makes six points.
The Royals get two points for their schedule, two points for how good they've been, and one for expectations. Five points, tied with Yankees.
The Diamondbacks get three points for their schedule -- only 10 more games against winning clubs! -- along with one for how good they've been, and one for expectations.
Hmmm. Five points for the Diamondbacks, too. Seems to be going around. There can't be a flaw in my methodology, can there? Nah, that's impossible. Let's check the Nationals ...
They get three points for their schedule, thanks to multiple series against the Mets and the Phillies and the Marlins. They get one point for how well they've played (they've still got a negative run differential). But they get three points for preseason expectations, as the Nats were roundly hailed as the National League's best team just six months ago.
Baseball's most disappointing team? Yes, so far. But the Nationals also have the best chance to shed that label before the season ends. I'm going to make the list like this:
But you might have it somehow else. Feel free to express yourself. We do live in a republic, you know.