2009's Most Disappointing Team: National League
It's now almost the end of August, and the postseason realities of the contenders and pretenders are starting to sort themselves out.
It appears that the Colorado Rockies are making Will Ferrell proud by streaking their way into contention not only for the wild card, but also nearly catching the Dodgers in the West.
The Cardinals have won the Central.
The Phillies will win the East.
There are still some teams that are hanging on to hope, as the Marlins, Braves, and Giants of the world chase the wild card and lightning in a bottle for one shot at glory.
And then there are the other teams. The ones that thought they had something special. The ones that sold their fans on the idea of October magic.
Let's take a look at which team has been the biggest disappointment in 2009.
2009 Record: 52-71 (18.5 games back of St. Louis)
2009 Payroll: $73.5M
The Reds have a good, young team that some prognosticators, including myself, thought could challenge the powers that be in the National League Central.
With names like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, the offense would figure to be around all year. And after what Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez showed last year, there was no reason to think this team couldn't challenge at least .500, if not better.
But then the injury bug hit.
So far, almost 20 Reds have hit the disabled list this year. Aaron Harang hasn't thrown effectively, Volquez is having arm surgery (thanks, Dusty Baker), and perhaps the only two players that are pulling their weight are Francisco Cordero and Ryan Hanigan.
The problem with those two players being the only two consistent Reds is that Hanigan's a rookie catcher splitting time with Ramon Hernandez, and Cordero is a closer on a team that can't win.
While their payroll isn't steep, they have certainly disappointed this year.
San Diego Padres
2009 Record: 52-74 (22.5 games back of Los Angeles)
2009 Payroll: $43.7M* (after trading Jake Peavy)
They spent most of the winter trying to sell Jake Peavy to the Cubs, and failed.
They then sold their fans on the idea that they had enough pitching to win some games if their offense, led by Adrian Gonzalez, could score three runs a night.
Unfortunately, some of the fans bought the bait.
As of Sunday, the Padres have the worst run differential in the National League at -155. When you place that number into the context that the lowly Washington Nationals are nearly 30 percent better than the Padres (-113), it gives you some perspective on how miserable they've been this year.
Peavy was hurt for a good part of the season and was eventually dealt in what could turn out to be a great deal for the Padres (four good young arms returned from Chicago's South Side).
The fact that GM Kevin Towers actually entertained the idea of moving Gonzalez at the deadline made the Padres an outright laughingstock.
New York Mets
2009 Record: 57-68 (18.5 games behind Philadelphia)
2009 Payroll: $149.3M
The Mets are, without a doubt, talented enough to beat anyone in baseball on any given day. Their pitching staff, with the expensive winter addition of Francisco Rodriguez and the trade for J.J. Putz, figured to be good enough to win games when the bats were cold, if that ever happened.
And then, just as it has for the Reds, the injury bug showed up like a biblical plague.
Now, on Tuesday, reports are that Johan Santana is having an MRI on his pitching elbow and might require surgery.
Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Gary Sheffield, David Wright, and others have all missed a fair amount of action this year. The offense that, on paper, was so potent has scored the fourth-fewest runs in the National League this year.
Then there's the off-the-field issues, with an executive threatening minor leaguers and being fired, and now Sheffield's apparent "misunderstanding" with management.
This team has disappointed in almost every way conceivable, and they've been an expensive waste. While ownership has vowed their loyalty to Omar Minaya, the general manager that built this ship might have to go down with it.
2009 Record: 62-60 (eight games back of St. Louis)
2009 Payroll: $134.8M
This is a different failure than the other three contenders for the tarnished crown made of recycled Coke Zero cans.
Last year, the Cubs had the best record in the National League, nearly winning 100 games. Then, as the Cubs do, they got into the postseason and were out before anyone noticed they were even there.
So this past winter, GM Jim Hendry decided to go Yoko Ono on the roster and break things up. He told Kerry Wood to go away, traded veteran leader Mark DeRosa for prospects, overpaid for Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles, and failed to make the blockbuster deal with San Diego for Jake Peavy.
But there was no reason to think the Cubs wouldn't be a sure thing for another postseason. After all, Albert Pujols couldn't personally win the division, and nobody else in the Central was very good on paper.
So Hendry rolled the dice, took the division for granted, and tried to build a PlayStation batting order that could, in theory, make noise in October.
Then, similar to others, injuries started coming.
Derrek Lee had a bulging disc in his neck. Bradley got hurt. Geovany Soto smoked pot at the WBC and then got a love handle contusion. Carlos Zambrano went crazy, Ryan Dempster jumped a fence, and Ted Lilly hurt his back.
The tricky part for the Cubs, different from the others on this list, is that they haven't had a massive run of injuries at once. It's almost as though the starting pitchers took turns getting hurt; Dempster and Lilly's latest trips to the DL only overlapped by a matter of hours.
It has been the play on the field that has failed the Cubs.
They had the best offense in the National League last year and now struggle to score two runs a game. Hendry made a point of "revamping" the bullpen last winter, and his newly fashioned relief corps has blown more saves than any bullpen in baseball.
The mental mistakes have been big as well, and at crucial times.
Oh, and at the trade deadline, when the Cubs made just one minor deal for a couple left-handed pitchers, the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Julio Lugo.
The wheels are off the wagon in Chicago, and apathy has set in for the fans. With new ownership taking control of the team, Hendry's days on the job might be numbered.
The Biggest Loser?
I'm going to say the Chicago Cubs were the biggest disappointment in the National League, if not all of baseball, this year.
While the Mets have a bigger payroll obligation, they have had so many players injured at the same time, for longer stretches, and play in a much tougher division than the Cubs.
While the Mets were certainly a popular pick to win a lot of games this year, when you place their injury problems into the context of a competitive division that includes the defending champions, falling apart is at least something that's understandable.
But the Cubs are in a division where there are only two teams over .500 this year. Their schedule has not been very hard, their entire team hasn't been hurt at once, and they haven't traded away a bunch of underperforming veterans.
The Cubs have just been a miserable failure from the get-go this year.
For their efforts, in falling out of contention for the division and now, before September, not even being close enough to get on the wild card race graphics on ESPN any more, the Cubs win the title of Most Disappointing Team.