Results tagged ‘ First Place ’
After 150 days spent this season with at least a share of the first place spot in the National League central division, the Milwaukee Brewers are experiencing their first big struggle of the year. In fact, having lost a National League best nine straight games — the most for them since 2010 — the Brewers not only find themselves fighting for the division title, but more importantly they’re struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive.
With Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals — a team that is a must beat for the Brewers — Milwaukee is currently tied with the Braves for the second Wild Card spot, but they could quickly lose it to the Braves if they don’t begin to play any better than they have lately.
The Brewers kicked off 2014 with one of the best starts in franchise history, posting a five game lead in the division after the first month of the season. Things looked to be headed in the right direction in Milwaukee, however, although the Brewers were able to play decent baseball through the All-Star break as well as much of August, the Brewers finally collapsed to the surging Cardinals on September 1st, when the Cards took a one game lead in the division and haven’t looked back since.
With a four game lead over the now second place Brewers, the Cardinals have gone from 1 and 1/2 games back of first to four games up on the Brewers in the span of a week, having won six games in a row.
To put into perspective how quickly things have gone south for the Brewers, back on August 19th they held their best chance of making the playoffs according to MLB.com of a great 94 percent chance, with a 63 percent chance of holding on to win the division. Now, after struggling for so long, the Brewers hold around a 50 percent chance of making it to the playoffs, with a mere 16 percent chance of coming back to take the division title. A near 50 percent drop in their chances of winning the division in the matter of a few weeks is pretty remarkable.
With the start of the 2014 postseason quickly approaching on September 30th, this four game series against the Cardinals is absolutely crucial for the Brewers. With three games remaining in the series, the Brewers could either finish things out against the Cardinals seven games back of first place — taking away most of the remaining hope of them making the playoffs — or they could find themselves back in contention just a single game out of first. It all depends on how well they can play.
Being one of the worst teams in the National League since the All-Star break, sitting in 11th place for runs scored, and near the middle of the pack in runs allowed by their pitchers, the Brewers are facing a major battle if they want to keep their postseason dreams alive.
What they need is a player or two to step up and begin to transform this team back into the group it was before the All-Star break.
The only problem being that Ryan Braun, who has been out for a bit of time but is respected to return soon, and Carlos Gomez, who is out with an injury, haven’t been doing too well as of late even when they were in the lineup. In addition, Jonathan Lucroy, who at one point in time was on people’s radar for a possible National League MVP, has been performing poorly over the past couple of weeks. Without those player carrying the team, it can be very difficult to get an offense going, not to mention a sinking pitching staff. But, as history has shown, nothing is impossible.
With 22 games left in the Brewers’ regular season, they still have time to turn things around. However, they have to start the turnaround now. After they finish out this series against their division rival Cardinals, the Brewers go on to play the Marlins and Reds, both of which can always make things difficult to pick up a win.
Following that, the Brewers head on the road to face the Cardinals, in what could once again be pivotal games, as well as the Pirates and Reds, before returning home to finish out the year with a three-game series against the Cubs.
Depending on how the Brewers fare between now and their final home series, the fans in Milwaukee could either be cheering on a playoff bound team in the final days of September, or they could be watching on television from afar, with aspirations of postseason glory in 2015.
For the first time since May of 2011, the Angels have taken over sole possession of first place in the American League West division. Heading into Monday night tied with the Athletics, who had the night off, the Angels went into Boston looking to pick up an all important win that would give them the lead in the division. Beating the Red Sox 4-2, the Angels now stand a half game ahead of the Athletics in the division, with the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball.
Having been chasing down the Athletics for the first place spot since the weeks approaching the All-Star break, the Angels were finally able to move within striking distance throughout the past month or so, winning 16 of their 29 games since the break. With 2009 being the last time the Angels made the playoffs, they are well on their way to ending the drought, now that they appear to have found their groove.
But it’s certainly taken awhile to get to this point.
After signing Albert Pujols back in 2012, who had recorded 30 or more home runs every season since his debut in 2001, the Angels were expected to do big things in the west. But some bad breaks and poor play by some of their players kept them from fulfilling their potential, finishing third in the division, even with Mike Trout taking home the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Then in 2013, after acquiring yet another star player in Josh Hamilton, the Angels were predicted by many to do dominate the division, but once again, injuries (Pujols missed a major portion of the year) and poor play caused them to tumble, finishing out the season 18 games back of first.
Not exactly what you picture as a bright future.
However, while things had gone terribly wrong in 2012 and 2013, the Angels have put things together so far in 2014. With just over a month remaining in the season, the Angels look to be firing on all cylinders. Mike Trout, who has become one of the game’s youngest superstars, has been having an MVP caliber season, and is on the verge of another 30 home run year. And although Josh Hamilton has been struggling once again this year, Pujols has had a major bounce back season from 2013, approaching 30 home runs for what would be the thirteenth time in his career.
But much of the Angels’ success this season has also come thanks to the overlooked players on their roster, none more so than their leadoff hitter, Kole Calhoun. Having turned into quite the productive player for the Angels, Calhoun has done nothing but get on base time and time again this season, allowing the next hitters of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton to drive him in; being a big reason for their overall success as a team.
On the pitching side of things, Garrett Richards has been fantastic, putting up great numbers, which has been extremely important, with Angels’ standout pitchers C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver both having down years. Without Calhoun and Richards playing the way they have, the Angels could be in a much different position than they currently are.
Though you never truly know what to expect from one season to the next, I’ll be the first to admit that I never saw this type of season coming from the Angels. When I made my final standings predictions back in March, I actually had the Angels finishing fourth, just ahead of the Astros, with the Rangers winning the division. With the Angels in first and the Rangers in dead last, with the worst record in all of baseball, it just goes to show that a few breaks here and there can truly make or break an entire season for any given team.
When Max Scherzer allowed a mere three hits over nine shutout innings in his first career complete game last week, I made the statement that, despite a dismal start to the season by the Tigers, the great outing by Scherzer could be the starting point in a turn around for the team.
But it appears I was wrong.
Lasting just four innings against the Royals on Tuesday, giving up a total of ten runs, and raising his ERA up to 3.84 on the season, Scherzer joins the long list of Tigers players who’ve struggled at some point this year.
More importantly, however, the Royals 11-4 rout of Scherzer after an 11-8 win against Justin Verlander the night before (the first time since 2011 that they’ve posted a double digit score in back-to-back games) helped them swap places with the Tigers, moving them into first place in the American League Central by a half game.
The first time the Royals have been in first place in their division this late into a season (70 games or beyond) since 2003, and the first time the Tigers haven’t held the first place spot in over a year, the great run by the Royals as of late should help to get their fan base excited, at least for the time being.
With a slow start to the year leading many people to once again assume that what was supposed to “finally” be the Royals’ year was yet again another bust, the Royals have gone from seven games back of first a month ago to leading the division. Thanks to a nine game winning streak (the longest winning streak for the Royals since July of last year) and to a struggling Tigers team, the Royals are seemingly in good shape to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985 (the longest drought in all of baseball).
It’s important to remember, however, that the AL Central is a very close division.
As I touched upon in a previous post, the Royals aren’t the only threat to the Tigers. Every single team in the entire division stands a legitimate chance at being at the top when the end of the year rolls around. Though the Tigers should be running away with things, struggles by most of their offense and the majority of their pitching staff has left more to be desired, giving every other team room to make a run.
The Twins are playing decent baseball (with the exception of a slow stretch lately); Jose Abreu and the White Sox are hanging in the mix; and the Indians are looking to pass the Tigers in a matter of days if the Tigers’ struggles continue. And thus, the Tigers need to turn things around fast.
With just under a month remaining until the All-Star break in mid-July — though teams will undoubtedly move up and down in the standings between now and then — things are setting up for an extremely exciting second half of an already eventful season.
The Toronto Blue Jays are red hot.
Extending their winning streak to eight straight games after Tuesday night’s win against the Rays, in which Mark Buehrle was good yet again, picking up his league-leading ninth win, the Jays currently sit atop the American League East division standings. Having now won thirteen of their last fifteen games played, the Jays are seemingly on their way to a somewhat surprising great season.
And therefore, while very few people predicted the Blue Jays to do much of anything in 2014, a lot of people are now beginning to rethink their original projections. Despite the fact that there are still over 100 games remaining in the season, people are starting to believe in the Jays.
But should they? Are the Blue Jays truly the favorites in the division, or are they simply on a hot streak?
Going back to last season when they were chosen by the majority of the baseball world to win the East after the numerous offseason moves they made, the Jays went on an 11-game winning stretch, much like the one they are currently on, only to wind up finishing out the year dead last. Though their overall offense is stronger this year (they are one of only four teams in baseball with thirty or more wins) and they appear to be swinging the bats more as a whole than they did in 2013 (they were 9.5 games back on this date in 2013), with the down spiral that occurred last year, it’s certainly interesting to think about.
While I placed the Blue Jays to finish last this year in my predictions, and still don’t believe that they’ll be able to maintain this amazing pace, they have definitely been impressive to this point. From Mark Buehrle dominating in all but one of his starts — becoming the first Jay since Roy Halladay in 2009 to win nine of their first ten decisions (he appears to be a front runner to start the All-Star game) — to veteran pitcher R.A. Dickey, and the entire Jays lineup clicking, including Jose Bautsista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, they could surprise some people.
As far as their offense goes, as stated, it’s definitely one of the best in baseball. The Jays lead all of the American League in team home runs by a wide margin — fourteen of which have come from Edwin Encarnacion this month alone (tying a franchise record for a month) — and they are finding a way to beat even the best starting pitchers the game has to offer. Picking up the series win over their past five series (something they hadn’t done since 2010) the Jays are setting all types of record that lead one to believe they mean business.
But even so, it’s very unlikely that things will last. As the past has shown, for the most part, you can only ride a stretch so far, and the streak they’re currently on is going to be very difficult to continue. Though it’s not impossible, it’s fairly improbable with the rotation they currently possess. While Buehrle and Dickey have been good, and should continue to be, their other pieces are average at best. A lot of people are in agreement that the Jays need one more pitching piece to truly stand a good shot at being relevant at the end of the season, and if they can pick up even one more pitcher, with the way their offense is firing on all cylinders, it could make all the difference.
The major name being discussed at the moment is the possible acquisition of Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. Though it’s a long shot, and would likely mean giving up a top prospect such as Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman which the Jays have shown they don’t want to do, it would definitely be a breath of fresh air for Samardzija who is a member of the struggling, last place Cubs. Being beneficial for both Samardzija and the Blue Jays, the trade would be a good one, but it’s one that would appear not likely at the moment.
And thus, while the Blue Jays are looking good for the time being, and very well could run away with things as time goes on, there’s still a lot of season left in which they have to maintain this level of play to stay in first place. Anything can happen, and with a somewhat weaker American League East division compared to year’s past, nearly any team stands a shot at placing first at the end of the season, Blue Jays included.