Stretching the Field: There's no guarantee in baseball
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing MLB Editor
(Sports Network) - If you've ever traveled on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania this time of year, then your eyes have taken in the exquisite foliage.
The changing leaves across the vast hills and valleys are an ornamental representation of the annual process of nature. What was once green is now a mix of red, yellow, brown and orange.
It happens every season.
Besides the start of football, this time of year marks the end of baseball's regular season and the beginning of the playoffs. Much like the constant changing of the leaves, there are clubs that make postseason runs like clockwork and others that fail to live up to expectations.
Below is a gathering of teams that had high expectations in Spring Training, only to fizzle out by fall.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES - Buck Showalter's club appeared headed toward another playoff berth and was in the hunt back in early August. However, the Orioles, who haven't made back-to-back trips to the postseason since 1996-97, stumbled down the stretch and were knocked out of the running because of poor pitching. Slugger and MLB home run leader Chris Davis kept up his end of the bargain, but others failed to follow suit. The Orioles have a strong rotation and firepower at the plate, and it's a shame it went by the wayside.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS - Talk about hype. Pundits across the country fell in love with the Nationals and many had them pegged to win the NL East and represent the Senior Circuit in the World Series. Not so fast. Instead of living up to those high expectations, the Nationals got caught up in them. The Nationals can do damage at the plate with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth, while the rotation can match up against any other with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. It didn't happen and now Washington has a full offseason to think about what went wrong.
LA ANGELS OF ANAHEIM - No team entered the 2013 season with more attention than the LA Angels of Anaheim. They landed coveted free agent slugger Josh Hamilton to join forces with future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and rising stars Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. The deadly hitting quartet was supposed to exceed last year's 89-73 mark, but Pujols got hurt and both Hamilton and the rotation struggled. Jered Weaver sustained an elbow injury early on and did not lead the team in wins after recording 20 in 2012. C.J. Wilson honored his megadeal with a strong season and he couldn't do it all on his own. Newcomers Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas were supposed to aid Wilson and Weaver on the mound and the Angels could be looking for a new manger soon. The Angels' relievers weren't so good either.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - Can you say World Series hangover? The San Francisco Giants can after they missed the playoffs following their second title in the previous three seasons. The Giants were off to a hot start in April and May, but the next two months dropped them out of contention and into the category of disappointment. Pitching was not a premium except for Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 2.77 ERA), as Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito didn't produce as expected. Cain and Zito will finish with less than 10 wins and the latter may not even return to the club next season. The same is true for two-time NL Cy Young Award candidate Lincecum. Down years by Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford could have altered the landscape for the Giants, who were trying to reach the playoffs for a third time in four attempts.
NEW YORK YANKEES - The Yankees are a well-decorated bunch and always come into a season full of confidence that another pennant will be headed their way. But the 2013 campaign was different for several reasons: Derek Jeter's injury, Alex Rodriguez's ailing hip and appeal of suspension, and more health issues to Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Kevin Youkilis. Pitching was shaky at times and Hiroki Kuroda's flop at season's end was documented. Kuroda was 6-2 at one point and later took a turn for the worse at 11-13. The Yankees couldn't keep up with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and now may not be able to stay afloat with Robinson Cano on contract talks. It's too bad future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera won't be in the postseason.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES - Granted the Phillies weren't expected to come out like gang busters this season, but there was still hope. With Michael Young in the fold to go to war with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, it was believed the Phillies would be a sleeper. They were able to keep pace in the NL East for some time until the Atlanta Braves ran away with their first division title since 2005 and enjoyed a breakout season from youngster Domonic Brown, who made the All-Star roster thanks to a productive June. Howard, though, went down with a leg issue, Rollins struggled to produce and manager Charlie Manuel was relieved of his duties in favor of Ryne Sandberg. Starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay were spotty at best and the latter could possibly be done in red pinstripes. Halladay's velocity is significantly down and it's shame to see one of more dominant pitchers of the past decade on the decline. Closer Jonathan Papelbon didn't earn his paycheck either.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS - The Royals were poised to make the postseason for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series and it appeared that would happen a few weeks ago. However, the Royals couldn't maintain pace with Tampa Bay, Cleveland or Texas and are once again planning early vacations. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler spearheaded the offense. Jeremy Guthrie, James Shields and Ervin Santana were the strength of the rotation. 2014 could have better results for the Royals, who nonetheless surprised many with 80- plus wins for the first time in 10 years.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS - Two years removed from coming out of nowhere to win the NL West, the Diamondbacks stumbled again this season. They once enjoyed a comfortable lead atop the division back in June and July, but couldn't cool down the red-hot and eventual NL West-champion Dodgers. The D'backs even tried to shake up the rotation by trading former All-Star pitcher Ian Kennedy. First-time All-Star Patrick Corbin dropped off after his impressive run and Paul Goldschmidt is the only offensive bright spot for Arizona, which may have sustained a bad case of karma after dealing away slugger Justin Upton. Goldschmidt is a nice piece to build around and perhaps Arizona will be active this offseason in order to bolster manager Kirk Gibson's chances of returning to the playoffs.
09/27 14:46:54 ET