In between waiting for tonight's game to start so we can again wax poetic about Junior Lake, the Matt Garza trade extravaganza that was/wasn't/might be, and the upcoming City Council vote on Wrigley Field, I've been amusing myself on Twitter and trying to figure out something to think about until big news drops. Today, Jonah Keri tweeted this:
Rays have won now have 19 of their last 23 games. 57 wins trail only Cardinals (58) and Red Sox (59).
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) July 20, 2013
I had to do a double-take because I honestly hadn't been following the Tampa Bay Rays or any other American East squad as stringently as they should be given credit for. So I went to the internet and looked up the official standings, and sure enough, there were those Rays. They had just dispatched the Toronto Blue Jays, whom I had picked to make it to the postseason for the first time in something like 20 years. Speaking of the Blue Jays, although they torched their farm system to acquire half the Miami Marlins and R.A. Dickey, they still rank #22 in MLB according to John Sickels earlier this season. That is something that I can appreciate, a team that was so heavy in solid-to-elite prospects that they still had enough depth to rank above the Chicago White Sox (who are working on their own rebuild). I am disappointed that Toronto is doing so poorly, but sometimes what's on paper doesn't translate to production on the field.
The Rays don't really have that luxury, as they're stuck in a tin can in the Tampa Bay area for pretty much the next two decades until they can figure out which venues are better and actually build a new facility there. But they've continued to draft well, they've been smart in their acquisitions (because they literally cannot afford mistakes), they've invested in some key guys in creative ways (see: Evan Longoria) and they've outclassed a number of teams who have far more money than the Rays. They're a very well-oiled engine; all they need is some extra cash and they might become more formidable than they already are.
I've already spoken in length about how good the Cardinals are, so it's not a surprise that they are once again leading the division. What actually surprised me is how well the Boston Red Sox are doing this season. New GM Ben Cherington should be commended for piecing the team back together after tossing away Theo Epstein's so-called "bad contracts," but the boys who headed to the Dodgers aren't actually doing so poorly. Adrian Gonzalez is working out well, hitting as he always seems to do. Hanley Ramirez has returned from injury and has been blasting the tar out of the ball; you may remember him as part of the trade that acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, two key members of Theo's 2007 World Series championship team. Beckett, of course, is now old and broken, so of coursehe's going to suck. On the other hand, another contract that Theo set up, the one for John Lackey, seems to be panning out for Cherington this year. And the bulk of the team is still made up of guys acquired directly by Theo or Jed Hoyer, or drafted while Theo was still GM. Names like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz make up the offensive engine for Boston. Even a trade acquisition, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is performing about as well as Cherington signing Mike Napoli. Other Cherington signings included Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster, who are doing their part, but you can't escape the imprint that Theo left on Boston. In fact, Theo's imprint is all over baseball if you consider the talent he jettisoned to build those two World Series teams, plus the division leader that Cherington put together this season.
I recognize that Chicago is not Tampa Bay, or Kansas City, or Pittsburgh (speaking of Pittsburgh...WOW). But there is a good reason that Tampa Bay IS so successful, and there's also a good reason that I have so much faith in the Cubs front office now. The philosophies are interconnected, and the only difference is that one entity has more money and a landmark stadium to work with. I mentioned all the items above because I believe that the system being designed by the Cubs right now will work. I think the guy who is running the show knows what he's doing. And I think the track record of success whether you want to give him 100% of the credit/blame or not speaks for itself.
I like the idea behind this sustainable success plan the Cubs are setting up now. I think it will work. I don't think it guarantees championships, but it will make postseason trips more likely and frequent. And I think the money will definitely come in handy, but the foundation of the plan comes first, and the reward will be worth it.