by Rob Joyce
Major League Baseball’s races are heating up as October looms. And although 16 of the league’s 30 teams have at least an outside shot at making the postseason, the defending champions are not among them. In fact, only five teams have fewer wins than the Red Sox entering September. Having finished in AL East cellar in 2012, and likely in 2014, they would be the first team ever to sandwich a World Series win between two last-place finishes. And statistically speaking, this Boston team is among the worst defending champions in MLB history:
5) 1986 Kansas City Royals (76-86, -19 run differential)
The 1985 World Series-winning Royals over-performed in the regular season, with a team that played to a projected 86-76 record, but ended up winning 91 games. In 1986, they returned back to earth. George Brett, off an MVP runner-up performance, saw his batting average drop 45 points, his home run total nearly cut in half and his RBIs decrease by 40. On the pitching staff, Bret Saberhagen went from a 20-game winner with a sub-3.00 earned run average to a middling 7-12 with an ERA over 4.00, while Charlie Leibrandt’s ERA jumped a run and a half.
4) 2013 San Francisco Giants (76-86, -62 run differential)
It’s amazing how quickly the offense fades when Buster Posey (.336 average in 2012), Melky Cabrera (.346 until his PED suspension) and Marco Scutaro (.362 in 61 games) all fall below .300 or, in Cabrera’s case, leaves the team. San Francisco scored a half-run less per game, while the team ERA jumped to 4.00, among the worst in the National League. On the mound, Matt Cain went from ace to mediocre, while Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, each of whom had decent years in 2012, were disasters.
3) 1932 St. Louis Cardinals (72-82, -33 run differential)
The 1931 Cardinals were a 101-win squad with two .340 hitters and six quality starters. A year later, batting title champion (and leading home run hitter) Chick Hafey had a contract dispute and was traded, and .348 hitter Jim Bottomley was hurt for much of the season. Meanwhile, the ERAs of starters Syl Johnson, Jesse Haines and Paul Derringer all rose. The only bright spot of the ’32 season was the welcoming of 22-year-old Dizzy Dean, a future Hall of Famer.
2) 2014 Boston Red Sox (61-77, -68 run differential)* as of Sept. 3
Last year the Sox had a dream season. Every time they needed a big hit, they got one. Closer Koji Uehara was untouchable for four months. A career year from Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava, a resurgent David Ortiz, pinch-hitting prowess from Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and seemingly anyone else who came off the bench. That all came to an abrupt halt in 2014. A combination of the injury bug, young players Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. not living up to the hype, lack of power in the lineup (let alone on the bench) and struggling pitching all are to blame. After trading Jon Lester and John Lackey at the deadline, sights on 2015 became the goal for Boston, leaving 2014 as a lost year.
1) 1998 Florida Marlins (54-108, -256 run differential)
They never had a chance. After stunning the Indians in the ’97 World Series, it took a matter of weeks for the team to be blown up. Seven of eight position players were shipped off, as were four of five regular starting pitchers. The likes of Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Rob Nenn, Moises Alou, Jeff Conine and others were traded in the off-season. Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla headlined the players traded during the season, all resulting in a miserable 1998.