With the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants facing off in what promises to be a World Series filled with zigs and zags, if you are the Angels, Dodgers, Nationals, Orioles or Tigers how do you reconcile that you’re not playing in it?
There is probably some jealousy among players on those teams because all spring, all summer, all fall, into the playoffs, they probably believed they would be here in the end playing for a championship.
Not to mention the members of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, and Pittsburgh Pirates who maybe were fooling themselves a little, but also likely thought, “Why not us?”
The 2014 regular season was not the year of the juggernaut, the super team, the team that loomed as a King Kong on the way through the playoffs.
Where did it go wrong?
Still, if you are Angels’ management and you have spent the equivalent of the Alaska Gold Rush proceeds on Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton, what’s your next move?
You can argue that the loss of starter Garrett Richards hurt, but that alone doesn’t explain the Royals sweep. You won 98 games and won your division by 10 games. When it’s time to gather the administrative gang around the table looking ahead to 2015 you start by saying, “Now what?”
Pujols is still a good player, but has never been the player he was in St. Louis and Hamilton seems to be falling apart one injury at a time. Who else is out there for the Angels to grab?
Where next for the also rans?
Variations of that discussion will play out in the front offices of the other top teams of the year, as well, once the shock of their ejection from the playoffs sinks in. The Orioles thought they had everything under control. They won 96 games and won their division by 12 games. For the first time in recent memory neither the New York Yankees nor the Boston Red Sox were in their way in their division.
The Orioles feasted with the long ball and seem to have worked a number of young players into the lineup. Falling 3-0 to the Royals may have been a bruising exit from the post-season, but this just may have been a sneak preview of a stronger Baltimore team to come. One thing the O’s have to figure out is what to do about Chris Davis. The 2013 star was a 2014 drug-bust bust. Does he still have a place on the team?
Detroit is the best all-around hitting team in baseball and has the best starting pitchers. Yet no matter how they try – and they did not try with much intelligence – the Tigers can’t get their hands on a lights-out closer coming out of the bullpen. After watching the way Kansas City has owned the seventh, eighth and ninth innings these playoffs, Detroit’s inadequacy out of the pen just shows up more vividly. Joe Nathan can no longer be the guy.
The Washington Nationals compiled the best regular-season record in the National League with 96 wins and they seemed to be getting downright cocky by the start of the playoffs. Then fizzle. Like the Angels, the Nationals, with guys like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg still on the upswing, don’t have many holes. But then, they don’t have many answers either for why their playoffs ended so early.
Like the Angels, the Dodgers, who have the highest payroll in baseball, thought they were well-stocked to go all of the way. Yet Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in the sport, who had been magnificent all season, imploded twice, allowing runs in avalanches. The impossible happened – everyone hit Kershaw. There was no way to see that coming.
Blame game already begun
Someone had to take the blame for the Dodgers’ underachieving, and for starters it has been general manager Ned Colletti, already shifted to something like special advisor to the president.
The Pirates are steadily building and should be back in the post-season. The Cardinals always find a way. Oakland officials are confused. One minute they were running away with the AL West Division and the next they were clinging to a playoff spot. One minute they had the Royals on the ropes, up 7-3, and the next minute the Royals own October and the Athletics own seats on living room couches.
For most of those playoff teams the off-season is just beginning.