The World Cup moves on, as you knew it must. This is not a nation that, after all, tends to watch things without a serious rooting interest, and now that America has gotten the pointed end of Belgium’s boot, its eyes turn elsewhere. To NBA and NHL free agency . . . to the NBA already unveiling the beginning of its 2017 lockout strategy . . . to NFL training camps, and the various forms of tedious hell they provide . . . and to the fascinating revelation that baseball finally belongs to us.
Us, of course, being the West Coast.
This may come as a bit of an annoyance to the networks who provide our national baseball coverage, as they have never gotten their skulls around a world that does not involve the Yankees, Red Sox, Red Yanks or Soxees. But screw ‘em – the two teams MLB relies upon to be their perpetual show ponies are 79-87, with a run differential of minus-70. Their money no longer spends better than, say, the Dodgers or Angels money, and even if they do weasel their way into the postseason, they are too flawed to make much of a dent.
Ahh, but in God’s Country, which is defined by the Pacific Time Zone and in which driving to see the ocean is no more than an hour by car, we’ve got it nailed. Five of the top eight teams meet that important criterion, and a sixth, San Diego, is fully into its Amish stage offensively, where its bats and the bat rack that holds them have been converted into spokes for the wagons that bring the goods from farm to market in the very best 18th century agrarian way.
In other words, the Padres have already fired their general manager, may end up firing their far more capable manager, and in any event are on a pace (and here we apologize to all living creatures on earth) to finish the season with 484 runs scored, the lowest number by any team in a full season since the very first Padre team in 1969.
The seventh Pacific time zone team, Arizona, doesn’t actually count, as it is hours away from the ocean, a desert with shopping malls, and in either event was eliminated from contention while playing the Dodgers. In Australia. In March.
But the A’s, Giants, Dodgers, Angels and Mariners thrive. They are a combined 239-179 with a cumulative RD of plus-326, which averages out to 48-35 and an RD of plus-65. In other words, as a boiled down version of themselves, they would have the second-best record and the third-best run differential.
To break down each team’s components individually is a fascinating but ultimately pointless task. They all pitch to one extent or other (the Angels have a below-average ERA but are 12th in opponents OPS and 11th in WHIP; there are better metrics but the tale is the same). They all have sturdy rotations, while the two L.A. schools could use some bullpen help STAT (and no, Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri isn’t the be-all and end-all of help).
They hit better than the average, except for Seattle – even the Giants’ OPS-plus after their current freefall is 11th. And they are all above league average at catching and throwing the ball.
The message is clear – baseball is heading west, at least for the moment, and if that results in an October with clement weather, early start times and network executives screaming at Bud Selig for not devising ways to cheat the Sox and Yanks into the postseason anyway, well, Bud gets paid more than enough to refer the TV people to the business finger on his right hand.
Besides, he says he’s leaving in January with a nest egg that more resembles a poultry farm, so what does he care? It’s nice to have so much money and be far enough down your life span to tell television to eat a heaping bowl of ratings death, ain’t it, Allan? Oh, sorry. You were meeting with the blue-ribbon panel again, and couldn’t get to your phone. Well, whenever you have a minute.
Now we don’t pretend that things will stay static, because nothing stays static in baseball. The sport has 2430 games, give or take the odd rainout, and some of the Five Westies may fall off as summer turns to fall. But right now, three of the five teams are at their expected win totals for the numbers they have produced, and the A’s and Mariners are actually underperforming by five games each. In other words, while they might be thinned out, there is no available evidence to suggest that they actually will.
The only real problem, then, and this isn’t much of one, is that if the AL West gets the A’s, Angels and Mariners in, one will be eliminated immediately in the one-and-done game. But the delicious possibility of having a Dodgers-Giants and Angels-A’s Championship Series fest is, frankly, more than any of us have ever imagined.
And conversely, worse than any network executive has ever contemplated. Now even if you’re actually a Brewers or Tigers or Blue Jays or Braves fan and the West Coast scenario doesn’t particularly move you, the vision of TV people throwing up in a bucket truly is its own reward.
Now if NBC ever gets the MLB package again, we may be mandated to feel differently, but for the moment, hurl away, suits. As long as we get what WE want, we’re cool with you sniveling about worst-case scenarios.