Talking Panicking MLB Fanbases Off the Ledge
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Over the course of a six-month Major League Baseball season, there will be a series of highs and lows that shape the direction of a team both in the present and future.
But to think that the sky is falling just because of a mediocre or bad April is a gross overreaction that most fans can relate to as we approach the end of the first full month of games for 2013.
After having all winter to build up the perfect scenario for your team to compete and get into the postseason, you want to see all the pieces come together right away. It makes the long wait for the season to start seem worth it, and you enter the summer months with a great sense of optimism.
Look at a team like Atlanta, which spent a lot of money to bring in B.J. Upton and traded for Justin Upton. Combined with the talent already in place, most expected the Braves to do big things this year. Well, at the end of April, they are in first place in the National League East, and Justin Upton leads the world in home runs with 12.
Then you move to the opposite end of the spectrum—the teams that went for it in the offseason and made a lot of notable moves to improve the big league club and compete for a playoff spot, but just haven't clicked the way a lot of people thought they would right away.
The Toronto Blue Jays immediately come to mind. Fans expected this to be their time to take back the American League East, a division they won four times in five years from 1989 to 1993.
It made sense for the Blue Jays to go for it because New York and Boston appeared to be on the way down. Baltimore had a fantastic 2012 season, but few thought it was sustainable since so much of the success came in one-run and late-game situations where the bullpen took over. Tampa Bay has great pitching, but you never know if that offense will be good enough to keep up.
So general manager Alex Anthopoulos made two of baseball's boldest moves last winter. First, he spearheaded the deal with Miami that brought in Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck (who was later traded again) and Emilio Bonifacio.
Then Anthopoulos brought in 2012 National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets just three weeks after the blockbuster deal with the Marlins.
When you add those players to a team that already had Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Brandon Morrow, it's hard not to like the possibilities.
Yet one month into the season, Reyes is out for two more months with an ankle injury, Johnson looks like a shell of his former self with a 6.86 ERA, Dickey has an ERA close to 5.00, Buehrle's fringe stuff is getting battered in the powerful AL East and Bautista has hit .192/.280/.521 in 19 games.
The Blue Jays find themselves at 9-17, just 1.5 games ahead of Houston for the worst record in the American League.
Toronto isn't the only club with high expectations that got off to a slow start. The Los Angeles Angels' (9-15) powerful offensive attack hasn't made up for a severe lack of pitching. The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent roughly $3 billion over the last eight months to get back to the postseason yet find themselves hovering around the .500 mark.
So what are fans, the most irrational group of people in the world, supposed to think when a slow/bad start ruins that optimism so prevalent just four weeks ago?
I know, it's a rational, logical argument for a sport that lasts six months and 162 games. But it is just crazy enough to work.
Since the start of the 2000 season, there have been 106 teams to make the playoffs (78 division winners, 28 wild-card winners). Of those, 32 were below .500 after April 28. That's more than 30 percent of postseason teams under the break-even mark deep into April.
While that may not be a great overall percentage, it does provide some context. Another thing to keep in mind is that at least one team has come from below .500 in April to make the playoffs every year during this 13-year stretch.
Players come out of spring training and perhaps their timing isn't quite right, or injuries happen right out of the gate that force a team to resort to a backup plan for at least a few weeks. Baseball is a game designed to frustrate and lead to failure.
But we see all the time that the cream eventually rises to the top.
What separates baseball from a sport like football (or even hockey and basketball) is the length of the season. In 16 or 82 games, a good hot streak here and there can carry you into the playoffs.
With 162 games, teams will go through so many peaks and valleys that it is easy to lose count. The key to having success is limiting the number of valleys and extending the peaks when they come around.
Which team has the most cause for optimism following a slow start this season?
Right now, teams like Toronto and the two Los Angeles clubs have endured a long valley that has hidden the sun so many expected to see peeking out. Eventually the darkness will subside; it has just taken longer for teams that thought they could come out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
The slow starts for these three teams, specifically, go to prove once again that it doesn't matter how much money you spend in an offseason or if a general manager puts together a glorified fantasy roster. All that matters are the results on the field.
Sometimes the ball bounces your way, like it did for the Yankees in 2009. Other times things will fall apart, as they did for the Boston Red Sox at the end of 2011 and into 2012.
Even if the latter fate is what awaits the Blue Jays, the Dodgers, the Angels or (insert team name here), it is impossible to gauge things with any semblance of knowledge at the end of April.
In 2011, the Indians shocked everyone and started the season with an 18-8 April en route to a 30-15 mark after 45 games. Some actually labeled the Indians the best team in baseball, despite no one picking them to make the playoffs before the season.
Eventually reality set in; the Indians went 50-67 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs by 11 games.
Remember, at this time last year, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout hadn't played a game in the big leagues. A decade ago, no one would have thought the Marlins would be anywhere near the playoffs, let alone beating the Yankees in the World Series.
Baseball, both from a team and player perspective, can change on a dime. So don't press the panic button on your favorite team quite yet.
For more reasons to stick with your favorite team after a slow start, be sure to follow me on Twitter by clicking the link below.
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