Parity, for the first time in a long time, is making itself known around baseball. Last year at this time nobody would have thought that the Oakland Athletics would win their division and the Baltimore Orioles would finish ahead of the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and all but three teams in the American League. This year, there are a lot of teams that you can say are the best team in baseball and Joe Sheehan did just that in his newsletter (which I highly recommend).
Sheehan took the time to call the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Nationals and Cincinnati Reds the best team in baseball. He made a solid case for all of them. Of that list, only the Angels and possibly Reds would have been on it a year ago. The winds are shifting in Major League Baseball and it’s refreshing. You may note that his list doesn’t include the Texas Rangers who won two of the last three American League pennants, the San Francisco Giants who won two of the last three World Series and the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays. It doesn’t even include the Orioles and Athletics who will try to repeat last year’s Cinderella runs or the Kansas City Royals who have quite a bit of pressure on them. Or those pesky St. Louis Cardinals who always play better when their season is on the line.
Much of the heat that the Nationals took for sitting Stephen Strasburg was the unknown of whether they will ever get another chance. You don’t give up a present advantage for a theoretical gain. That puts quite a bit of pressure on the team to do even better this year and they made moves to stay at the top. In The Extra 2 Percent, Jonah Keri writes that it is so hard to plan to win now and plan to stay on top like the Rays have done since 2008. It is the Nationals chance to try to see if they can do it as well.
Now that there are so many teams with chances to make the playoffs, and so few teams making it (compared to other professional sports), windows open and close pretty quickly. Just in the first two paragraphs I mentioned 14 teams – almost half of the league – who can possibly make a run to win the World Series this season. A list last year would have missed the Athletics and Orioles and maybe even the Nationals and Giants. Baseball has been waiting for years for something like this and it has been Bud Selig’s vision for this league. I have never seen as many story lines in January as we have had already this off-season and there are still a bunch of Scott Boras clients that haven’t signed yet.
A few days ago, I mentioned the process of winning. Now this is the ticking clock on how long that process has to win until they have to start over. For some teams, like the Yankees, it returns often enough. For teams like the Orioles and Athletics, they are trying to keep it going as long as they possibly can until they end up like the Minnesota Twins. The Rays and Dodgers trying to avoid becoming the Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals? They are just trying to build on their season from a year ago.