Typically there are three guideposts fans use to chart the progress of the baseball season, and they dovetail nicely with the summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Memorial Day is coming up very soon, so let’s not wait in gauging which teams have so far outperformed their expectations, and which have so far come up short.
In the American League, some would say the Tampa Bay Rays are a surprise, but are they really? The Rays stunned the baseball world with their unexpected AL pennant in 2008, and likewise were a big disappointment in ’09 slumping to 84 wins after a horrendously slow start. They have a ton of talent, it goes deep, and despite lingering questions about their bullpen (especially missing lefty JP Howell) and the endurance of their fine starting rotation, they appear to be in the catbird seat of the AL East.
If any team in the AL East would rate as a pleasant surprise, it would be the Toronto Blue Jays who had the sorrow of divesting themselves of their All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay in the off-season. But the Jays have been resurgent they are bashing the ball, and have injected themselves into the thick of the pennant race. They are an entertaining team and will be a factor.
Among the big disappointments were the re-tooled Boston Red Sox, who stumbled out of the blocks and whose pitching-and-defense approach looked deficient. However a profitable weekend in Philadelphia, an opening win at Tampa Bay and the resurgence of “Big Papi” David Ortiz have enabled them to climb over .500, only 2 games behind the Yankees for the Wild Card, and all that with staff ace Josh Beckett on the DL. The Red Sox look like they will be on track to win their customary 95 or so games and they will take their chances with that.
An undeniable flop, however, is the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. The Pale Hose were expected to ride a solid attack with a strong pitching staff anchored by Mr. Perfect Mark Buehrle and a healthy former NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Peavy. So far, nothing doing for them. Buehrle has struggled as have the other starters, and while Alex Rios has been a pleasant surprise in the OF, last year’s rookie sensation Gordon Beckham has struggled. These are not happy days on the South Side and it’s tough to see things turning around this summer.
In the AL West, the onus is on the Seattle Mariners, who were active in the post-season to an extent unsurpassed by any other team. They added a high-priced free agent, Chone Figgins formerly of the Angels, who has been a dismaying bust. They traded for World Series hero Cliff Lee only to have him get hurt in spring training, and then not support him with runs. Nothing is sadder than their young ace, “King” Felix Hernandez, signed to a lucrative long-term deal yet struggling with a 3-4 record after another tough loss on Sunday when the M’s bullpen collapsed against the San Diego Padres. Hall of Fame-bound Ken Griffey Jr. appears to have lost his mojo and was the subject of an embarrassing story (heavily) denied that he fell asleep in the clubhouse. Whether true or not, his bat is in a deep, deep slumber.
We’ll take a look at the National League next.