Will the Los Angeles Angels miss the playoffs?
With a month remaining in the 2012 MLB season, the primary focus is on teams that are in the pennant race, contending for division titles and wild-card playoff spots.
Standing just outside the spotlight yet still noticeable, however, are the teams that were expected to join the playoff chase this season but have become afterthoughts in September.
In limbo are the clubs that still have a chance at the postseason but weren't expected to be fighting for their playoff lives at this point of the year. These teams already carry the stench of unfulfilled expectations but still have an opportunity to wash it away.
At this point, however, these seven clubs have been the biggest disappointments. Two have a chance to save themselves, but the other four are already looking toward next year.
Since compiling a 21-8 record in May, the Marlins have been such a disappointment that it's easy to forget they were expected to be a contender in the NL East.
As of Sept. 8, the Marlins were in last place with a 62-77 record, putting them 23.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.
After signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in free agency, along with the bump that was sure to come with a new ballpark, new uniforms and a new manager, 2012 was supposed to begin a new era of Marlins baseball.
Instead, it's looked much like the same ol' situation. Going 8-18 in June completely derailed the Marlins' season, and the team was never able to recover.
That compelled the front office and ownership to sell off players such as Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante at the trade deadline; a move that Marlins fans were all too familiar with.
Does owner Jeffrey Loria really intend to build a championship contender in Miami or was building a new ballpark just a money grab? This offseason will be telling.
Will the Marlins chase top free-agent talent again or trade more of their best players such as Josh Johnson?
The Boston Red Sox finally embraced reality in August. This team was not going to contend for a playoff spot.
In a division with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, a division title or wild-card bid was not assured. But a possible last-place finish in the AL East is far below what was expected. Watching the Baltimore Orioles emerge as a contender can only add to the pain.
As a result, general manager Ben Cherington and owner John Henry blew up the roster before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline, sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Clearing $260 million from future payroll was an exhale for an organization that had become bloated and entitled. Red Sox management can spend the rest of the season and offseason cleaning out the remaining bad attitudes that linger in the clubhouse.
Manager Bobby Valentine will almost certainly be fired after the season. Will that be enough to change a toxic atmosphere surrounding the team?
The Red Sox have given themselves an opportunity to make over their roster, one that teams with big contracts bogging down payrolls don't typically enjoy. Less will be expected from Boston next season.
Perhaps this team will thrive under the radar.
With an aging, creaky roster, perhaps we should have foreseen a fall from the top for the Philadelphia Phillies.
But the Phillies were out of playoff contention almost from the beginning, as injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley severely reduced their run production. Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco and Freddy Galvis also battled injuries as the season progressed, further hobbling a team expected to contend for another NL East title.
Thanks to the Marlins and New York Mets plummeting at the end of the season, the Phillies likely won't suffer the indignity of a last-place finish. But they were nowhere near contending for the postseason, which has not been business as usual in Philadelphia.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took on the unfamiliar role of seller at the July 31 trade deadline, dealing away outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. This gives the Phillies an opportunity for more payroll flexibility and to become younger and more athletic in the outfield.
But can Amaro make the right moves to fill gaping holes in the outfield and third base for next season? If so, the Phillies should contend in the NL East in 2013. Otherwise, Philadelphia could be staring up at the Nationals and perhaps the Atlanta Braves for years to come.
Perhaps it's premature to label the Detroit Tigers a disappointment.
The Tigers are only one game out of first place in the AL Central (after briefly tying for the top spot after the Labor Day holiday weekend) and could easily overtake the Chicago White Sox for a division title.
Detroit will likely have to win the AL Central to qualify for the postseason, however, as a tight race for the two wild-card playoff spots has pushed them 3.5 games off the pace.
Winning the division was perceived as a formality for the Tigers going into the season. Detroit already looked like the AL Central favorite coming off last year's division title. The surprise signing of Prince Fielder, adding him to a roster that already had Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, appeared to make them even stronger.
But general manager Dave Dombrowski didn't assemble a complete roster, patching holes in left field and second base rather than fully addressing them. The Tigers have spent virtually the entire season trying to compensate for those offseason failures and it could end up costing them.
Making the playoffs and putting together a long postseason run could erase any feelings of disappointment. The Tigers still have a chance to do that. But the vibe around this team right now is one of an opportunity squandered.
With a lineup that included NL MVP Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, coupled with a starting rotation that featured Zach Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo, the Milwaukee Brewers looked like a team capable of defending its NL Central championship.
Instead, injuries quickly knocked the Brewers out of contention.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, first baseman Mat Gamel and starting pitcher Chris Narveson—all of whom were expected to be major contributors—suffered season-ending injuries.
Jonathan Lucroy missed most of June and July with a broken hand, derailing a breakout season. And Shaun Marcum has been able to make only 16 starts after being sidelined for most of July and August with an elbow injury.
General manager Doug Melvin tried to sign Zack Greinke to a contract extension, but Giants pitcher Matt Cain's six-year, $127 million deal signed before the season changed the market for starting pitching. The Brewers traded him to the Los Angeles Angels before the July 31 deadline; a disappointing development for a team that aspired to so much more this season.
With the Cincinnati Reds emerging as an NL Central power, the St. Louis Cardinals maintaining their high level of play and the Pittsburgh Pirates looking like the up-and-comer in the division, the Brewers could face a years-long uphill climb back to playoff contention.
How many pegged the Los Angeles Angels as a World Series favorite after adding free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to a roster that already looked strong enough to contend in the AL West?
And that was before we knew that rookie Mike Trout would emerge as an AL MVP candidate and five-tool talent, beginning what looks to be a long superstar career.
Adding Zack Greinke at the trade deadline to a starting rotation that already featured Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren gave the Angels an almost embarrassing surplus of pitching power.
Even if this team couldn't overtake the still-strong Texas Rangers in the AL West, the Angels would certainly make the playoffs as a wild card, right?
Instead, the Angels might finish the 2012 season as the most disappointing team in baseball. As of Sept. 8, the Halos are seven games behind the Rangers and 2.5 games behind the no-name Oakland Athletics in their division.
However, the Angels are two games away from a wild-card playoff spot, so the postseason is still attainable. If this team qualifies for the playoffs, who's to say it can't make a run at the World Series with the talent on hand?
This wasn't a one-year window for the Angels. This is a team built to contend for years to come. But not making the playoffs when the opportunity was absolutely available would be a major letdown for a team that was expected to do so much more.
Can a team make the biggest trade in baseball history, fail to make the playoffs and not be considered a disappointment? The Los Angeles Dodgers could very well answer that question for us.
Since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez (the slugging first baseman and middle-of-the-order hitter that the team sought all season), Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers have lost eight of 13 games (as of Sept. 8).
That includes a 5-2 loss on Friday to the San Francisco Giants that pushed the Dodgers 5.5 games out of first place in the NL West. The Dodgers have four weeks to make up that ground, but it's looking more like the NL Wild Card will have to be their entry into the playoffs.
For a team that once held a seven-game lead in the division (as of May 23)—even before turning its payroll into a money-absorbent sponge that would take on huge contracts in pursuit of superstar talent—and eventually overhauled its roster before both of MLB's trade deadlines, not making the postseason has to be considered a disappointment.
Though the Dodgers and their new ownership tried to sidestep the usual obstacles to making huge in-season trades with its massive financial resources, building a club on the fly doesn't often work. General manager Ned Colletti added some impressive pieces to his roster but couldn't put together a complete team.
The trade with the Red Sox did have an eye on the future, however, so it's not like the Dodgers watched a one-year window close if they don't make the playoffs. But expectations changed with new ownership and a new influx of talent. Not living up to those aspirations would be a huge letdown.
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