Fans of teams who have been slow getting out of the gate will rationalize that baseball is a long season, citing that old metaphor about how it is a marathon rather than a sprint. While it is still very early, the waning days of April often serve as a harbinger for how the entire season will play out.
Heading in to the fourth week of the 2016 season, Cleveland was the only playoff team below second place in its division. All other nine clubs had gotten off to a winning start, and as a result they ended up in the postseason.
The Indians, who trailed Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City at this point last year, do provide hope for fans whose teams are currently looking up at their division rivals. Cleveland not only overcame all three of the clubs ahead of the in the American League Central, but they went on to capture the pennant.
Yet fans should be wary about expecting their favorite team to follow the same path Cleveland did last year, for it is quite rare. All it takes is a quick look at just last year to demonstrate how rare it is for a team to be near the bottom of the division in April but ending up in the playoffs.
When you look back, you could have basically made the N.L. playoff match ups entering the fourth week of the 2016 season. All three teams in first place, The Washington Nationals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, ended up winning their respective divisions.
The only 2016 National League playoff team in first place at the same date this year is Washington, which is just a half game ahead of the Miami Marlins in the East division. In fact, the Nationals are the only one of the five playoff teams to have a record over .500 so far this season.
The Baltimore Orioles, who were eliminated by Toronto in last season’s Wild Card game, are the only 2016 American League playoff team currently on top of their division. The Blue Jays are not only in last place, but they have the worst record in all of baseball.
The second worst record belongs to Texas, which boasted the most wins in the A.L. last year. The Rangers at this point in April of 2016 had a winning percentage of over .600, a scary contrast to their current .340.
Optimists in the Lone Star State, as well as those who have flocked to the Rodgers Centre in a capital city of our Northern border, can tell themselves that it is only April and that there are still five months remaining in the season. In reality, however, the season is considerably shorter for teams that struggle early.
Baseball becomes less of a marathon when you consider the various watermarks of the season, crucial times for clubs to make decisions about both the present and the future. The All-Star game, considered to be the halfway point, is just over two months away. Clubs then must consider whether they can contend, for the annual trade deadline comes just a few weeks after the Midsummer Classic.
All in all, the fifteen games that each club has played so far do not make up just ten percent of the 162 game season. Since decisions must be made in July, these fifteen games actually reflect more like twenty percent. It may not be enough to stir panic among fans, but it lessens the desire to pinch pennies all summer in order to save up for a package of playoff tickets.