There’s an old adage in sports that championships are won on the field, not on paper and that’s why they play the games.
On paper the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians figured to battle one another all-season long for supremacy of the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals were both expected to improve over dismal showings in 2007 and battle for the moniker of “third-best team in baseball’s best division.”
And then there was the Minnesota Twins, left for dead by most “experts” following a tumultuous off-season that began with the resignation of longtime General Manager Terry Ryan and saw the team lose the face of the franchise in Gold Glove centerfielder, Torii Hunter when he signed a big-money deal to take his highlight reel defense and streaky offense to Hollywood as the second marquee centerfielder acquired in two years by the Angels.
Reliable innings-eater Carlos Silva, channeling Steve Miller, decided to take the money and run when the Seattle Mariners came calling with an ill-conceived four-year, $48 million offer under the assumption that adding the sinkerballer would put the Ms over the top.
Then there was the Johan Santana debacle. Throughout the entire off-season everyone questioned whether the Twins would trade arguably the best pitcher in the game or try to sign him long-term. The answer was both. The Twins made numerous contract offers only to be rebuffed by Santana who was more than content to play out his final season with the Twins and test the waters of free agency.
In lieu of watching Santana walk away for nothing more than two compensatory draft picks, the Twins fielded offers from various suitors only to learn that no one wanted to pony up the price the Twins were asking. In the end Santana became the highest paid pitcher in baseball as a New York Met and the Twins gained a package of prospects that was largely panned by those same experts who predicted a last place finish for the Twins.
That was all before Opening Day. Since Opening Day, things haven’t worked out exactly how they were predicted on paper and that, my friends, is why they play the games.
As we enter the All-Star break, the Twins are nipping at the pale heels of the White Sox for the division lead. The “mighty” Indians have already packed it in by jettisoning team ace, CC Sabathia, to Milwaukee for a package of prospects and letting beleaguered sluggers Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner marinate on the DL instead of rushing back to the lost cause that is the Indians defense of the AL Central crown.
The Tigers who entered the season with what was deemed “the greatest offensive team of all-time” have largely underachieved and are hovering at .500 with just an outside chance of contending. The Royals, are—well—the Royals. They’ve got talent, but they’re underachieving and will have to fight and claw to stay out of the AL Central cellar for a fifth straight season.
There are still 67 games left to be played in this surprising 2008 season and sure the Twins could fall in the second half and both the Tigers and Indians could reverse their fortunes, but even if that is the case, the first 95 games of this magical season have shown us exactly why they play the games. Here’s to hoping the Twins can keep proving everyone wrong…on the field and, now, on paper (or at least pixels) too.