Guest Author - Joe Mancini
Last week we talked about the teams that have positioned themselves to compete into the latter stages of the season. Today, we will shift focus to the teams that were expected to do well but so far haven't met expectations. It's a sadder story, but it's part of every season.
The Toronto Blue Jays were once a model franchise. Prospering in Canada's major metropolitan area, they were the favorite team for most of those north of the border. They rose to heights with two World Series victories in 1992 and 1993. Since then, however, results have been substandard and the crowds that once thronged to Rogers Centre have thinned considerably. The Blue Jays have the burden of competing in the toughest division in baseball, the American League East. But they also have many advantages: a truly national constituency, and big-market clout that matches even the New York Yankees. Under the leadership of young General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, the Jays made significant moves to inject themselves squarely into a race that seemed to be characterized by aging Yankees and a Boston Red Sox team in serious need of revamping. The Jays made a seeming heist of deal with the Miami Marlins, bringing a wealth of high-quality players such as pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle; they dealt for 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R. A. Dickey; and they signed free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, who had been enjoying an All-Star and possibly Most Valuable Player-quality season with the San Francisco Giants before falling afoul of the game's drug policy. These players were going to added to stars Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. None of it has worked out. The team did not gel, no one is having good years and the Jays fell to the cellar and remain there. The next question will be whether they stay the course and hope for bounce-back years next season, or conduct their own fire-sale before this season's trade deadline at the end of July.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fell from their lofty perch of dominating the American League West for most of the early part of the century with the ascent of the Texas Rangers in 2010. Now the Oakland Athletics have joined the Rangers as big dogs. The Angels brought in the Rangers' Josh Hamilton as their big-name free agent signing to go with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick, but alas ace Jered Weaver went down early and too little pitching has saddled them with a huge burden to bear. They're in third place, but it's going to be unlikely that will climb back into the divisional race or even make much headway in the Wild Card extravaganza. There has even been talk that Mike Scioscia, the Halos' manager, might be in trouble but that seems very unlikely. I don't see them emptying the cupboard but I don't see them as buyers, either. The Angels have tons of TV money, they will reload and try again next season.
In the National League West, the Angels' Freeway Series rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have had a similarly disappointing start to their season, even worse since they are buried in last place. The Dodgers have a Yankees-sized payroll, as is appropriate in their big-time market, and they loaded up with stars from the Boston Red Sox in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and pitcher Josh Beckett. They went into the free agent market and picked up Zack Greinke from the Angels to join 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. But MVP-candidate Matt Kemp has struggled and been hurt, outfielder Andre Ethier has done little, and the team is seemingly out of it. The best news has been the arrival of Cuban import Yasiel Puig, who has had a magical start to his MLB career, and the emergence of outfielder Scott Van Slyke. Still, Southern California is unlikely to be seeing baseball in October.
Finally we tun our attention to the nation’s capital, where the reigning National League East champs, the Washington Nationals, blasted their way to 98 wins in 2012 before an untimely exit in the playoffs. Expectations were that manager Davey Johnson, in his final season, would return to the World Series that he won with the New York Mets in 1986. Alas, such does not appear to be the case. Phenoms Steven Strasburg and Bryce Harper on the DL; second baseman Danny Espinoza cannot hit, other pitchers and players expected to help carry the load have not done enough. They’re not finished, but it has gotten late early in Foggy Bottom.