There are still regular season games and the entire playoffs remaining in the 2014 Major League Baseball season, but several odds-on favorites to win the World Series have already checked out of this year’s campaign. Last year’s World Series champs, described by Grantland in its preseason predictions as a squad that “looks strong from [roster] spots 1 through 25,” were eliminated from playoff contention before September passed a fortnight.
Baseball is certainly hard to predict, but three of this season’s favorites hit unusually low depths. Vegas preseason betting odds were considered, but predictions from ESPN experts (namely, Buster Olney and David Schoenfield) were the main barometer along with Grantland’s MLB preview.
Sports Cheat Sheet respects these baseball minds on a high level. If they got it wrong, anyone could. Here are three MLB preseason favorites that completely tanked (and have been eliminated from playoff contention) in 2014.
1. Texas Rangers
Texas got terrible news before the season even began. Prince Fielder, the slugger who cost the team Ian Kinsler in an offseason trade, would miss all of 2014 after undergoing neck surgery. That left a hole in Ron Washington’s lineup that never got filled. It turned out to be just one of a long list of injuries. Prized free agent acquisition Shin-Soo Choo (.242 BA, 19 2B in 123 games) spent most of 2014 underwhelming fans and opponents.
David Schoenfield had the Rangers (2014 payroll: $133 million) winning the AL West. Grantland liked the Rangers’ chances as well, picking them to come in second with a shot at the title. With games left to play, Texas is eliminated from contention and hovers about 40 games below .500, 37 games behind the first place Angels. It has been an unmitigated disaster. Even worse, Ron Washington’s resignation has left the team without a blueprint to compete in 2015.
2. Boston Red Sox
The 2013 Boston Red Sox were justly celebrated for putting the historic 2011 collapse and Bobby Valentine debacle behind them to win the World Series. For 2014, the team returned nearly in full, save the lack of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. These subtractions were strategical, as it gave top prospects Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. the chance scouts believed they deserved.
It turned out the Red Sox overestimated the readiness of Bogaerts (.237 BA with an ominous .666 OPS) and Bradley (.211 BA with a .565 OPS), and underestimated the impact of losing Ellsbury. David Ortiz held up his end of the bargain, but it was nowhere near enough for the team to contend. By mid-season, the defending champions had two reliable pitchers (Jon Lester and John Lackey), both of whom they traded in a summer fire sale. Boston can’t blame its terrible showing on injuries. This one has to be hung on the players — namely the back end of the rotation and a supporting cast that overachieved in 2013.
David Schoenfield and Grantland had the Red Sox winning an AL Wild Card; Buster Olney had them winning the AL East; Vegas had them at 12-1 to repeat as champs. That’s not going to happen, as the Red Sox were eliminated September 10. What did the team’s $163 million payroll (fourth in MLB) buy? They are more or less guaranteed to come in last place in the AL East; sit 23 games out of first place; and are 13 games below .500 at Fenway. These numbers will likely get worse by the time the playoffs start.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa depends on good health from a young core of players for its Moneyball formula (2014 payroll: $70 million, third lowest) to work. The injury bug hit the team early and often, with Matt Moore exiting for Tommy John surgery in May and Alex Cobb missing a chunk of time, as did Wil Myers and several other key players. This bad fortune dug them a hole they couldn’t climb out of, though Rays Manager Joe Maddon promised they’d shock the world.
In fact, the Rays did make a run in July, but the requisite trade of David Price ensured their 2014 season would be a flop. Buster Olney and Grantland had them representing the AL East in the World Series; David Schoenfield had them winning the World Series; and Vegas had them equal to San Francisco at 16-1 to go all the way. The Rays were eliminated September 11 and stand 17 games behind first-place Baltimore in fourth place. After blowing four-run leads on consecutive nights to the Yankees, the Rays also spoiled a possible fourth entry on this list.
Most MLB experts (and Vegas) got the National League right. The Dodgers, the Nationals, and the Cardinals are all in the mix with a shot to win it all in 2014. These three AL teams (along with Vegas’ darling Yankees) baffled the experts with their disappointing seasons. There’s always next year, as they say.