The Race to the Bottom

Opening Day for the baseball season is tomorrow – which means all the sports journalists have come out with their power rankings and predictions for the season. It’s pretty easy to choose who the division winners are going to be. With the exception of the American League East (which has two – the Yankees and the Red Sox), each division has just one powerhouse team that should have no problems running away with their flag.

That’s just how the game has turned out these past few years. Sure, a few teams can sneak in to the playoffs via the wild card, but even there you don’t have more than a couple of teams capable of doing that. Most teams are mediocre at best, with no chance of getting anywhere.

And however it happened, the current economic situation has actually encouraged – at least it hasn’t actively discouraged – poor teams from giving up and selling or trading off the few good players they might have in the hope of getting a bunch of good prospects or draft choices.

With the pennant races virtually decided even before the first shout of “Play Ball”, the real races to watch are the ones for last place. Will the crappy teams do the honorable thing and try to win as many games as they can, or make the good business decision to “tank” and hope for the best in the off-season?

Here are my choices for the worst teams in every division (and how they might actually pull off a miracle):

National League East: Miami Marlins. They let their best player, one of the best in the NL, get away.The ownership and management don’t seem to have a clue what they are doing. They have a good chance of losing 100 games this year. How They Could Win It All: One of their last remaining fans makes a deal with the devil.

National League Central: Cincinnati Reds. It’s not that they’re particularly terrible; other than the Cubs, the division is rather meh. But they’ve been hit with injuries already, and their pitching still sucks. How They Could Win It All: Someone on their coaching staff accidentally discovers a substance that, when carefully applied to a baseball, causes that ball to avoid wood. As in baseball bats. Judicious use turns things around for the team.

National League West: San Diego Padres. They’ve actually improved a tad (Thanks, Eric Hosmer!), but the rest of the division is simply too strong. They’ve got not just the Dodgers, but the Diamondbacks to contend with. And the Giants and Rockies aren’t going to roll over and play dead. How They Could Win It All: One of the vendors at Petco Park turns out to be a managerial genius; his advice is covertly relayed to the dugout during home games.

American League East: Tampa Bay Rays. Tough call with Toronto and Baltimore in the division, too. They all look about the same. A good player or two, a couple of decent ones, and average everywhere else. Could be anyone’s division to lose. How They Could Win It All: Ownership decides to deliberately tank in the hopes of eventually selling off the team. But the players find out about the scheme, and the players brought up to fill in after the regulars are sold or traded at the deadline manage to gel into a winning team. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox mutually annihilate….

American League Central: Detroit Tigers. Their opening day starter had a 6.08 ERA last year. Ugh. How They Could Win It All: The Kansas City Royals develop gigantism after overdosing on a nerve tonic. The Chicago White Sox team plane disappears into a “Mystery Spot”. The Minnesota Twins hire a team hypnotist, who manages to have all the players thinking they are chickens. The Cleveland Indians come down with radiation poisoning….

American League West: Oakland Athletics. Again, there’s no team in the division that’s really terrible. But the A’s don’t have enough good things to push them ahead of the Rangers or Mariners. How They Could Win It All: A freak accident turns one of their starting pitchers into a phenom.

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