Rozner: National League as wide open as ever

Baseball has been ruined by the “superteams.”
Yep, that was the narrative in spring training 2018. Too many teams tanking, too few teams with a chance to win the World Series, too many great teams dominating the sport.

Narratives come and go quickly in baseball these days, the national contingent landing on a conversation and passing it around the game as if it’s gospel.
Groupthink at its finest.
The problem is it hasn’t happened in the National League this year. All three division races were supposed to be over by June 1 and instead all three divisions are up for grabs.
The Cubs, Nationals and Dodgers were supposed to cruise into the playoffs, but going into Tuesday night the Cubs were in second place, 1½ back of the Brewers, the Dodgers were in second by a half-game, trailing Arizona and chased closely by the Giants and Rockies, and the Nationals were in third at .500, behind the Phillies and Braves.
So much for the NL superteams. So much for the ruined sport.
With the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros performing as expected, and the Mariners surprising just about everyone, the American League has four teams on pace for 95 wins, but the National League has just one in the Brewers as of Tuesday evening.
The Nationals, one of the guaranteed superteams, would have to finish 50-22 to win 95 games.
The average number of 95-win teams has been four the last decade, with some years five and some at three. The current pace is five — including Seattle, which no one forecast — so not what you would call an extraordinary occurrence.
Five of the six divisions have great races shaping up for the second half, and the only division already decided is the AL Central, where the Indians have not played like a superteam and are winning easily only because the rest of the teams are so bad.
But is that because of tanking? Only the White Sox and Tigers in the Central have announced their intentions, while the Twins are trying to win and the Royals held on to their World Series stars too long for a small-market operation needing to turn over the roster.
There are many bad teams trying to win and just aren’t good at it, like the Orioles, Blue Jays, Rangers, Mets and Pirates, and fewer teams than expected actually pulling the plug as did the White Sox, admitting they are losing in hopes of future winning.
The Reds were supposed to be terrible but have played better than .500 over their last 73 games, since Jim Riggleman took over as manager, and are planning to boost the payroll in 2019.
At the same time, even the supposed superteams are flawed. The Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Yanks, Red Sox and Indians all have issues they are trying to address before the trade deadline, and these are not small problems.
The Astros are the only great team that seems to have little to worry about, and even they have intentions of picking up at least one late-inning arm before the postseason, and it remains to be seen how the Astros’ hurlers who pitched into November will handle another long playoff run.
So if you think back to the spring-training storylines, it was supposed to be the most boring baseball season ever.
Five divisions were decided and the sixth was New York vs. Boston, with all of it sewn up before a pitch was thrown in anger.
Instead, only one division race is done and only one wild card is a certainty, coming from the AL East.
The second half looks as if it will be quite entertaining, and there is much to be determined before October.
Unless they have altered the process, only one team can come out of the American League, where four teams have a very good chance, and only one from the National League, where as many as nine teams think they can get it done with the right mix of improved performance and acquisition.
Only a few months ago, the screaming was that superteams and tanking were ruining the game, and that rules must be changed immediately to fix a broken system.
So much for narratives.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

Source: Sports

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