MLB Teams That Could Become Money Burners
by Trevor Whenham - 05/31/2007
When you get lost in the desert and see something that isn't there, that's called a mirage. Some of the teams in the major leagues so far this year have been mirages too. There are teams that have jumped out to impressive starts and can be expected to maintain them - like Boston and the Mets, for example. For the purposes of this article those teams aren't very interesting. Far more fascinating are the teams that are playing much better than you could reasonably expect by looking at them on paper. Those teams intrigue me for at least two reasons. First, there is money to be made by being ready for their fall if and when they come back down to earth. Second, and more sadistic, it's just fun being negative. Here's my choice for two teams that should enjoy the good times while they last because they could be fleeting.
Milwaukee - I'm probably a little bit late jumping off the Brewers' bandwagon. Their 29-24 record is still pretty respectable on the surface, but the 4-13 mark over the last 17 games dulls what they have accomplished significantly. I want to be clear that I am not saying that the Brewers are a bad team. I would even say that they have a pretty good shot at winning their division given the weakness of the other teams. What I am saying, though, is that the 22-7 stretch they went on right before their current struggle was probably an inflated record. They are a young team, and the franchise lacks a lot of practice with winning. The headlines got pretty complimentary towards the Brewers when they were winning. I think that the young players probably started to believe what they were reading about themselves, and they didn't have the tools to deal with the newfound pressure.
They're a team with the luxury of having a pretty impressive rotation when everyone is healthy. It certainly hasn't helped, then, that their pitchers have struggled to stay healthy in May. Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano and Jeff Suppan have all faced physical problems, and all could be the nagging kind that just won't go away. Add to that that their offense is reliant upon young players like Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Tony Gwynn that got off to hot starts that they likely can't sustain and you have a team that was destined to struggle. They'll break out of this slump and level out, but it will be costly if you assume that the team we saw in late April and early May were the real Brewers.
Atlanta - Like the Brewers, the Braves have already cooled off from their blazing start. They are only two games better than Milwaukee over their last 17 at 6-11. That stretch has been marked by almost incomprehensible inconsistency. How can the same team beat Boston, 14-0, and lose to Pittsburgh, 13-2, in one week? Their recent problems haven't been a lack of production. Seventeen runs in four games isn't stellar, but it should be enough to win at least a couple of contests. Or at least it would be if they hadn't allowed 32 runs over those same four losses. The rotation that was stealing games early has been throwing them away lately. The expensive Tim Hudson has been dismal the last two outings, allowing 18 hits and 11 runs in 11.1 innings. He'd been pitching incredibly well before that, so he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for at least another game or two. On the other hand, you can't blame John Smoltz for the current slide. He hasn't allowed a run since May 14, and has only really had one outing all season that was unimpressive.
Nagging injuries are partly to blame for the recent problems. Both Chipper and Andruw Jones aren't completely right, and Mike Gonzalez is out for the year, leaving a gaping hole in the bullpen. Another part of the problem is that Andruw Jones is not capitalizing on the opportunity to make a fortune in his contract year. He has been pretty terrible. His average and all of his production numbers are below where they should be. More than just missing his power, the team also sorely misses the protection he offers in the batting order when he is at his best.
The Braves' incredible streak of division wins ended last season. It was no surprise that it ended last year, and it would really be surprising if they weren't shut out again given how good the Mets have looked. Even the wild card will likely be a stretch, but then this team was never expected to be a wild card team when the season began. Unlike Milwaukee, which may be a bit ahead of schedule, I think that the Braves' recent problems are mostly just a case of a team leveling out and playing as they were supposed to. In the right spots the Braves will continue to make us some money, but those spots likely won't be as frequent as they were a month ago.