Weekly Hit Ground Ball: 0-10 Avoided

WHGB11Friday was a night of relief for the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins.

They were both staring at the indignity of beginning the MLB season with ten consecutive loses and managed to avoid that fate with timely victories. Both teams also followed up their first wins with a second on Saturday to start bringing some semblance of hope for their fans.

The terrible 0-9 start was no surprise for the Atlanta Braves who have specifically designed this team to be close-to-hopeless.

For all of the good that MLB has done in recent years to bring parity and hope to many teams, the rewards (never mind lack of penalties) that incentivize teams to completely blow up their Major League roster to build for the future is one that needs addressing.

There is a clear logic to what they’re doing, as there was to the way the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros broke everything down to start again a few years ago, but with so much money flowing into the sport it’s difficult to justify teams charging fans Major League ticket prices, and earning Major League revenue from national and local TV networks, whilst fielding Triple-A teams.

A balance needs to be struck between helping teams to rebuild and not encouraging teams to deliberately field poor teams. One way would be to strip teams of early first round draft picks if they are not within a certain percentage of the wins amassed by best team in their league, or at least in their division. That would be a good way to avoid the unappealing race to the bottom where teams want to have the worst record so that they get the number one pick in the following year’s draft.

Maybe ‘tanking’ as it’s known will be addressed in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement? For now though, the Atlanta Braves will spend their final season at Turner Field putting out a team that only diehard fans will have the least bit of interest in watching.

The Minnesota Twins have been on a similar rebuilding project, yet their surprising second-placed finish in the AL Central last year raised hopes that a return to the good times may be closer than was predicted.

We’ve not seen much evidence to support that just yet, even though there is a group of young players there that can help to turn things around to a certain extent and give Twins fans a reason to watch – and enjoy – their team this season.

Gaining wins when the going’s good

We should also be mindful of the quality of opposition different teams face in the early going, particularly when it comes to the pacesetters.

In the American League, both the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox have started well and both have done so in part by winning games against the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. Five of the Orioles’ 8 wins so far have come against those two teams, whilst the White Sox swept the Twins in a three-game series and are 1-1 against the Rays heading into Sunday’s series decider.

Baltimore will live and die by the longball this season and we saw how effective a plan that can be on Friday when they clubbed five against the Texas Rangers in an 11-5 victory. Whether they can mount a challenge in the AL East for the whole season will come down to how many of their homers are of the one-run variety.

The Orioles placed a large bet on ‘hack and hope’ by adding Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez this off-season to a lineup not blessed with much patience as it was and their 8-4 loss to the Rangers on Saturday – when they out-homered their opponents 3-0 – showed the other side of their approach.

Equally in the National League, the Washington Nationals’ 9-1 start, with a seven-game winning streak on the go, has been fueled by going 5-0 against the Braves and taking the first two games of this weekend’s series against the similarly-rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies.

Every win counts the same in the standings and the Nationals can only beat the teams put in front of them, but it was always likely they would get off to a good April based on the strength of the schedule they would be facing.

After today’s game against the Phillies they travel to Miami for four-games and then have three against the Twins and three more against the Phillies. By the 29th it’s quite likely that Washington will have a win-loss record of something around 15-6. They’ll then start a 10-game road trip against the St Louis Cardinals (3 games), Kansas City Royals (3) and Chicago Cubs (4) and we’ll have a better handle on their early season promise once they’ve faced some sterner opposition.

Equally the 4-6 New York Mets will have an opportunity to gain ground on their rivals during the same period. After finishing their series against Cleveland today, they have three games in Philadelphia, three in Atlanta and three at home against Cincinnati. The reigning NL Champions need to follow Washington’s lead in taking advantage of three of the weakest teams in the league this season.

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