Baseball’s Cellar Dwellers – The Worst of 2008

Baseball’s Cellar Dwellers deserve attention, too! Even the worst of 2008 have a shot in this new season. Baseball fans are among the most optimistic people in the world. For one hundred years now, Cubs fans have believed that this is their year to win it all. They came close in 2008 and are anxious to erase their spill from the post season with another shot in the Major League Baseball playoffs. Unfortunately, that is Spring Training plus 162 games away. A lot can happen in that time – such as the team getting sold and moved to Des Plaines.

Finishing first in one’s division is the surest way to guarantee at least a shot at a coveted World Series appearance. Some years ago MLB instituted the ‘Wild Card Team’ to make the number of teams in the post season an even one. It also served to generate revenue from an additional playoff series. Getting there though, is tough. The season is a long one – commencing when the snow is still flying in most cities north of Mason-Dixon and concluding after the first flakes have hit the ground the subsequent autumn. A lot of hearts will be broken during that time.

Teams that showed promise in fantasy camp will sputter into extended losing streaks to finish half a game out of a playoff spot. Others head straight for the tank from game one. Baseball is a game of streaks – some of them lasting all season. Giving up a hundred more runs than you score over 162 games is a sure-fire way to be the divisional bottom-feeder.

Spring training is right around the corner, now and fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful that the next time they wear their team gear out in public, people won’t put nickels in the fan’s Starbucks cup. This time of year as people look to winter’s end, folks are inspired with all manner of irrational hope. Americans hope and talk themselves into believing that this is the year for their team to win a championship. Hope at this level is founded on the magic that on occasion, produces a champion out of a team with the 22nd highest payroll.

Certainly baseball is a game of streaks, but it is also a game of outrageous sums of money. If a team competes for decent players by doling out the dough, the team usually competes on the field. Owners go entire seasons looking for players to take the field for minimum wage and expect them to hit .325. They generally finish last. Still, by threatening to move their teams, owners get bigger and better deals from their city to keep the team in place. The Mariners gave up 140 more runs than they scored in 2008. But if fans don’t show up this summer, they might just follow the Sonics to that bustling metropolis of Oklahoma City.

Last place is not where one wants to find his team. Being a laughing stock at the family reunion when one shows up wearing a Mariner’s hat is no fun. Fortunately, there are only six divisions in the Major Leagues, so there are mercifully only six doormats. These underachievers deserve some recognition as we head into the 2009 season. So here are some team notes for Baseball’s 2008 ‘Cellar Dwellers.’

Washington Nationals

The Nats were informed last week that one of their outfielders was facing a possible jail term if he didn’t fork over some $40K to an ex-wife. This is the kind of off-field problem that directly impacts a team’s performance. It is tough to get full extension on one’s swing in an 8 x 8 room. The team will figure out a way to avoid having their star wearing an orange jump suit and standing in line for his dinner, but this isn’t the way to start a season.

The new Nationals stadium is also making headlines – as well as causing significant bank overdrafts. Finishing $60 plus million over the original budget, the city and team are trying to figure out what to do next. Interestingly, the size of this overrun could have been used to sign a decent player. Instead, as of this writing, the team still has four unsigned players who appear headed for arbitration. The Nats should get all this worked out and will field a significantly different team from 2008. At least DC area fans hope so. Last year’s team gave up 184 more runs than they scored, so getting to respectability will take more than the addition of a few players.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates managed to score some runs last year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop other teams from scoring more. Trying to build on the success of the NFL’s Steelers, the black and gold team of baseball has invested heavily in bringing along young players. Additionally, the team is sending around the annual caravan of broadcasters to build enthusiasm and interest for the upcoming season. Showing up in 17 degree Pennsylvania cold to see the broadcast team is a strange way to do this, but it seems to work.

The Pirates also introduced a new uniform to be worn on select Fridays. A Pittsburgh fan wrote in that the new shirts should include base running instructions so the players wouldn’t be wondering what to do in the unlikely event they got on base. A sound suggestion and one that might improve team performance on home Fridays.

Caravans and uniforms are interesting, but the team has to generate offense and produce on defense to get out of this cellar. The 2008 version of the Pirates finished 30.5 games out of first place and 7.5 games behind the next-worst team in the division.

San Diego Padres

How can a team from sunny SoCal finish last? The climate alone should attract a few good players. But if these players are more interested in the bikinis on Mission Beach, they probably won’t hit much out of the infield.

The Pads did in fact have trouble hitting the ball out of the infield, scoring a whopping 637 runs all last season. Couple that bit of history with ownership efforts to trim payroll to $40 million, and all the ingredients are in place for the Padres to repeat as NL West’s ‘welcome mat.’

Baltimore Orioles

A good way to generate fan interest during the off season is to make trades. The O’s just completed a trade for the Cub’s Felix Pie – a speedy outfielder with the potential to develop into a solid contributor. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Orioles gave up a couple of pitchers to get him. As the O-birds gave up 87 more runs than they scored in 2008, the jury is still out on how this trade will impact team performance. If the O’s can develop a couple good replacement pitchers, they stand a shot at getting off the bottom rung of the AL East. 스포츠중계

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