Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 7:49 PM
When the 2012 Major League Baseball season began, the consensus favorites to contend for playoff spots were Texas, the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit, the New York Yankees, Boston, and Tampa Bay. Those teams have run into each other quite a bit as we approach the completion of the three-week mark of the new campaign. This weekend, Tampa Bay at Texas and Detroit at the New York Yankees will continue the trend of “playoffs in April.”
Let’s see how those “big six” have done versus each other heading into this weekend. Now, it’s true that the current American League standings aren’t registering those teams as a big six. Baltimore, Cleveland, and the Chicago White Sox have crashed the party temporarily thanks to the joys of short term runs or favorable schedules. But, if you’re focused on handicapping Power Ratings and market prices, the powers are still the powers. Nobody thinks Baltimore is a playoff contender even if ESPN’s standings give them about a 20% chance to reach the postseason. The White Sox are on the verge of being a coin flip for the postseason, which strikes us as overstating the case.
Here are the standings through Thursday afternoon action…
BIG SIX AGAINST EACH OTHER
Tampa Bay: 8-5
NY Yankees: 5-6
LA Angels: 1-5
It has to be really scary for the American League that the Texas Rangers are playing .778 ball against the most respected teams in the circuit! ESPN’s standings page already has them at 97% to reach the playoffs after just 19 games! On the one hand, that seems to underestimate the role injuries can play over a long season. But, it’s hard to argue in this case. Texas has so much talent and pitching that they really are likely to coast into the playoffs barring a few different miracles. If they’re doing THIS vs. a tough early schedule, what’s going to happen when they run into the bad teams?
The Yankees are a disappointment. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the AL East may not be the home of great baseball any more. Boston’s best days may be behind them. Tampa Bay is always a “finding value on a lower payroll” team that has trouble putting together a truly blockbuster roster. The Yankees may be the best of a weaker field than you were thinking. Let’s break down their record more directly:
2-0 vs. Boston
2-1 vs. LAA
1-2 vs. Texas
0-3 vs. Tampa Bay
That’s 4-1 vs. the two biggest disappointments in the league so far, and 1-5 vs. Texas and Tampa Bay. We’re very interested to see how Detroit-NYY plays out this weekend because we may see the clincher that the Yankees just aren’t all that great any more. Losing Pineda was a big blow (though their expectations for him were a bit crazy given how much velocity he lost over the second half of last season).
We like what we’re seeing from Tampa Bay so far. You’ll note that they’ve played more games vs. tough opponents than anyone else. They have a winning record within this elite Power Rating field, which is defacto evidence that they’re a playoff caliber team. If you’re holding your own within the cream of the crop, you’re part of the cream of the crop! This is what makes Texas so amazing. Tampa Bay is doing a good job. Texas is off the charts. That makes the other elite series this weekend very interesting as well. Could this be an AL Championship preview?
You’ve read a lot about the woes of Boston and the LA Angels so far. Bobby Valentine is under fire with the first team because he was an unpopular hire to begin with. The local players were surprised, and the local media shocked that so little diligence was put into replacing Terry Francona. With the latter team, Albert Pujols is getting all the media blame for the slow start because the Halos spent so much to acquire him. We showed you earlier this week that the bullpen and the back end of the rotation were to blame too.
Is there a chance for Boston and LAA to get back into the playoff discussion, at least in terms of competing against the elites?
*With Boston, we’re skeptical until there’s a managerial change. Hiring Valentine didn’t fix the team’s chemistry problems, it just got rid of the guy who couldn’t do anything about the team’s chemistry problems! Management needs to get serious about finding the bad apples and getting rid of them. Too many smart people mayhave fled the scene for that to happen.
*With LAA, we’re more optimistic because Pujols is EXTREMELY likely to start hitting unless he’s trying to hide an injury. He can carry a team for weeks just by showing up and playing to career norms. Plus, the pitchers throwing below expectations should regress to their norms as well. Any rotation with Weaver and Wilson up at the top is going to do well over time. There’s time to get things settled, and a lot of games with Seattle and Oakland down the road in the unbalanced schedule.
Right now…we see Texas as head and shoulders above the field. Maybe Tampa Bay will change our minds about that this weekend. The Rays and Tigers are behind Texas as 2A and 2B in our view. Let’s see if Detroit’s new starting pitchers can keep holding their own. The Yankees are a bit of a mystery because we don’t trust much of their rotation and the batting order is getting old. They might be a surprisingly distant fourth…or they might be 2C in a virtual dead heat with Detroit and Tampa Bay.
We’ll keep an eye on Boston and LAA to see if they start performing like playoff teams. In terms of the rest of the field, the White Sox and Blue Jays are on our short list of possible playoff surprises. We’ll talk more about those two teams down the road if they continue to hang around the big picture.
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