New Faces Atop MLB Standings
What if I told you that on July 31st the two best teams in baseball were both in the National League Central? What if I told you that the two teams were the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals? You might expect the Cardinals but it finally looks like the Pirates will keep it together for an entire season. Major League Baseball is facing a lot of issues but new teams at the top of the MLB standings are definitely a positive.
Between the consistently bad calls of the umpires in 2013 to the ongoing Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez drama there hasn’t been a lot of good news coming out of baseball. But as we sit here about to go into August the Pirates are 22 games above .500, Oakland is five games ahead of Texas in the AL West and the AL East has a great battle between the Rays and Boston.
The Pirates are once again the darlings of the league this year. The last two years they have shown signs of life only to falter down the stretch. I’m a huge Cubs fan, but accepting that this year isn’t their year, I’m rooting for the Pirates. The team, the city and their fans all deserve this. I lived in Pittsburgh for a year out of college and it’s not just a city cheering for football and hockey. Yes those are the two biggest sports, but trust me there are some die-hard Pirates fans in the city. My old boss would wear his Pirates hat into work every day during the season and sometimes during the offseason.
They have a beautiful stadium they have fans who want to see them win, after all they haven’t had a winning season since 1992. It seems the last two seasons have been warm-ups for this year. Those early signs of life are staying put this year and while Pittsburgh might not win the NL Central, they should make the playoffs barring an epic meltdown Pittsburgh does not deserve.
Will they win the World Series? Probably not. But seeing the Pirates in the playoffs and playing late into the year would be a great thing for baseball and hopefully inject energy into the city and get attendance up at PNC Park. The Pirates haven’t had attendance above two millions since 2004 and that’s when they opened up the new ballpark.
What’s really great for baseball is that all the division leaders right now, except for the Dodgers, are from smaller markets. Cities like Oakland, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Detroit are experiencing first place baseball teams and helping bring some additional excitement to the area.
Unfortunately whatever happens this year will be overshadowed by the PED suspensions to two of the games’ biggest stars in Braun and Rodriguez. I was going to write about that originally but those situations are so complex, confusing and honestly a little bit depressing to write about, it’s more fun to talk about the good guys rather than the bad guys.
I personally hope those two players never play in the league again, although I’m sure that won’t be the case. Braun is a scumbag who lied to everyone and made people look like fools while Rodriguez’s case is far shadier and no one seems to know what’s going on. OK I got that out of my system.
After the trade deadline passes at the end of July, the real excitement begins in baseball. The last month and a half of baseball is great to watch. You have September call-ups auditioning for next year and you have some of the tightest races going down to the last week or even day of the regular season.
It’s always easier to make playoff projections in July so I might as well make mine.
So who makes it into the playoffs? From the NL I have Atlanta, Arizona and St. Louis as your division winners and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles in the wildcard. From the AL I would take Oakland, Cleveland and Tampa Bay winning their divisions with Boston and Detroit going to the playoffs via the wildcard.
In the World Series my bet would be on Atlanta taking on Tampa Bay with the Rays, yes the Rays winning it all this year.
Let me finish that thought by saying I’m usually the worst at predicting sports results. So don’t go to Vegas with my predictions but if this happens just know I won’t shut up about it.
Enjoy the home stretch.
Mike Zoller is a contributor for PorchDrinking.com. He works full-time in the Northwestern University Athletic Department. Follow him on Twitter @mikezoller.