The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Who are the contenders and pretenders after a surprising first month of the MLB season?

The 2024 presidential election cycle is starting to heat up. We’ve got the “old guys” with their hats in the ring. And then there are some relative newcomers who have cast their names on the nominee list. As with most political elections, the nominees include contenders and pretenders—those who have a strong case for election and those hoping for a miracle. Similarly, after a somewhat surprising month of the MLB season, there are contenders and pretenders.

In my reckoning, the overachievers are the Rays, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Rangers. The underachievers are the Cardinals, White Sox, and Mariners. The question is, will these teams stay this way?

The Tampa Bay Rays are the most surprising team thus far. As in recent years, they figured to be in hunt for a playoff berth this season, too. But it’s the way they started the season that is most surprising. After setting records by winning 13 straight to start the season, they are still the hottest team in both leagues, with a 23-5 record. The stat that defines their season thus far is their run-differential. They’ve always had solid pitching, but this year their offense is putting up Bronx Bomber-type of home run numbers with a lineup not generally known for hitting the long ball. The Rays are contenders. They could play .500 ball for the rest of the season and still count 90 wins.

After finishing last in the NL Central in 2022 with only 62 wins, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the second-most surprising team this year. They have posted the best record in the National League, 20-8. With the exception of all-star outfielder Bryan Reynolds and former MVP outfielder Andrew McCutcheon, they are mostly a team of no-name players. Closer David Bednar has been lights-out, with a .069 ERA and 9 saves already. However, 12 of the Pirates’ wins so far have come against four teams currently in last place in their respective divisions. This young team needs more seasoning, and I don’t see the Pirates sustaining their current level of play when facing tougher competition. The Pirates are pretenders. Pirates fans must believe that, too, as the Bucs are 14th out of 15 NL teams in attendance.

The Texas Rangers are atop the AL West Division with the Houston Astros, after finishing fourth in 2022. They took steps to improve over the winter, with the hiring of manager Bruce Bochy and the addition of starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney. That has paid off since the Rangers currently rank in the top 5 of the AL in several pitching categories. They’ll finish as a better-than-.500 team, which would be a minimum 14-game improvement. However, I put them in the pretender category for a postseason berth this season. But watch out for 2024.

The NL West Division teams don’t have much differentiation in win-loss records, except for the lowly Colorado Rockies. But one current surprise is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are challenging for first place. After a dismal record against division opponents last year, they are playing .500-ball this season. The D’backs will benefit from the reduced number of intra-division games this year. However, their team pitching stats are already well below league average in most of the key categories. I don’t see that improving. The Diamondbacks are pretenders.

The Baltimore Orioles seem to have picked up where they left off in 2022, when they were the surprise team in all of the majors with a 31-game improvement in wins. They are currently sporting a 18-9 record, 4 1/2 games behind the Rays. But unless Toronto and New York have a dramatic fall-off, Baltimore doesn’t figure into post-season activity this year.

The St. Louis Cardinals (10-18) are surprisingly in last place of the NL Central, largely because of an underperforming pitching staff in terms of runs allowed. Historically, the quality of their starters indicates they will pick up their performance as the season progresses. Offensively, the team is led by future Hall of Famers Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The Cards acquired All-Star catcher Willson Contreras to replace long-time Cardinal Yadier Molina. Second-year player Nolan Gorman is off to a fast start, while spring training rookie sensation Jordan Walker has already been sent back to the minors. When Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol publicly called out Tyler O’Neill for not hustling on the basepaths, the backlash rippled throughout the locker room. However, the Cardinals will get over their slow start to contend for the NL Central title. They don’t look like it right now, but the Cards will eventually become contenders.

Equally disappointing have been the Chicago White Sox, who are currently 7-21. Pedro Grifol might be struggling in his first rodeo as a major-league manager. His pitching staff is off to an awful start-- second-to-last in ERA (5.88), WHIP (1.582), ERA+ (78), and FIP (5.22). Fourteen games under .500 will be hard to make up. The only saving grace for the White Sox is that the AL Central Division is relatively weak. If I had to bet right now, I’d put them in the pretender category.

Even though the Seattle Mariners (11-16) currently hold fourth place in the AL West, only ahead of the hapless Oakland A’s, there isn’t anything to be overly concerned about at this point. They were projected to finish behind Houston and likely get a playoff berth. Nine of their losses have been in one-run games. Robbie Ray, 2021 Cy Young Award winner, who has pitched only 3 1/3 innings, will be lost for the rest of the season after requiring tendon surgery. That’s a huge loss. Outfielder Jarred Kelenic is having a breakout season and figures to be an offensive force along with last year’s Rookie of the Year sensation Julio Rodriguez. Despite the loss of Ray, the Mariners will be back in the hunt again as a postseason team.

The bottom line of my analysis, with few exceptions, is that April performance is not a good indicator of how teams will fare during the remainder of the season. The “surprise” performances are often temporary. The old adage is “a team can’t win a pennant in April” still holds true.

Back to politics, based on what I’ve seen so far for presidential candidates, I’m not too fired up about the forthcoming 2024 election. Our country should be able to do better than a couple of octogenarians with a lot of baggage as our leaders.

But I am pretty excited to see which major-league teams will come out of April to make a run at the pennants this Fall.

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)