LOS ANGELES – Between Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium lie some 30 miles of broad freeway, which, in certain hours on certain days, encourages vehicular traffic. Like an eclipse, one must not stare directly into the glare of such a phenomenon. One risks being cast into an unsustainable optimism, that of actually reaching one's destination on time.
The point is, there is no knowing. In L.A., by way of Interstate 5 in any direction, one is 35 minutes early or 35 minutes late. The wind blows through one's hair (or careens across one's pomade) or the day blows through the wind, one or the other, hour after hour, day after day, mile after mile.
Until it doesn't. Which brings us back to the point: There is no knowing.
That, in a somewhat roundabout way, brings us to the current locations of the local ballclubs, the Dodgers being through a quarter of the season the winningest team in baseball and the Angels being among the worst, and ain't that a thing?
And, while it would be somewhat interesting if this thing were limited to 30 minutes (or three hours) along a single corridor of stucco strip malls and cinder block sound barriers in Southern California, the entire game has staggered through its initial seven weeks as though semi-expert prognostications and flawed data mean absolutely nothing to it.
Except, of course, in Chicago, where the Cubs are still terrible, as prognosticated.
See, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols, signed C.J. Wilson, fell into last place and fired their hitting coach, who was beloved by everyone in Mike Scioscia's office. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed a bunch of guys they hoped would make their 25-man roster, fell out of bankruptcy, hardly ever have anyone beaten up in their parking lot, and haven't stopped winning.
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Put another way, the Angels are 17-25 with Pujols in their lineup. The Dodgers are 6-2 since Matt Kemp went to the disabled list. (And the St. Louis Cardinals, doomed without Pujols, lead the NL Central.)
Hell, it's rampant, too.
If you awoke from a two-month nap Tuesday morning (with Mark Teixeira), you'd assume the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had moved to a higher league, leaving the AL East with their junior varsity squads.
The Yankees signed two starting pitchers and have the fifth-worst rotation in baseball. The Red Sox hired a law-and-order manager and possess neither law nor order. On the bright side, they are improving their golf handicaps.
Indeed, they've both been trucked by the Baltimore Orioles, who haven't won since their manager was Davey Johnson, who haven't collected W's at this rate since when the current right fielder in Washington was 4 years old. But, that's a whole different stretch of highway – the Baltimore-Washington Parkway – and a whole 'nother 40 miles of heartache.
Johnson's Nationals were a not irrational choice to hang around in the NL East, which could have tumbled in so many directions the Commissioner's office should have carpeted the place in airstrip foam. The Orioles, on the other hand, were going to be years from this, because they lacked the funds, the huevos and the talent to compete in the divisional equivalent of the English Premier League. And they probably couldn't have hit those balls, either.
But, here they are, 43 games in, and still the belles of the hardball. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are all grown up. Jim Johnson has consistently hosted one of the few healthy and stress-free ninth innings in baseball (and even he was hospitalized with food poisoning). The pitching staff isn't half bad. That is, as long as you don't look too hard at the cumulative ERA of its starters or the numbers of innings hauled by its relievers. Otherwise, you might get the distinct impression this won't last long.
[MLB Full Count: Watch live look-ins and highlights for free all season long]
Jones, 26, might have established the new O's order when, asked if he was eager for a look-see at Bryce Harper during interleague play, told reporters, "Why are you asking me about other people like that? Are you asking them if they're looking forward to seeing me? Are you asking them if they [are] looking forward to see Wieters? Are they looking forward to see [Nick] Markakis? No. Have you asked them that?"
Jones will have to get used to it. For the moment, the larger story in the AL East is that $375 million in combined payroll is tied for last place. The Orioles won't get full credit for being good until August, at the earliest, because, frankly, we still can't trust them to be good for six months. He shouldn't feel too bad, though. The situation is the same in the AL Central, where the Detroit Tigers looped in Prince Fielder, figured to dust the division by Father's Day, and so far have yet to shake even the Kansas City Royals. Instead, the Cleveland Indians again have their first-half groove on, and the Chicago White Sox haven't been nearly as irrelevant as expected.
Amid all this, I think of something Kirk Gibson said a week ago, as his Arizona Diamondbacks – NL West champions in October, going on 10½ games out in May – were busy plugging leaks.
He said, "You can't really predict how you get somewhere."
He knows. He's lived in L.A.
It seems to be becoming that kind of season. The top five payrolls in the league – Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Red Sox, Angels and Tigers – are a combined nine games under .500, and on May 21 none had a winning record. Of the top 10 salaried players in the league, all of which are making at least $21 million, only three – CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and, due to extenuating circumstances, Johan Santana – are producing at expected levels. That leaves Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Teixeira, Vernon Wells and Adrian Gonzalez. Also in the top 25 salaries: Ryan Howard, Carl Crawford, Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Tim Lincecum and A.J. Burnett.
That, along with some star-studded disabled lists (Kemp, Mariano Rivera, Justin Morneau, Crawford, Chris Carpenter, Howard, Drew Storen, Lance Berkman, Pablo Sandoval, Evan Longoria, Jacoby Ellsbury, Neftali Feliz, Victor Martinez, to name more than a few) has given rise to new faces, or some old faces with fresh games. David Wright is back in New York, Carlos Zambrano is alive in Miami, Carlos Beltran is enduring in St. Louis, Derek Lowe is winning in Cleveland, Jake Peavy is healthy in Chicago, and Brandon Beachy is maturing in Atlanta.
Then, there are new regimes – in ownership and/or the front office – gaining traction on both sides of L.A., in Baltimore, in Boston. The Wilpons have reached middle class again. Theo Epstein has a plan in Chicago. He does, right?
So, four months from the end game, we at least know what we don't know, which is just about everything. If nothing else, it's something to think about while counting the mile markers.
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