The 5 Luckiest and Unluckiest MLB Teams of 2012

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

The 5 Luckiest and Unluckiest MLB Teams of 2012

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    Skill and production lead to wins in the MLB, but there is no denying that luck certainly plays a factor over the course of the season.

    Whether it is production coming from unexpected places, winning close games or losing important players to unavoidable injuries, there is some element of good and bad luck for each MLB team.

    So here is a look at the five luckiest and five unluckiest MLB teams of the 2012 season, as we put the finishing touches on what has been a great year.

No. 5 Luckiest: Texas Rangers

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    How have the Texas Rangers been lucky this season? Well to put it simply, they are lucky they have such a fantastic offense to carry their team, because their pitching staff has been a mess.

    With C.J. Wilson replaced by Yu Darvish the rotation was expected to be similarly effective this season, and on paper they have been with a respectable 3.91 ERA as a staff and the highest combined WAR of any staff in baseball at 22.3.

    However, a closer look shows just how hard it's been for the Rangers to get to that point. In total, 11 different pitchers have started a game for the team this year, with only Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison making over 25 starts.

    An arm injury ended Neftali Feliz's season early and has shelved Colby Lewis for the remainder of the year as well. The Roy Oswalt experiment hasn't worked out, and Ryan Dempster has been hit-and-miss since coming over from the Cubs at the deadline.

    Yet through all that, the offense has continued to dominate, averaging 5.1 runs per game and hitting a collective .275, leading the majors in both categories. So why are the Rangers lucky? Because they can get away with having a shaky staff, thanks to their dominant offense.

No. 5 Unluckiest: Tampa Bay Rays

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    If there is one person in all of baseball that his team cannot afford to lose, my vote would go to Evan Longoria for the offensively-challenged Rays.

    However, lose him they did when he went down with a hamstring injury on April 30 and did not return until August 7. The team struggled to replace both his production and his leadership in his absence.

    On the season, the Rays are 35-25 when Longoria is in the lineup and 43-45 without him, as he has proven invaluable to his team's postseason hopes.

    As it stands today, the Rays are 5.5 games back in the wild card and 6.5 games back in the AL East, as their playoff hopes get slimmer and slimmer each day. One has to wonder where the Rays would be right now if their most important player had been healthy for the whole year.

No. 4 Luckiest: St. Louis Cardinals

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    After losing Adam Wainwright for the season in spring training last year, the Cardinals were again dealt a blow when Chris Carpenter was shelved indefinitely.

    Luckily, they had Lance Lynn to step into his rotation spot, and the 25-year-old has gone 16-7 with a 3.79 ERA on the season, making the All-Star team in the process.

    Carpenter's absence shifted veteran Kyle Lohse into the staff ace role, and he's thrived in a contract year, going 15-3 with a 2.71 ERA. 

    If that wasn't enough to overcome, the team also lost Jaime Garcia for two months in the middle of the year. Prospect Joe Kelly was there to step in though, and he's gone 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 16 unexpected starts.

    Offensively, the team has dealt with injuries all over the lineup, but the versatility and production of Allen Craig has been invaluable in plugging lineup holes. It's been an impressive display of organizational depth by the Cardinals all season that has kept them in position to make the postseason, assisted slightly by a bit of luck that several of their healthy pitchers greatly exceeded expectations.

No. 4 Unluckiest: Kansas City Royals

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    They could still wind up besting their 71-91 record from last season, but it is safe to say that far less optimism has come from the 2012 campaign.

    Coming off of a phenomenal rookie season, Eric Hosmer got off to a disastrous start. While he's raised his numbers to .240 BA, 14 HR, 58 RBI, there is no question that more was expected from him and will be expected from him moving forward.

    The trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez looked disastrous until Cabrera tested positive for PEDs, but still was a major disappointment as Sanchez struggled mightily and was subsequently released.

    Pitching has been the team's biggest issue, and losing Danny Duffy (2-2, 3.90 ERA) and Felipe Paulino (3-1, 1.67 ERA) to Tommy John surgery after solid starts were certainly unlucky breaks.

    Catcher Salvador Perez also missed a significant chunk of time, but has still hit .304 BA, 11 HR, 36 RBI in 66 games. He looks like he could be a really good one. Still, a number of unlucky breaks have meant a step back for the Royals in 2012. 

No. 3 Luckiest: Atlanta Braves

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    The Braves opened the season with more starting pitching than they knew what to do with. Even after trading Derek Lowe to the Indians, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Julio Teheran were all vying for rotation spots.

    However, Vizcaino was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery before it even started, and after 13 brilliant starts Beachy suffered the same fate.

    Jurrjens pitched so poorly early on that he was demoted and he has never quite figured things out, while Teheran struggled mightily in Triple-A only a season after dominating the league.

    Delgado made 17 starts before being sent down, and Minor pitched poorly early on before figuring things out and locking down his rotation spot.

    So how does all of this make the Braves lucky? Well somehow, they pieced together a rotation, with reclamation project Ben Sheets (4-4, 3.54 ERA) making eight big starts, Paul Maholm being acquired from the Cubs at the deadline, and most important of all, Kris Medlen. 

    Medlen, a 26-year-old who has bounced between the bullpen and rotation for four seasons, made 38 relief appearances before joining the rotation out of necessity. In 10 starts since, he's gone 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA, and has emerged as the ace of the staff.

No. 3 Unluckiest: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Even with Ryan Howard expected to be out for a couple months and Chase Utley's Opening Day status uncertain, the Phillies opened the season with most believing they had a solid chance to return to the playoffs.

    Instead, Howard and Utley would be sidelined for far longer than expected, with Howard debuting on July 6 and Utley kicking off his season on June 27. By the time those two were in the lineup together for the first time, the Phillies were 37-48 on the season and a whopping 17 games behind the Nationals.

    There was more to blame than just those two injuries, as the always durable Roy Halladay also suffered an injury, and players underperformed up and down the roster.

    The setbacks that their two star sluggers faced on the comeback trail dug them a big enough hole that even though they've gone 18-7 in their last 25 games, they are still just a game over .500.

No. 2 Luckiest: Chicago White Sox

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    The White Sox entered the season expecting to begin rebuilding, even trading star outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos in the offseason.

    However, the team performed well early, and the front office shifted its mindset as Chicago quickly became a legitimate contender in the AL Central.

    Alex Rios and Adam Dunn have done complete 180s on their performance last season, Jake Peavy has returned to form, Chris Sale has made a seamless transition from bullpen to rotation and A.J. Pierzynski is having the best offensive season of his career at the age of 35.

    They were fortunate enough to acquire Kevin Youkilis to fill what was a black hole at third base production-wise, and have gotten an unexpected boost from Jose Quintana in the rotation. All told, things really could not have gone better for the White Sox so far this season.

No. 2 Unluckiest: Colorado Rockies

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    The Rockies entered the season with legitimate playoff aspirations, but those were quickly dealt a blow when superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki went down with a groin injury just 47 games into the season. He has yet to return, and likely won't this season.

    Throughout the season, the team's starting pitching has been almost unbelievably bad, making the trade of Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA) to the Orioles for Jeremy Guthrie (3-9, 6.35 ERA) even tougher to swallow.

    Cap it all off with the fact that the team signed veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.4 million deal this past offseason to bridge the gap to prospect Wilin Rosario, only to see Rosario seize the job immediately, leaving the team stuck with Hernandez's contract and poor production, and you'd have to say that not much has broken in the Rockies favor this year.

No. 1 Luckiest: Baltimore Orioles

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    It's not often that a team with only two pitchers left from its Opening Day rotation is in the playoff hunt, but the Orioles have managed to patch together their rotation all season long behind Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen.

    Left fielder Nolan Reimold was enjoying a breakout start to the season before being lost for the year to a neck injury, and the team has used a total of 10 different left fielders, none for more than 38 starts on the season.

    Guys like Lew Ford, Omar Quintanilla and Nate McLouth have seen more big league playing time than anyone could have anticipated, and 19-year-old Manny Machado has managed to shore up third base.

    What I'm driving toward here is that not much has gone according to plan for the Orioles this season, yet they continue to win games and look to have a great shot of making the postseason. But how?

    Simple: They win close games. The team is an amazing 27-8 in one-run games this year and 15-2 in extra innings. Call it luck, call it magic, call it whatever you want, but the Orioles certainly have something on their side this season.

No. 1 Unluckiest: Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Blue Jays entered the season with expectations of improving on last season's 81-81 showing and seemingly had all the pieces to contend for a postseason spot this year.

    They stayed in the thick of things early and were just two games out of first place at the end of May, but after that injuries began to set in.

    Once the injuries started, they didn't stop. Hitters J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista all missed significant time. The pitching staff was even worse off, as Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchinson, Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos were all lost for the season and Brandon Morrow also missed a good chunk of the season.

    As a result the Blue Jays have trotted out a good deal of young talent this season, and while that may very well benefit them in the long run, there is no question 2012 has been a disappointment.