As we all know, a full baseball season is a test of endurance. By the time September rolls around, most fans have adopted one of two mindsets: one is more tuned in than ever, excited by the prospect of a close playoff race or scouting potential postseason matchups. The second is the opposite, those who are pretty much completely checked out due to their team’s irrelevance or prolonged mediocrity. Maybe you’ve switched over to football at this point. There’s nothing wrong with that. When your team is bad enough, at a certain point, tuning out is self-care.
This year is no different. While the top teams have seemingly risen above the crop, the bottom tier of Major League Baseball has been struck by a preponderance of suckitude: as of Saturday morning, 11 teams found themselves 10 or more games removed from a playoff berth, four of which — Texas, Baltimore, Arizona, and Pittsburgh — boast brutal sub-.370 winning percentages. Additionally, several teams (looking at you, Cubs and Nats) have undergone post-trade deadline swoons that indicate a much lower quality of baseball than their records would suggest.
Yes, with these teams, we pretty know what to expect. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching. I’ve come up with five particular sources of interest in the league’s bottom-feeders, based on a principle I like to call “the Khris Davis Effect;” or in other words, the idea that we enjoy witnessing the improbable, no matter how inconsequential it may be.
In 2018, Khris Davis completed one of the most improbable yet inconsequential feats of all time: hitting exactly .247 for the fourth consecutive year. Nobody thought he could do it. It had never been done. But he did it, and it didn’t make one iota of difference for the Oakland A’s (or Davis himself). Three years later, after a terrible opening to the 2021 season in Texas, it looked like Davis’ big league career was curtains.
But now he’s back in the bigs, with the A’s no less, and through six games he’s just 12 BA points shy of replicating his favorite statistical feat one more time, for old times’ sake. That alone is reason enough for us to believe that anything is possible.
But of course, the A’s are already good. So let’s get to the scrubs, shall we?
1. Rookie Madness
The first reason to watch bad baseball this month is the most obvious: bad teams aren’t too concerned with risk, so they give young players ample opportunity to show what they’ve got. Sometimes this backfires, as talented rookies are rushed to the bigs before they’re ready. More often, the kids are able to work through their challenges and develop gradually. But sometimes, every so often, they make a big splash. They take advantage of the fact that opposing teams don’t know much about them yet. If you’re a good team playing a bottom-feeder, why would you bother wasting time scouting unproven prospects?
We’ve already seen this play out remarkably this year with some of the worst teams in the league. Remember when Tyler Gilbert threw a no-hitter in Arizona in his first career start? How about when Akil Baddoo went from Rule 5 pick to grand-slamming national headline in his first week as a Tiger? Try Minnesota, where 25-year-old hurler Joe Ryan was perfect through seven in his debut this week — or Texas, where rookie of the year candidate Adolis García has been overshadowed of late by rookie teammates Andy Ibañez and Glenn Otto, one of whom recorded a 16-hit week and the other shut down one of MLB’s best offenses in his first career start.
It just goes to show, you never know what you’re gonna see at the ol’ ballpark. With more September call-ups joining by the day, the only question is, who’s next?
2. No-Hit Potential
The premise of this point was going to be about how three separate bad teams — Texas, Cleveland, and Seattle — have all been no-hit multiple times this season, and how if it happens one more time, the unlucky victim could become the first team ever to be no-hit three times in one season. But in case you haven’t heard, the Guardians beat me to the punch last night. What’s worse, it happened while poor Zach Plesac was on the mound again (that guy just can’t catch a break). But these absurdities are neither here nor there.
The point remains, a plethora of bad teams means a plethora of opportunities for good pitchers — or even mediocre, lucky pitchers — to make history. And with the single-season no-no record already locked up, why should we think they’ll stop there?
Based on all available evidence from this wacky season, the best (and only) way we have of predicting the next no-hitter is whenever Plesac starts. He’s lined up to face the Yankees next weekend, possibly against Gerrit Cole, and in a few weeks, he’s set to face the White Sox. Carlos Rodon already has a no-no this year, and Lance Lynn is lurking. Something to keep an eye on, just saying.
3. Road Warriors
Another fun yet entirely meaningless record to watch out for is the thrilling chase for the worst road record in baseball. Currently, the Diamondbacks hold pole position at 18-53, a .254 winning percentage in road games that would rank 33rd-worst in MLB history (min. 70 games). Their remaining road schedule after Sunday consists of three games against the Dodgers, three against the Astros, and three against the Giants. If they lose all nine, hypothetically speaking, they could jump up to 15th on the aforementioned list. Yay, history!
The other contenders for road ineptitude are the Pirates and Rockies at 20 wins apiece (.282), the Rangers at 21 (.288), and the Marlins at 22 (.314). The Rockies have also been stealing headlines with their home-road discrepancy, given their impressive 45-27 (.625) WP at Coors Field this year. That number — a difference of 311 points through Saturday — has dipped recently, thanks to an improbable series win in Los Angeles two weeks ago, strong performance in Philadelphia this weekend, and a home sweep at the hands of the Giants. As a result, they’re no longer in line to break the full-season record held by the 1945 Athletics (356 points), but they could theoretically still get there. Here’s hoping!
4. Chaos Potential
My personal favorite reason to watch bad teams in the coming weeks is the potential for chaos. This one is cheating a little bit because, in reality, it could end up mattering quite a bit in regards to the playoff race. But bear with me here. In the final three weeks of the season, the “good teams” play a disproportionate number of games against sub-.500 teams; of the 11 teams in Wild Card Contention, (i.e. within five games), only four — the A’s, Mariners, Mets, and Padres — play more than half their games against winning teams. The Phillies, Braves, Yankees, White Sox, and Reds have particularly cushy schedules, each with 10+ games remaining against losing teams.
As a result, those teams are counting on racking up Ws in that time. But as we know, anything can happen on a given day in baseball. One well-timed (or poorly-timed, for those chasing draft picks) winning streak by an underdog could turn the Wild Card race on its head. What happens if the Pirates — who have nine games left against the WC-leading Reds — were to get hot at the right time?
Of note, on the final weekend of the season, there are only three matchups scheduled between multiple bad teams: DBacks-Rockies, Royals-Twins, and Rangers-Cleveland. With the exception of the Padres (who play the Giants) and Mets (who play the Braves), every NL Wild Card contender ends the season playing a “cupcake” team. They won’t all lose, but inevitably, one or two of those games is going to end up causing some unexpected drama, and I can’t wait to see it.
5. Numbers, Baby, Numbers
Finally, we arrive at the most Khris Davis-ian of reasons: the statbook. Nearly every bad team has at least one player worth watching for statistical reasons, and some of them are quite fun. Some of these are well-established but worth watching nonetheless:
- For every outrageous made-up player that the Nats trot out there on their gutted roster, there is another moment that makes us appreciate Juan Soto. The latest involves his on-base dominance. Not only does he lead all qualified Major League hitters in OBP by more than 30 points, but with just 12 more walks, he’ll officially have the second-most single-season walks by a 22-year-old ever (behind Ted Williams borderline-unbreakable record of 147).
- While the Royals jockey for last place in the AL Central, the ageless Salvador Perez continues to wow us. With 42 home runs this year, Salvy has already broken the American League record for HRs by a catcher. But if he hits seven more, he can break the record by any Royal (Jorge Soler’s 48 in 2019); what’s more, no. 46 would be enough to pass Mike Sweeney for second-most in his career as a Royal. I believe in Sal.
- Much like the Nats, the Cubs continue to let pretty much anyone crack the lineup these days as they plummet into obscurity. But amid this mess, Patrick Wisdom has continued to dominate. His 25 homers are already the most ever by a rookie 29-years-or-older, breaking pitcher-turned-slugger Bobby Darwin’s record of 22 in 1972. But seeing as how Wisdom turned 30 in August, I really, really want to see him hit 30 — and it’s well within reach. What better story for a future ESPN 30-for-30 than a rookie hitting 30 at 30?
I’ll leave the rest of the wacky stats to the pros like Jayson Stark, Jeremy Frank, and the Cespedes Barbecue. But if you dig a little closer, you’ll find that nearly every team has at least one fun story like this, and that’s why baseball is the best. I like to think Khris Davis would approve.
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)