As fans prepare themselves for another football season this September, the pennant races in the MLB are succeeding in keeping our attention on the game for at least another month, and not in the usual way. Led by young, homegrown talent and veteran acquisitions at the trade deadline, baseball has ushered in a new landscape of power.
Just look at some of the teams currently leading their divisions: Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Kansas City Royals. Add that to some of the teams who are in the Wild Card race: Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago Cubs.
Not a single one of the teams listed has won a World Series in the past 20 years. The Royals hadn’t even made it to the postseason since 1985 before its collection of misfit players thundered to the World Series last season. The Astros? Never in the team’s 53-year history. Chicago (sorry, Cubs fans) hasn’t won the World Series in over a century.
But it’s time for this to change–at least for one of our lucky contenders. They’ve been building the strongest farms in baseball to produce the best prospects, and they are finally taking the MLB by storm.
The 5’6” José Altuve is arguably the top second baseman in the game in his fourth full season, helping Houston to second in the MLB in home runs and third in stolen bases. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell, all aged 26 or younger, have powered the Cubs to a season where many believe they can end their championship curse.
And let’s not forget about dominant pitching. On the list of best team ERAs sit six of the seven teams I mentioned earlier, including the Mets with youngsters Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.
The one team out of those seven clubs that I didn’t mention? A team we are used to seeing here–the St. Louis Cardinals, whose incredible 2.65 ERA, almost half a run better than the next closest squad, gives them the best record in all of baseball.
Now, not only do we see these new faces actually making it to October, but the teams we are used to having consistently compete each year are already getting their couch and popcorn ready. The Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox all sit in last place in their divisions.
In addition to strong farm systems, the decline of past powerhouses has seen top talent traded to current contenders–the same teams who were so used to trading away their top players for prospects only five years ago.
To name a few: David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Cole Hamels, Carlos Gómez, Yoenis Céspedes, and Johnny Cueto. The Blue Jays have certainly taken advantage of desperate teams. One of these talented ballplayers may be in the line for a World Series ring with his new team.
I referenced earlier how good St. Louis has been, and we see how the Cardinals have magically stayed in contention (contention isn’t even accurate here–they are downright dominating the competition) while some of the usual contenders fall behind. It really is incredible to witness, and they’ve set a blueprint that any team would love to follow.
So what does this all mean for the future?
It means this is the first stage of an invigorating transition–and I use invigorating for a reason. The 2014 postseason brought new life to an old game, one that will only continue in the 2015 playoffs and beyond.
There’s nothing wrong with seeing championships won by the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants every other year, but with new teams competing from new markets, entire fan bases that may not have been as attentive in prior postseasons are finally watching, and this can only be a good thing for baseball. My bet would be that one of these teams who hasn’t won a World Series in over 20 years will take the trophy home this season–and that’s probably a good bet since they will consist of more than 50 percent of the teams in the playoffs this year in a thrilling turnaround.
Teams accustomed to gathering dust in the division cellars are finding themselves in a new position in the balance of power, and I don’t see them losing this power any time soon. Ball clubs can either accept this fact, or get lost behind the pack.