Manager Charlie Manuel of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on from the dugout during a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
It happens every summer: A few teams begin the season with justifiably high hopes, only to struggle in the first half and essentially fall from contention before the All-Star Game, leaving their fans to wonder how it happened.
Hey, we know: If you're anywhere from northern Connecticut to Downeast Maine, the Red Sox have been the most disappointing team in baseball this season. Because they're behind the Yankees. Well behind the Yankees.
But really, the Red Sox haven't played poorly at all. They're within spitting distance of second place (which is almost as good as first place) in the Wild Card standings, and they've got the fifth-best run differential in the American League. They just need to get a little healthier and a little luckier, and they'll be fine. Ay-yeah.
No, today's list is composed of teams that have not played well, despite pre-season expectations, and in most cases aren't likely to play well, or at least not well enough ...
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers certainly weren't favored to win their division, perhaps not even to reach the postseason. But they did win 96 games last season, and while they lost star first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency over the winter, they also gained star third baseman Aramis Ramirez. And Ramirez has played well!
In fact, even without Fielder the Brewers' hitting attack has been fine; this year they rank fifth in the National League in scoring, exactly the same as last year. The real problem's been pitching/defense, as the Brewers seventh in the league in ERA last year, but rank just 12th this year. Oh, and the team's not been nearly as lucky. Last year, they outperformed their run differential by six wins, which is a lot; this year they've underperformed by two wins.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks were supposed to finish last (or close to last) in 2011, and instead they won 94 games and, like the Brewers, an unexpected division title. Also like the Brewers, the Diamondbacks outperformed their run differential by six wins, which didn't bode well for their chances in 2012.
Still, the Diamondbacks brought back all of their best players, and even made a few significant additions, notably Jason Kubel (who's been excellent) and Trevor Cahill (who's been good). They also figured on getting full seasons from youngsters Paul Goldschmidt and Wade Miley, who have both been excellent. Also Aaron Hill, who's enjoying the best season of his career. So many things have gone better than expected ... and yet the Diamondbacks are worse than expected, largely because of poor clutch hitting and MVP candidate Justin Upton's poor season.
Also, the Diamondbacks -- again, just like the Brewers -- have underperformed by a couple of wins, give or take. It's actually quite striking, how similarly these teams, who of course faced off in a Division Series last fall, have fared over the last two seasons.
The D'backs are in slightly better shape than the Brewers, though, because they're only four games out of first place and there are only two teams ahead of them, with the Padres and Rockies presenting no threat at all. It's probably time for the Brewers to give up on 2012, but Arizona's not yet close to that point.
3. Miami Marlins
In April, the Marlins went 8-14 and Ozzie Guillen got in Dutch with the local Cubans.
In May, the Marlins went 21-8 and Ozzie Guillen was officially made a Doctor of Thinkology.
Since then, though? The Marlins have gone 12-20 -- including a couple of six-game losing streaks -- and now sit nine games behind the first-place Nationals. And they've more than earned their 41-44 record, having been outscored by a whopping 56 runs. This is especially disappointing, as ownership celebrated the team's move into a new stadium by upping the payroll from $58 million to more than $100 million. All for a record and run differential practically identical to those of one year ago.
The biggest culprits? First baseman Gaby Sanchez, who's been sent to the minors; and high-priced closer Heath Bell, who's (finally) been demoted to a less critical role. But it's not just those guys. High-priced shortstop Jose Reyes hasn't done much, and high-priced third baseman Hanley Ramirez is doing little better than he did last year.
2. Detroit Tigers
While the Tigers weren't consensus picks to win the World Series -- though a lot of pundits did think they would do exactly that -- they were overwhelming favorites to win the American League Central. And instead they're in third place, 3½ games behind the surprising White Sox.
More to the point, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by only six runs all season, while the Sox are +63. The Tigers have gotten virtually nothing from their second basemen, their starters have been just fair beyond Justin Verlander's usual brilliance, and Jose Valverde's 2011 magic has gone where single-season magic usually goes.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
But nobody's been more disappointing than the Philadelphia Phillies, who were supposed to return to the postseason for a sixth straight October but instead are 14 games behind the first-place Nationals ... and five behind the terribly disappointing Marlins!
The Phillies do have some pretty good excuses, though. Chase Utley just started playing, Ryan Howard has played just two games, and Roy Halladay's been on the DL for a goodly stretch now; that's a lot of money on the Disabled List. Plus, nobody's really been hitting except Carlos Ruiz and Hunter Pence, and the bullpen's been a mess.
The organization is loath to give up on a season, but it really is time for exactly that. Even with Utley and Howard and Halladay, the Phillies are just too far out of the running and behind too many teams to make it six straight.
Yes, there's still plenty of time left in the season. But not enough time for anyone. Last year at the All-Star break -- if you could add a second Wild Card to the mix -- no team that ultimately qualified for the postseason was more than just a half-game out in the Wild Card standings.
Essentially, the places these teams currently occupy in the standings tell us not only how well they've played, but also how well they will play. Roughly speaking, of course. But good teams, playoff teams, usually play a lot better than this in the first half of the season.
Which disappointing team is going to make a strong second-half run?
Brewers (79 votes)
Diamondbacks (211 votes)
Marlins (82 votes)
Phillies (241 votes)
Tigers (634 votes)
1247 total votes