The Los Angeles Angels’ seven-solo-homer loss Thursday, as deftly memorialized by Comrade Thompson, reminds us that the Premier League begins today. And how does it do that, we do not hear you asking.
Well, in a delightful quirk of circumstance prompted by the newly weaponized San Diego Padres, and say that three times fast and see if you’re not afflicted with violent stomach cramps caused by laughter, the Major League Baseball season is now about five teams with a chance to win the World Series and a bunch of suboptimal teams who will be carrying the bulk of the content between now and October 5. It’s the joy of potential relegation without the joy of actual relegation, and a chance to find entertainment at the bottom of the standings while the boredom of excellence at the top takes care of itself.
For the record, the teams who can look forward to the possibility of November baseball include the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and Padres (fight me, Roth). They are all very good, are deep with pitchers and, have conga lines where lineups would be. The Yankees, in addition, have Aaron Judge, who could be the first player in history to hit five homers in four plate appearances. If you like winning, those teams will do you just fine.
But the A’s and Angels remind us of the joys in a top-heavy season by concentrating on what is happening below the water line. The A’s, for example, have been the worst team in the American League by both design and desire but are suddenly playing .600 baseball and nobody is quite sure how they are doing it except that they have discovered the secret of making “allowing seven home runs” seem like a surmountable obstacle. They are likely to infuse the deeply mistreated Oakland fan base with a sense of hope that the realities of 2023 may not actually justify, but they’ve been stripped of everything else by an ownership that keeps buying For Sale signs but never quite putting them up.
And the Angels? What else is there to say but that a team that seeks abject failure in such fascinating ways should be allowed to achieve it. Here’s a stat to make your bile run hot: Shohei Ohtani has played all but two games in Anaheim this year and the team is 12th in attendance, behind among other operations the gormless Colorado Rockies. Here’s another: Ohtani has pitched 10 times at home this year and only twice has the attendance been above 30,000, and one of those was Opening Day. The most unique player since Babe Ruth is actually drawing lower than average crowds when he does the thing that makes him most unique. That takes a combination of skill and ennui that most teams can never possess.
The Nationals, having traded Juan Soto for the entire Padres farm system, will now see how deeply they can tunnel into the earth’s core, which has its own fascinations. They have already put together three eight-game losing streaks and can easily achieve 100 losses by mid-September and threaten the franchise record of 110 set by the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969. That ought to quiet those troublesome Canadians.
Indeed, there are seven teams with a shot at losing 100 this year, and even if that will be reduced to five by intradivisional someone-has-to-win-those games (you have to like the A’s, Nats, Royals, Tigers, and your choice of the Pirates, Reds, or Cubs), it would still break the record of four 100-loss teams in a season set most recently way back in 2021 and 2019. That created baseball’s desire for expanded playoffs to decrease tanking, which clearly has worked in exactly the opposite direction. That, too is a baseball standard: Attack an allegedly undesirable result by creating a structure which actually increases the chances of the undesirable result.
But we’re not done with the joys of bottom-feeding. The Tigers (20-35 to get to 100 losses) are averaging barely three runs a game and Miguel Cabrera isn’t sure he can fulfill the last $92 million on his contract. The Cubs are trying to make bad baseball the lure to getting a new stadium in the suburbs. The Giants (11-45) took the momentum of a 107-win season and turned it into a team that may be screwed for years by not just the Padres becoming a big-pants team but their own dormant minor-league system and their preposterous inertia. The last wild-card fights between the Cardinals and Phillies in the NL and the Mariners, Rays, Guardians, Orioles, Red Sox, and White Sox will be both dull and chaotic. The Mariners are the most intriguing team because of Julio Rodriguez but since he can never stay healthy you may not see him or them very much. The Guardians are Jose Ramirez. The Rays are a lineup of his guys hitting below .210. The Orioles just declared they don’t even want to be in the playoffs but don’t lose enough to be out of them, the Red Sox are still paying for giving up Mookie Betts, and the White Sox have given the fan base something other than the Cubs to hate, that being their own manager. The Cardinals and Phillies are just kind of, well, there.
But this is all eye-of-the-beholder stuff anyway. Comrade Theisen is right—good baseball is its own entertainment reward, but the gold is where the weird is. Baseball is breaking off not into the haves and have-nots, but the care and care-nots, and the care-nots are both more numerous and nutty, and some will have postseason baseball thrust upon them whether they want it or not. Say what you want to about the new excitement of the Pads; I’ll take Orioles manager Brandon Hyde’s daily “Yeah, we won, but they’re pissed off about it upstairs” pressers every time. Because it’s not just the metric tons of failure that makes baseball the special piefight it is. It’s how success is inferred from that failure.
Besides, the Angels are not the only team ever to hit seven homers in a game and lose, but they are the only team that could make Shohei Ohtani fans stay home. That may end up being the rarest accomplishment of them all.