This post was going to begin with a discussion of just how tight the standings are right now around the league. The biggest division gap is 4.5 games, in the AL West. Every other division is at three games or less. There are, as of this writing, 17 teams within five games of a playoff spot, meaning that more than half of the league can make an argument for being in contention. This struck me as being unusually high. More than half the league? What would this mean in terms of trade deadline supply and demand? Were we looking at a probable seller's market?
Then I decided to do some research. Turns out this isn't actually unusual at all. What follows is a table, showing the number of teams within five games of a playoff spot on July 7th, as well as the number of teams with a better than 10% chance of making the playoffs on the same date, according to CoolStandings' calculations. Both measures are rather arbitrary, but then, this isn't science. Nobody is peer-reviewing this, right? Please don't peer-review this.
|Year||Within 5 Games||Odds > 10%|
And the trend presumably continues into earlier seasons. I just got tired of counting.
So right now, we have 17 teams within five games of a playoff spot, against an average of 17.6 over the previous five seasons. And, right now, we have 17 teams with better than 10% playoff odds (by one measure), against an average of 18 over the previous five seasons. 2010 isn't tighter than usual. If anything, it's a little more lean. If anything, these races are less competitive than we've seen in the recent past.
That took me by surprise. I guess it's just human nature to believe that what you're seeing is somehow different or exceptional. What we're seeing now is neither. I mean, the teams themselves are a little different - hey, Padres! - but the races are not. Baseball, it seems, will use slightly different variables to work out a similar formula on a yearly basis.
Which isn't to say that the 2010 season isn't interesting or compelling, of course. There are races everywhere. There are new faces and old ones trying to take center stage, which always makes for good drama. It's just that what's interesting and compelling has less to do with the state of the standings than I figured half an hour ago. The More You Know, I guess. I still think it's going to be a seller's market, though, if only because one of the guys getting sold is Cliff Lee, and Cliff Lee's the sort of arm that could win a team a title. Just because it's an unexceptional summer doesn't mean we can't have an exceptional deadline.
On with the rankings!
SBN Blog: Camden Chat
2010 record: 25-58
Last week's rank: 29
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28
The O's are just 15.5 games out ... of fourth place. Sitting a lean 27 games out of first, it's not getting any better for the Orioles. This week's brightspot: Brian Matusz seems to be turning the ship back around. Despite going 0-4 in June, Matusz racked up a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings. Go Orioles! ... in 2016.
SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout
2010 record: 30-53
Last week's rank: 30
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30
The NL's worst team by record, the Pirates' 17-game deficit in the weak NL Central is the third largest in all of baseball (behind the Diamondbacks with 17.5 and the Orioles with 27). Yet somehow they managed to take two of three from the Cubs last week while scoring just five runs, then took three of four from the Phillies over the weekend. Baseball is a strange game sometimes.
28. Houston Astros
SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes
2010 record: 33-51
Last week's rank: 27
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29
Sunday's loss to the Padres dropped the Astros to a season-low 15 games out of first place, so perhaps it's time to try something new: The Astros opened a three game set against the lowly Pirates with a win on Tuesday, and Alyson Footer noted that several players are ditching the traditional walkup music for artists like Katy Perry, La Roux and Kelis.
SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit
2010 record: 32-52
Last week's rank: 26
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27
Arizona ownership had finally had enough, firing GM Josh Byrnes and manager AJ Hinch last week in a severe shake-up. Things started well for new manager Kirk Gibson, beating LA in his debut, but the team lost the next four by a margin of 32-10, striking out 50 times over the trio of contests. It's already clear that fixing the Diamondbacks will require more than changing the off-field personnel. Who knew?
SBN Blog: Federal Baseball
2010 record: 37-47
Last week's rank: 22
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25
Washington, out of contention, may look to trade many valuable players as the deadline approaches, including fan-favorite Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and closer Matt Capps. What are they looking for in return? Nobody's sure, but young starting pitching might be a good target, with the ageless Livan Hernandez currently the Nats' second best starter behind Strasburg. Speaking of Strasburg, he may not be an all-star, but he already leads the league in average fastball, curveball and changeup velocity.
SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!
2010 record: 33-50
Last week's rank: 28
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24
The Indians remain nearly impossible to write about, so let's go off topic. With each passing year, it seems a little more amazing that the team is still the "Indians" and that they still feature the Chief Wahoo logo as prominently as they do. Of course, if you think Chief Wahoo is bad, you should see with their minor league affiliate in Kinston, NC continues to use. Even Don Draper thinks that's bad.
24. Chicago Cubs
SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
2010 record: 37-47
Last week's rank: 25
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21
The Cubs took the first two games of their series with the Diamondbacks to improve to 9-2 against the NL West, and 28-45 against the rest of baseball. They entered play Tuesday at a season-high 11.5 games out of first: If they don't make a run soon, the Dave Matthews concert will be the toughest ticket at Wrigley in September.
23. Seattle Mariners
SBN Blog: Lookout Landing
2010 record: 34-49
Last week's rank: 23
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26
Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee. All anyone can do right now is talk about Cliff Lee, and there's a reason for that - the rest of the team isn't very interesting. It's an open question whether Lee's still around to make his next start later this week against the Yankees, so if nothing else, that storyline should finally end before long. One thing going Seattle's way is that Russell Branyan has already slugged three homers since coming over eight games ago. Branyan's no star and the season's beyond salvage, but everyone likes dingers, and Branyan may be the guy to keep the M's from ending the year below 100.
SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball
2010 record: 37-47
Last week's rank: 19
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20
It's hard to imagine a Tuesday going much worse for the Brewers, who lost Yovani Gallardo to the DL, saw the end of Corey Hart's 20 game hitting streak and watched Ryan Braun go 0-for-4, dropping him to .167/.167/.262 in his last ten games. At least they're getting something from Randy Wolf, though: He's posted four quality starts in his last five appearances with a 2.51 ERA.
SBN Blog: Royals Review
2010 record: 38-46
Last week's rank: 24
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22
Another decent week for the Royals, who continue to play .500 baseball. Kansas City is 26-23 under Ned Yost, though it isn't obvious why. In that span they're 6th in the AL in runs scored, and 10th in runs allowed, so it seems to be mostly a combination of decent offense (led nearly entirely by David DeJesus and Billy Butler) and timing. As for Zack Greinke, while the season totals still don't look especially shiny, all the peripheral stats that matter (strikeouts, walks, ground balls) for Zack shot up in June. Keep an eye on this kid in the second half; he's still awesome.
20. Florida Marlins
SBN Blog: Fish Stripes
2010 record: 39-44
Last week's rank: 20
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11
Despite having playoff odds <10%, the Marlins are clinging to some hope. They've been linked as a possible destination for Pirates closer, Octavio Dotel, who might also have value as a type-A free agent after the season. If they sink further out of the race, though, Florida won't hesitate to engage in a trademark firesale, leaving everyone but Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson on the block. The price for arbitration-eligible stars like Ricky Nolasco and Dan Uggla figures to be higher this year, however, with a new stadium and possibly more payroll flexibility on the horizon.
SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter
2010 record: 41-43
Last week's rank: 14
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10
It seems to have hit the fan for the Jays: the team has three wins in its last 15 games, including getting swept by Cleveland. Yes, the Indians. Toronto -- which once had a mighty offense -- has scored six runs or more just three times in that 14-game span. This team (in this division) is no doubt a seller at the trade deadline. Also, please give a cordial welcome back to Edwin Encarnacion, whose stay in the minors was very brief.
SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles
2010 record: 43-40
Last week's rank: 12
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17
The losing streak reached seven games, their worst in more than three years, with San Francisco scoring a total of fifteen runs over that time, before finally beating the Rockies - taking to the cleaners Ubaldo Jimenez, of all people. However, San Francisco finds itself six games back in the NL West. Though they're only 3.5 back in the wild-card race, there are now five teams ahead of them there.
SBN Blog: Athletics Nation
2010 record: 41-44
Last week's rank: 21
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14
Over the last few weeks, Oakland has played well against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland, and not so well against St. Louis, Cincinnati, or New York. This only serves to confirm their place somewhere in the middle tier. Not too good and not too bad, the A's won't be seeing the playoffs, but they do have a tendency to hang tough in most any game, which is something. It keeps them from being a complete waste of a fan's time. One can only look at this pitching staff and wonder what could've been, given better health.
SBN Blog: South Side Sox
2010 record: 44-38
Last week's rank: 18
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16
Andruw Jones has hit just .111/.232/.173 in his last 29 games and has Sox fans thinking he's just about done. They can get in line behind fans in Atlanta, LA, and Texas. Still, Chicago has won five of seven games to remain in the thick of the AL Central race. The Sox don't have a deep farm system to work with at the deadline, but they should make a move or two simply because they have one of the easiest rosters to upgrade in the AL. The Sox are a stars and scrubs team, with improvements needed in LF (.641 OPS as a group), 2B (.551 OPS), DH (.678) and 3B (.683 OPS). Getting to league average at two of those positions could make a big difference. Being without Jake Peavy for a little while, of course, isn't going to make things easy.
SBN Blog: Halos Heaven
2010 record: 46-40
Last week's rank: 7
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23
The Angels were hot when the Rangers were hot, but as the latter's cooled off, the former's cooled off, dropping five of its last seven games. That is a bummer of a coincidence. Taking two of three from Texas last week was important, but they gave the ground right back, and the offense has scored more than two runs in a game just once since last Wednesday. Oh, how much better things might be with last year's DH. By the way, Fernando Rodney - the $11m man - has as many walks as strikeouts.
14. New York Mets
SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue
2010 record: 47-37
Last week's rank: 8
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19
An up-and-down week saw Mike Pelfrey endure two dreadful starts, Johan Santana toss a pair of gems and Francisco Rodriguez blow what would have been a victory over Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals. Sparkplugs Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan returned from minor injuries, as Met fans cross their fingers given the club's recent history of medical treatment. Their presence in the lineup will be necessary if the Mets hope to gain ground on the first place Braves. Carlos Beltran is set to return after the All Star Break, representing a major outfield upgrade assuming the struggling Jeff Francoeur is benched in favor of Pagan.
SBN Blog: The Good Phight
2010 record: 43-39
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18
Bad news hit Philly this week, as it was learned that Chase Utley will be out 6-8 weeks after having surgery on his thumb. Utley is one of the top five most valuable players in the league and his production will be near impossible to replace. With third baseman Placido Polanco also on the DL, the Phillies will rely on the likes of Cody Random, Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs to pick up the slack. The Phils have been generally injury free in recent years and their luck may be running out in 2010. However, it wasn't all grim this week -- Roy Halladay needed just 93 pitches to beat the Braves 3-1 on Monday night, throwing his MLB-leading seventh complete game of the season.
12. Minnesota Twins
SBN Blog: Twinkie Town
2010 record: 45-38
Last week's rank: 10
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4
Another losing week for the Twins, who went 3-4 and remain just behind the Tigers. Despite hitting just as well as he always has, Jim Thome has just 161 plate appearances this season for the Twins. Ron Gardenhire needs to find a way to get a player who is slugging nearly .600 in the lineup more, even if it means less playing time for Jason Kubel. Meanwhile, Twin pitchers continue to simply refuse to issue walks. Heading into Monday's action, the Twins had walked only 173 hitters, nearly 100 less than the AL average and more than 60 fewer than the next stingiest team, the Mariners.
SBN Blog: True Blue LA
2010 record: 46-37
Last week's rank: 16
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15
Los Angeles took five of six against divisional rivals San Francisco and Arizona, and got back into second place, but didn't succeed in picking up much ground on the Padres. Their pitching staff has allowed three runs or less in six of the past eight games played, and with series against the Marlins and Cubs, will be hoping to continue the rebound, though Manny Ramirez is back on the DL with a hamstring issue, which complicates things.
10. Colorado Rockies
SBN Blog: Purple Row
2010 record: 45-38
Last week's rank: 17
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12
Are the wheels falling off the Ubaldomobile? In three starts, he has allowed 17 earned runs in 17.2 innings, an 8.66 ERA. It's probably fair to say he's no longer the Cy Young front-runner, having been supplanted by Florida's Josh Johnson. Still, Colorado has held on, going 6-2 in recent action, beating both the Padres (in Petco, no less) and the Giants. They face the Cardinals and Padres again this week, so it won't be easy.
SBN Blog: Bless You Boys
2010 record: 45-37
Last week's rank: 13
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8
The Tigers are in danger of squandering Miguel Cabrera's career season. Although young Brennan Boesch has been a revelation, playing Robin to Cabrera's Batman, the Tigers are essentially a league average lineup. Detroit's older players, including Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon and Carlos Guillen, are barely holding onto mediocrity, and both catcher (.589 OPS) and shortstop (.583) have been disasters. With the bullpen's performance starting to slide a bit due to injuries and regression, Detroit may not score enough runs to win the pennant.
SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos
2010 record: 45-38
Last week's rank: 11
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7
Tuesday's improbable loss (giving up nine runs in the bottom of the ninth to the Rockies) dropped the Cardinals to a season-high two games out of first place and 6-9 in their last 15 road games. They also won't be getting help from Brad Penny anytime soon: He suffered a setback while rehabbing his injured lat muscle and the timetable for his return is now uncertain. Say hello to Cliff Lee rumors.
SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball
2010 record: 49-34
Last week's rank: 6
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5
The Rangers lost four of six against the first actual competitive opponents they'd seen in two weeks, but they've still managed to maintain their division lead, and they close the first half with a four-game set against the Orioles. Things could be worse. The 4-5-6 Guerrero/Hamilton/Cruz core of the lineup has so far combined for more than 2900 points of OPS, which is impressive, terrifying, and lethal. You know what could really put this team over the top, though? Cliff Lee.
SBN Blog: Red Reporter
2010 record: 48-37
Last week's rank: 15
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13
The Reds got another solid start from a rookie Tuesday, getting 5.2 innings (and just three earned runs allowed) from Matt Maloney, who was making his 2010 debut in a spot start in place of Aaron Harang, who was placed on the DL with lower back spasms. Even with the loss, the Reds are 11-4 in their last 15 and have opened up a two game lead in the NL Central. What once felt inevitable no longer feels so inevitable, as the Reds have been within a game or in the lead for nearly two months.
SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball
2010 record: 49-34
Last week's rank: 5
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9
Still not scoring many runs - they've been held to three or less in eight of the past 12 games. But they're 7-5 over that time, because they've held the opposition to two runs or less as often as not. All told, they have allowed zero or one run 24 times already, easily the most in the majors - no-one else has above twenty. Leading the charge is Mat Latos: in his last five starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA. Now more than halfway through the season, I think everyone has to admit that this team is for real. Somehow, some way, this team is for real.
SBN Blog: Talking Chop
2010 record: 49-35
Last week's rank: 4
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6
The Braves' play on the field took a back seat to an All Star controversy. National League manager Charlie Manuel selected Braves utility man Omar Infante for the All Star Game, leaving most scratching their heads about the inclusion of a player with a .700 OPS. It turns out Infante's ability to play multiple positions was the reason for the selection. Jair Jurrjens returned from injury, and the Braves hope he can regain his 2008-2009 form. A pre-All Star Break series with the second place Mets awaits, with second half momentum and potentially first place up for grabs.
SBN Blog: Over The Monster
2010 record: 49-35
Last week's rank: 2
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3
As if the injuries weren't bad enough already, they just got worse. Clay Buchholz is now on the disabled list, as is reliever Manny Delcarmen. Kevin Youkilis also left Tuesday's game with an injury. Not counting Youkilis, the Red Sox are missing three of their nine positional starters (Martinez, Pedroia, Ellsbury) and two-fifths of their rotation (Buchholz, Beckett). Who knows what will happen next? In turn, the Sox are 2-4 in their last six games and have lost two in a row. Injuries: the great random equalizer.
SBN Blog: DRays Bay
2010 record: 50-33
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2
The Rays seem to be rebounding as Tuesday's win over the Red Sox gives them a win in the series. They were both narrow victories (each by one run), but the Rays have now won six of their last seven games against the Red Sox and the Twins. Star Evan Longoria is happy June is over, as Tampa Bay's third baseman batted just .235 with two home runs last month. It definitely feels like that slump is a thing of the past, for both the player and the team.
SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley
2010 record: 52-31
Last week's rank: 1
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
The Yankees haven't been great as of late, but they haven't really needed to be since no other team has really made a run at them in the AL East. The Yanks are still being aided by strong pitching, as CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte -- namely Pettitte -- have been their rocks. Those three combined have 31 of the team's 52 wins. Mariano Rivera withdrew from the All Star Game citing injury problems, which is only notable because he's currently posting the lowest ERA of his career.