There are seasons that fall short, as an arrow falls within sight of but just short of the target.
Then there are seasons that fall short in a manner more akin to someone trying to jump between two buildings and ‘only just’ failing.
Every year as 29 teams look back on a season of not winning the World Series, some will shrug their shoulders and point out that though they didn’t say this from the start, they were never likely to make the postseason (Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Athletics, Mets, Nationals, Cubs, Pirates and Astros).
Then there’s the group that thought maybe they could, but it wasn’t a big surprise that they didn’t: Indians, Mariners, Marlins, Padres and Rockies. Then there are Twins, White Sox, Dodgers and Reds who had hopes of making it and many thought they could, but…didn’t. The Diamondbacks belong in a class of their own: teams who played above themselves to win their division, and it’s no great shock to see them lose in the Division Series. And of course there are the four teams still duking it out: the Rangers, Tigers, Cardinals and Brewers, who have all achieved as much or more as could be expected.
Which brings us to this column, and the teams who had high hopes, of making the postseason or getting to the World Series, but who are right now buffing their golf clubs ready for an offseason of coulda, shoulda, woulda.
So in reverse order of the epic…ness of their fail, please welcome:
7. Los Angels Anaheims of Angeles…or something
Manager Mike Scioscia is a winner, so any time he doesn’t win, it’s surprising, the more so when his rotations is headed up by probably Cy Young runner-up Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, with Ervin Santana occasionally ace-like behind them including a no-hitter. But pitching wasn’t their problem. Torii Hunter being very old and devoid of plate discipline is a problem. Dead weight multimillionaire Vernon Wells having an OBP of .248 is a problem. It’s a miracle these guys even got to 86 wins.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
I’m paying them a compliment putting them on the list of disappointments. After all, last offseason they lost Rafael Soriano (to a stupid free agent deal with the Yankees), Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford (free agency). BUT Joe Maddon has the same winning aura as Scioscia, and this was likely the last year of BJ Upton in a Rays uniform, and having made it to the postseason you figured they’d put up more of a fight against the Rangers than they did.
5. Atlanta Braves
Jair Jurrjens is in the top 10 pitchers in the National League, but was sidelined by knee problems through much of the second half of the season. Tommy Hanson, another excellent young pitcher, partially tore his rotator cuff, Jason Heyward (no.1 prospect in the country two seasons before) had a horrible year, batting just .227 with 14 home runs. And with no-one capable of picking up the slack (Uggla didn’t make contact with a ball until July), the Braves were left looking to 2012.
4. New York Yankees
I was surprised the Yankees even made the postseason at all, based on what looked like a pitching rotation of one. However, scrap heap pickups Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon showed sufficient regular season form to get them over the line, and AJ Burnett may just have found the strike zone this August for the first time in his career. In the Division Series against Detroit however, the fact that Garcia throws slightly softer than my 9 year old and with less movement, came back to bite them. As did the reality of having to rely on capable but raw rookie Ivan Nova, who’s not yet deserving of the “super” moniker applied to him.
3. San Francisco Giants
My list makes less sense the more I look at it, but here we are at no.3 with a team that apparently uses balsa wood instead of maple or ash. Tim Lincecum is an awesome starting pitcher. Ditto Matt Cain. Madison Bumgarner is capable, Jonathan Sanchez is very good and the bullpen is efficient, even though Brian Wilson has a more impressive beard than breaking ball. But the desperation trade for Carlos Beltran at the deadline when they gave up decent prospects for a rental guy with a gammy knee illustrated just how futile these guys were at the plate all year, even before Buster Posey was assaulted and lost for the season.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies were the trendy pre-season pick to win the World Series, which of course meant that they had no chance. Truth is, they lived up to their billing in the regular season only to be let down by both pitching and hitting against the Cardinals in the Division Series. Most notably, Cliff Lee (who got beat around by the Giants in the World Series last year as well) couldn’t hit his spots, Roy Oswalt has no fastball, and their OBP in the Division Series was 30 points lower than any other team at that stage in the competition – .269. The chief culprits were Howard, Polanco and Ruiz who went a staggering 5 for 55 between them.
1. Boston Red Sox
The Phillies’ lineup always looked fallible, whereas the Red Sox were decked with mashers and a pitching rotation more than capable of taking them to Happyland. However, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s seasons were ruined by injury and they kept trotting John Lackey out there. His 6.41 ERA could put him in the middle of a Little League rotation but having taken something hallucinogenic before signing him to a contract worth $16m/year, the Red Sox felt compelled to let him play at the big league level Big mistake.
So is it better to have played and lost, than never to have played at all? For fans of the Red Sox and Phillies this season, the answer may well be no.