A(nother) Look At Biggest Breakouts And Busts Among MLB Teams

Based on preseason win-total projections, here are the most overachieving and underachieving teams
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Back on the final day of May, we published our look at Major League Baseball’s biggest overachievers and underachievers based on preseason win totals for sports betting (provided by FanDuel).

At the time, the Yankees were the toast of baseball, on pace for 111 wins — 19.5 more than FanDuel’s odds pegged them to pile up before the season.

The Yanks, you may have heard, recently have taken a mighty tumble, with a miserable 5-14 August making FanDuel’s projection look pretty spot-on. The Yanks now are on pace for 98 wins, just 6.5 more than their preseason win total and not good enough to make the top five (and ties) when it comes to overachievers.

The Minnesota Twins, similarly, have dropped out of the top five with a sluggish second half. Ditto for the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres (despite their splashy trade-deadline moves).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia Phillies under manager Joe Girardi were having a miserable season back at the end of May — projected to win 17.5 fewer games than FanDuel had set them at — but they have picked up the pace considerably since dumping Girardi and no longer make our list of underachievers.

The Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners, too, have emerged from the deadbeat list to make bold playoff runs, while the Detroit Tigers’ misery has continued to nudge them up to the very top of the class when it comes to underachievement.

To the list:

Biggest overachievers

Orioles o/u 61.5
Pace: 84
Difference: +22.5

The Baltimore Orioles of ‘22 represent the kind of social mobility that tends to make for a healthy league. After losing 115 games in 2018, 108 games in 2019, 35 games (out of 60) in 2020, and 110 games in 2021, the Orioles aren’t just improved. They’re contending. Led by rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, a two-way threat, and by one of the best bullpens in baseball, the O’s are just 2.5 games out of the last AL wild card spot as of this writing.

The scary thing for the Yankees and the rest of the AL East is that this season is probably a real step forward rather than a false start. Baltimore still has arguably the best farm system in baseball, with players like shortstops Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday and pitcher Grayson Rodriguez elevating the system. The years of misery for O’s fans may be over. The ending (or is it a start?) just came a bit quicker than most people were expecting.

Dodgers o/u 98.5
Pace: 113
Difference: +14.5

Stop right now and kick yourself in the butt if you didn’t take the over on the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming.

Most people think the Dodgers simply bought their way to dominance when the new ownership group took over 10 years ago, but those people are wrong. This team is a clever mix of homegrown stars such as Clayton Kershaw, Will Smith, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Cody Bellinger, seasoned with reclamation projects like Max Muncy and Justin Turner, with a dash of big-spending additions like Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman. Add it all up and it equals repeatable excellence, the kind everyone should have seen coming.

Mets o/u 91.5
Pace: 104
Difference: +12.5

Good grief, how is anybody going to get past the New York Mets in the playoffs? Granted, there are a lot of ways to advance in October. Some teams just hit a bunch of home runs. Some teams barely rely on their starting pitchers, turning games over to a dominant bullpen at the first whiff of trouble.

But the Mets are going to do it the old-fashioned way, with one of the most dominant starting pitching duos since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson won the Arizona Diamondbacks a title 21 years ago. You’re going to have to beat Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, or both to get past this team, and good luck with that. While other teams got way more accolades for trade-deadline moves, the Mets have parlayed lower-tier power additions like Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf into some of the most consistent baseball in the league. No doubt, this team has World Series aspirations and World Series talent.

Astros o/u 92.5
Pace: 104
Difference: +11.5

The team so many baseball fans want to go away just refuses to do so. They keep losing star players to free agency and not missing a beat. This Houston Astros club is on pace for its best season since 2019 and has remarkable balance, with the sixth-most runs scored in baseball and the second-best ERA. Until Aug. 1, it was hard to imagine anyone getting past the Yankees in the AL postseason. Now, the same could be said of this battle-tested group.

(t)-Cardinals o/u 84.5
Pace: 93
Difference: +8.5

Last season, the St. Louis Cardinals produced a 17-game winning streak out of the blue in September to snatch a wild card spot and continue a two-decade run of excellence. This team just continues with its philosophy of trying to win 90 or so games or so every season and seeing what happens in the playoffs.

It has been 11 years since St. Louis witnessed true October magic, but the seasons being had by Paul Goldschmidt, the prohibitive NL MVP favorite (at -400 at DraftKings), and Nolan Arenado (6.5 WAR) hint at magical things to come. If Albert Pujols continues to mash like he has lately or if Tyler O’Neill can regain his 2021 form, this team could prove to be a wrecking ball come October.

(t)-Guardians o/u 75.5
Pace: 84
Difference: +8.5

It’s easy to see why the bookmakers were down on Cleveland entering this season. There was a clear downward trend from the 102 games this club won in 2017, with low-90s win totals two consecutive years and a sub-.500 record last season.

But Terry Francona’s team is back, with reliable production from superstar José Ramírez and huge contributions from youngsters like Andres Gimenez and Steven Kwan. The Guardians don’t have dominant pitching, but the rotation led by Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie is stout enough, and the bullpen led by flame-throwing closer Emmanuel Clase is better than stout. It’s a bit premature to call them title contenders just yet, but they’re a lot better than most bettors thought they were in early April, it would seem.

Biggest underachievers

(t)-Tigers o/u 77.5
Pace: 62:
Difference: -15.5

Aside from the emergence of young pitcher Tarik Skubal, this season has been an unmitigated disaster in Detroit.

The bookmakers must have figured people would jump on the bandwagon after the Tigers surprisingly won 30 more games in 2021 than they had in 2019 (forget the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), then spent lavishly to add pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez and middle infielder Javy Báez. Due to injury, Rodriguez has made just nine starts, and Báez is hitting .222 with 110 strikeouts. The sad thing is the future doesn’t look particularly promising in Detroit either, with ESPN recently ranking their farm system at No. 24.

(t)-Nationals o/u 69.5
Pace: 54
Difference: -15.5

Yeah, pretty much the same thing in Washington, except nobody really expected them to be good. After trading Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres for prospects early this month, the Nationals officially waved the white flag. That means, if you had an under ticket, you can pretty much just count the days until you can cash. That’s a pretty good description of how Nationals fans are treating the remainder of this season.

Angels o/u 83.5
Pace: 70
Difference: -13.5

Owner Arte Moreno keeps cycling through managers and front offices, but eventually he might have to take a look in the mirror. Any team that has transcendent stars like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani should never be this bad.

Moreno can temporarily distract Angels fans by firing people all he wants, but it’s becoming pretty apparent this simply isn’t a well-run organization, which starts at the top. Moreno, who made his fortune in the highway billboard business, always seems to go for the big splash in free agency rather than allowing his baseball operations department to build slowly and steadily through the farm system. It’s a losing formula reminiscent of the Angels’ approach when they were signing aging superstars like Reggie Jackson for publicity in the 1980s.

Royals o/u 74.5
Pace: 65
Difference: -9.5

The Kansas City Royals hired Mike Matheny to manage their club because they thought his relentless positivity would set a good atmosphere for a young team. In his three seasons, the Royals have played .433, .457, and .398 baseball. Where’s the progress? Thus far, Kansas City seems intent on sticking with Matheny, but it’s hard to see where the improvement will come from. ESPN ranked the Royals’ system No. 22, and it’s not as if the owners are going to start spending lavishly any time soon. This is an organization adrift.

(t)-White Sox o/u 92.5
Pace: 83
Difference: -9.5

Chicago White Sox fans have good reason to lead the league in frustration. With so many young stars on their roster, FanDuel gave them the second-highest preseason win total on the board and, boy, has that proven overly optimistic.

Injuries and underperformance have the White Sox 3.5 games out of a playoff spot at the moment with just three more wins than losses. People are wondering if the combination of a brash, young roster with a brash, aging manager (Tony La Russa) simply isn’t working. Unless this team gets going, it will really have to make some swift changes, but whatever it does will probably come too late for over bettors.

(t)-A’s o/u 69.5
Pace: 60
Difference: -9.5

Owner John Fisher clearly is trying to lose as much as possible to force Commissioner Rob Manfred and the city of Oakland to solve the team’s dilemma of playing in the worst stadium in MLB. Oakland’s Opening Day payroll was $48 million, and it went down considerably with in-season trades. He’s doing an even better job of tanking than FanDuel expected, and there’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon after the trade of ace Frankie Montas to the Yankees. A league that cared more about its fans and less about its owners’ bottom lines wouldn’t allow this situation to exist, and if Manfred doesn’t help solve it soon, MLB could lose a foothold in one of the most dynamic parts of the country.

(t)-Reds o/u 73.5
Pace: 64
Difference: -9.5

The Reds started the season inauspiciously when the owner’s son, Phil Castelli, was quoted as saying this to fans frustrated by the team’s frugal ways and lack of postseason success: “Well, where are you going to go? Let’s start there.” Reds fans have presumably found a few other things to do in the Queen City. The team is barely averaging 18,000 fans a game, so they’ve proven Castelli wrong.

The Reds’ best hitter is Kyle Farmer, the only qualified member of the squad to have an OPS in the top 100 of MLB. That’s remarkable. There really is nothing to see here, other than another also-ran team rewarding bettors who thought they’d be even worse than they were supposed to be.

Photo: Shutterstock

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