It is that grand time of year again, the time when the winter of our discontent can finally be ended by a glorious summer of baseball. Sorry for the Shakespeare reference, but finally the time has come. Spring training is the time when Spring hope springs eternal for most baseball fans; in San Francisco the Giants rest on the laurels of victory; in Philadelphia and Boston they pride themselves on a winter of riches; in Los Angeles the Angels fumble further into what is either the great undiscovered baseball strategy for the next century or management idiocy; and in Cleveland and Chicago, the fans will try and convince themselves that maybe this is the year of the championship of which they have been deprived of for so long. Hope truly can spring eternal in February, except in the city of New York.
Moshe Mandel over at the newly forged The Yankee Analysts went over the pessimistic circumstances of the Yankees offseason here. Admittedly, I may have stolen a bit from their article; so be it. Basically, it’s not as bad as we think. What I am going to stress in this article is how unpredictable baseball is, or at least has become.
Go back to last year. The Giants, coming off of a third-place finish, had not been in the playoffs since the legendary days of Bonds and his pornographically high wOBA’s and SLG’s. The team that had gone from Pac Bell to ATnT without going anywhere, from home-run villain Bonds to strike-out hero Lincecum without going anywhere, seemed about as likely to move anywhere in 2010 as the drifters of Haight-Ashbury.
It would be the Yankees. It had to be the Rays. The Phillies were the best. The beasts of the east, it seemed, would dominate baseball for another year. April proved the sages correct; the Rays and Yankees came in first and second, respectively. Robinson Cano was batting .400; Evan Longoria was looking for his cap. May and June moved on, and the Phillies rose from an early onset of springtime mediocrity and were starting to make even the great Bobby Cox, in his last season, fear for his divisional sanctity. In the distant, cool, and in some ways foreign NL West, the Padres were the great surprise of the year; on a small budget, the team used pitching (and… Adrian Gonzales) to give themselves the best record in the league. The Giants continued, it seemed, to continue their streak of suffering by the bay.
You’ve all heard the stories at this point; I’m quite sure if you’ve made it this far, you care enough to know that Buster Posey was the great turning point. The young Giants catcher emerged and seemed to give a gift of life to the team. They started winning. No one noticed; but they were winning.
While in the East great dragons battled it out for domination, the Giants battled with little fanfare against the Rockies and the Padres. Then, the slide. The press finally paid attention only when the Padres lost ten in a row. The war was on; as the season closed out, it was all inter-divisional play. The Giants won the division on the last day, by one game.
And yet still they were not favorites. No, they said, it would be the Phillies, for their rotation was the best. Alak! they decried, it shall be the Rays, for no team has their grit (wtf?). And yet game by game, the playoffs progressed; and then it was two. The Giants and the Rangers. There could be only one. And it was… the Giants.
Statistically, it would make sense that after a year of culminating a narrative about 2010 being the year of the pitcher, the team that actually had the best ERA won. The Giants were not a 2006-Cardinals-like team, that just got hot at the right time. They were arguably the best team in baseball in 2010. And yet it was unheralded. Could one make the case for the Yankees? We won’t know until we get there. But you didn’t pick the Giants in 2010; no one is picking the Yankees in 2011. That said, no one is picking the Orioles either, but you know what I mean. The Phillies and the Red Sox are early favorites. But we may rethink that in November.
I guess what I’m saying is fairly ambiguous; you just can’t predict baseball.