Okay, it's time someone says it. We need to put an asterisk behind whoever wins the 2005 World Series, because there is not a team worthy of being hailed the champ. Sure there have been second-rate champs like the 2003 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 1990 Reds, and any year the Twins won it all, but at least these teams had to beat a high quality opponent to be the ultimate victor. In 2005, all the playoff contenders have major flaws.
The St. Louis Cardinals have followed up 2004's best regular season record with the top mark of 2005, but this is an inferior team to last year's NL champs. The Card's offense is nowhere as good, as their OPS has dropped by 30 points. Considering the age of many of their top players, it's amazing that they have been this good. The combination of their bullpen and Chris Carpenter having career years has kept the St. Louis far ahead of the pack, but considering the pack is the rest of the National League, another asterisk should be considered for that accomplishment.
Despite the miracle performance of the Atlanta Braves, the league just isn't good. The amazingly close NL Wild Card race should be tempered by the fact that these teams shouldn't even be in a playoff race. I mean, when the Dodgers are 10 games below .500, but only 5 games out of 1st place in the NL West, this is the subject the Senate should be conducting a hearing on. I mean does anyone believe that besides possibly the Cardinals, any other NL franchise could beat the AL Champ in 2005? I know some of you would point to the Astros, but I don't even see them making the playoffs, as I have a hunch their Big 3 starters will be lucky to be the Big 2 by the end of the year.
While the AL is superior to the NL, the league also lacks a great team. The White Sox posted a record during the first half of the year that would have given one the impression they might have the skills, but they were somewhat lucky, early on and the injury problems of Frank Thomas have really exposed their lack of a consistent stud hitter in their lineup. The White Sox starting staff is the best 1 through 5 in baseball, but their starters don't have the kind of stuff that makes them a team to fear in the post-season.
Last year, the real World Championship was between the Red Sox and Yankees. Both of them were great teams in 2004, but this year, a mix of injuries (Red Sox) and poor roster decisions (Yankees), have left both as extremely flawed teams. At this late point of the season, the two are struggling to qualify for the playoffs, despite enormous salary disparity advantages versus their competition.
Current AL Wild Card leader, the Oakland A's, lack enough power-hitting to make a run at a World Championship this year, but they could be the best team in baseball by 2006. The addition this month of Casey Kotchman to the Angels lineup has really helped the offense, but their starting pitching is very flawed. The Indians are similar to the Angels, as their starting pitching is questionable, but their offense will keep them in the hunt. The Twins have the pitching, but the season ending injury to Torii Hunter I think will be too much for them to overcome. I would argue that all 4 of these teams were better in 2004, but the mediocrity of 2005 has kept them in the playoff chase.
So put this season under the category of "be careful of what you wish for", because I've always hoped that MLB could have more parity, being tired of knowing the Yankees had an advantage over the rest of the league. Well, unless Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke start pitching like they did last year, 2005's post-season will be one of a lot of mediocre teams fighting it out to be the top dog. (A better description would be, top of the dogs.)
POSTNOTE: Continuing in my process of putting my neck on the chopping block, here are the teams I see in this year's playoffs. AL: White Sox, Red Sox, Angels, and Yankees. NL: Cardinals, Braves, Padres, Marlins.