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Winners and Losers of the First Month of Baseball

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We are a month into the 2016 baseball season and there has been some serious shockers across the league.  There are 3 teams making headlines because they are winning and one because they are losing.  Before I get all the “But there’s still over 120 games left to play” comments; save it, I know.  I know it is a long season and that is what makes baseball so interesting; at any point a team can go on a hot or cold streak that can totally change the balance of power in a division.  So who are the winners and who are the losers?

Did any of you think we would be  into week 6 of the 2016 season and Chicago White Sox would be on top of the AL Central?  I know I didn’t The last 3 years had been less than stellar records finishing at or near the bottom of the division.  In 2013 the White Sox only won 63 games and finished a staggering 30 games out of first place.  Time can heal all wounds.  Right now the White Sox sit at 23-10 at the top of their division and currently have the most wins in the American League.  

What changed? Did the moves the White Sox made really have an immediate impact? Are things just finally starting the “click” in the clubhouse? Is this just the wax and wane of wins and losses in baseball?

The White Sox have looked good on paper even during the seasons when they have struggled.  They have had ace Chris Sale on the mound, 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu on first, and Adam Eaton in the outfield, but we all know they can’t win games on their own.  The new additions to the clubhouse were nothing earth shattering on their own, but they seem to working for the Sox.  Brett Lowery was the biggest addition to the infield and he is currently hitting .277; behind the plate, veteran catcher Dioner Navarro.  Navarro has flown under the radar for a few years but for the but has proved to be an asset behind the plate and at the plate for the smattering of teams for which he has played.  Although his batting average doesn’t reflect it (.222), but he has an OPS (combined on base and slugging) of .636.  Matt Latos was another off season addition.  He has struggled for the last few seasons, playing for 3 teams in 2015, but once he joined the White Sox something clicked for him.  Latos in currently 5-0 with a 2.62 ERA which is impressive since he did not even get the many wins in all 2015.

I would be amiss if I also didn’t mention one player who is no longer with the team.  During the 3rd week of spring training a bombshell was dropped on the White Sox when Adam Laroche abruptly decided to retire after being told to limit the time he allows his son to be with him in the clubhouse.  Multiple sources stated that some of the players found the teenager being present to be a distraction and that is why the issue was addressed.  That said,  others such as ace Chris Sale were clearly displeased with the handling of the situation.  One thing is clear, almost 2 months after the departure of Laroche and his son Drake; the White Sox are winning.

The Seattle Mariners have a similar story to the Chicago White Sox but they have been borderline irrelevant to their division for much longer.  The Mariners have not been to the playoffs since 2001 and that is a sizable drought for a team that is not afraid to spend money on their players.

The changes for the Mariners started at the end of September 2015 when they announced Jerry Dipoto as their new General Manager.  They wanted change and Dipoto gave it to them.  He had a very “Andrew Friedman” way of managing a team.  He believes is letting go of tenured players and bringing in young/new talent that a team can be built upon.  He knew he had a decent core group of players in Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez, but he also knew that he needed to fill in the huge gaps around them.  Adding players like Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta, and Nathan Karns while keeping the young talent like Ketel Marte has been paying off.   As long as the Mariners can beat the Texas Rangers, they may get their first playoff birth in over 10 years.

I can’t write this article without mentioning Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs.  In a previous article I predicted that the Cubs would win the NL Central but I did not think they would be winning like this.  As of today they have only lost 6 games.  6 games!  Are you kidding me?  

Maybe it is the Rays fan in me but I have always felt that Maddon is King Midas and from the moment he touched the Cubs they were gold.  The magic he worked in his first season was amazing and was recognised when he won NL Manager of the Year.  Maddon had the pieces necessary to win last season but adding Jason Heyward and ultra utility man Ben Zobrist only man them better.  I hate to make any heavy predictions, but Back to the Future 2 could have been a year off in their prediction of a Cubs winning the World Series.  

This brings us to, in my opinion, one of the biggest surprises from the loser front.  I had chosen this team to win the AL West but currently they sit at the bottom; the Houston Astros.  

Last years Cinderella has had her carriage turn back into a pumpkin.  The Astros were the underdog of the league that a lot of people were rooting for.  In the end they made a good run, but ultimately lost in the divisional series the the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.  In 2015 the Astros and the Cub shared a similar pattern.  They both had historically been losers, they both had not made it to the playoffs in over 5+ seasons until 2015, and finally both teams had both the Rookie of the Year and CY Young winners for their leagues.  The main difference is that this season the Cubs are winning in 2016, and the Astros are not.  

We are just a little over a month into the season and there is tons of time for the balance of power to shift in any division.  One of the beautiful things about baseball is that for most of the season there is always time for a come back.  No team is in or out yet.  It’s a long season and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.  

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