The world of sports is incredibly easy to grasp. Good players form good teams. Good teams beat bad teams. Good teams always rise to the top.
Why even bother playing the games?
Obviously, the beauty of sports lies in the fallacy of believing in a 'easy outcome.' Players may be universally viewed as 'good', and one team may be unequivocally better than its opponent, but it truly means little when the battle commences between the lines.
The reality is that professional sports franchises are prone to highs and lows over any given period of time. The MLB season, often viewed as a marathon, typically allows the trends to settle by the end of the season. Slow starts in football are crippling, but one team's 'bad April' is another's 'September collapse.'
Nationals' outfielder Bryce Harper played both sides of this coin after proclaiming that his Washington squad is "the team to beat" and that, more importantly, "everybody knows that." He fails to clarify that more teams have, indeed, beaten the Nationals than lost to them. In doing so, he proves how easy it is to fall in love with the 'better' team on paper.
The irony in Harper's comment is not without merit, however, and does validate the reality that Washington – given its relative talent - is a team more capable of going on a hot streak than muddling in mediocrity. When he closes his quote with, "We're going to get hot. Everybody knows that too," he is confirming both that his team has under-performed, and that the season is long enough for any correction to still take place.
At this point in the year, any given team can erase the worst of starts to the tune of a playoff berth. But Harper and the Nationals should take note. Washington is not the only team looking to make a move during this leg of the race.
Here are five teams with a losing record likely to turn around their misfortunes:
5. Washington Nationals
Between the underlying messages in Harper's quote and the general preseason consensus regarding the Nationals, there has arguably been no greater disappointment during the first month of the season than Washington. Anchored by offseason acquisition Max Scherzer, the entire pitching staff should be hitting their collective primes, yet only Doug Fister has a winning record, to date. The blame can't rest entirely on the arms of the Nationals, however, as the team's defense has been downright atrocious. With the most errors and lowest fielding percentage, the Nationals appear near the bottom of almost every defensive list, including advanced sabermetrics.
Washington should have quickly sensed a cause for concern within its division when the Mets were on their hot streak, coupled with the aforementioned defensive woes. Somehow able to survive the first wave, Washington took control of its own fate by winning three of four games in New York, and seven of its last nine contests, overall. As of this writing, the Nationals are rapidly approaching a winning record, and already taking strides towards rewriting the book on the first half of their season.
4. Boston Red Sox
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the form of a baseball team, the 2015 Boston Red Sox appeared to start their season on the positive side of their split personality, only to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Yankees as the calendar turned to May. But it's not just the Yankees that have stymied Boston, as the Red Sox currently sit four games below .500 when facing a division opponent. By comparison, no other division team has a losing record against their other American League East rivals.
Clearly, Boston's struggles have resided on the mound, as the Red Sox hold the second-highest team ERA in the league, but even these poor performances seem unsustainable. Each of the team's five regular starters currently has an ERA above his career average, with only Rick Porcello sitting a hair higher than usual. When the Red Sox pitchers correct their universal flaw, it will likely spark a massive upswing in the team's performance.
3. Los Angeles Angels
What a gift it must be to have a 23-year-old slugger in the middle of one's lineup who also happens to be the best hitter in baseball. Whether it's game-saving catches or consistently phenomenal numbers, Mike Trout does everything right on the baseball field. Why, then, can't his team win more games?
In fairness to the Angels, they hovered around a .500 winning percentage at this time last year, only to win the American League West by ten games. Still, the American League Most Valuable Player is, once again, producing like one, yet the team refuses to join in. Making matters worse, the Houston Astros - yes, the Astros - just enjoyed a ten-game winning streak during a stretch of 14 wins in 15 games to vault them atop the division.
Baseball is usually too much of a team sport for one hitter to impact the standings, but Trout is the exception to nearly every rule. His output is steady and the team only needs a little more contribution from the supporting cast to begin the likely ascent.
2. Miami Marlins
Much like their National League East counterparts, the Marlins entered 2015 with considerably higher expectations than their current performance. Swept out of the gate at the hands of the Braves, those who believed the Marlins had done little to improve their positioning within the division were proven correct. For the time being.
After dropping six of the team's first seven games, Miami has slowly and quietly climbed back into respectability. Disasters of the first week of the season - including Giancarlo Stanton's zero home runs and six hits in 30 at-bats and Mat Latos epic implosion - are merely memories, and the team is beginning to get contributions from all angles.
Miami might have the least talent and the most shallow pool of the teams on this list, but the Marlins continue to show signs of a potential breakout, and the day may be sooner rather than later.
1. Seattle Mariners
Utter disappointment. Felix Hernandez is 5-0 with an ERA under 1.75. J.A. Happ has been a pleasant, welcomed addition with a 2-1 record and a 3.51 ERA. Nelson Cruz basically hits a home run every day.
The team flounders at the bottom of the American League West.
The results are baffling, yet indisputable. Even with top-to-bottom talent throughout the starting lineup, Seattle ranks in the bottom-third of the league in both runs scored and runs allowed per game. Above all else, the biggest culprit for the team's early season woes is the horrific bullpen.
The Mariners are an underwhelming 6-7 in one-run games, but the key to note is that their 13 one-run games lead the league. They're losing leads and ultimately losing games. There is little to suggest that Fernando Rodney and company will suddenly thrive, but they clearly have flirted with balance and tilted to the wrong side.
The Mariners may have the fewest wins of any team on this list, but they arguably have the best weapons at their disposal. In addition, a few more favorable bounces could have easily converted losses to wins. With that, Seattle is the team best suited to rise to the top after an unnaturally slow start to the 2015 season.
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