In any good competition there are bound to be some losers. A wild race for the 12 MLB postseason slots means a handful of teams hit the wall after Game 162 and were forced to concede defeat.
However, not all defeats are equal. There are surprise teams that are happy to get involved. There are aging teams making one last attempt. There are teams with few injuries and missing years out of the blue. The how counts, not only for the taste left in the fans’ mouths, but also for the direction of the club.
We’ve already listed the teams that are completely out of contention this year, but as the season came to a close on Sunday, four more teams that were actively competing for playoff glory ultimately fell out.
It’s time to break down the disappointment with MLB’s closest teammates.
For the Cubs, it was a three-season story.
At first they looked half-baked. After adding Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon and Cody Bellinger, the Cubs were 24-31 at the end of May and appeared headed for another year of trading short-term major leaguers and sorting through young talent.
Then they played their way into the race and came up with the idea that maybe 2023 was the right time to buy again, that this was actually the next good Cubs team they had been working toward. Justin Steele proved to be not only a good story, but also a bona fide ace and Cy Young contender. Taillon and Seiya Suzuki turned things around after brutal starts. Mike Tauchman proved to be a strong contributor. In late July, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer decided to add that. The Cubs haven’t mortgaged their future by any means, but they did acquire Jeimer Candelario and, more importantly, declined to trade Bellinger, who is resurgent on a one-year deal, or pitcher Marcus Stroman, who is on an expiring contract.
Finally there was the third season, a slow-motion car crash called September. The Cubs lost six times to the Arizona Diamondbacks, their wild card rival. They lost a series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose wrath manager David Ross triggered by calling them a bad team. They simply couldn’t stop an Atlanta Braves team whose postseason chances were completely sold out, losing all three games, one of them due to a brutal Suzuki error.
Taken together, this creates a confusing picture. The Cubs’ run differential was better than that of the division champion Brewers and far better than that of the Marlins or Diamondbacks, who made the playoffs, but the Cubs had big stretches of the season in which they couldn’t achieve great success and didn’t have the right man for the right moment.
In many cases, the best answer for teams like this is to step back and keep building. But it’s not that easy for the Cubs. Their best hitter, Bellinger, will return in free agency and will require a much larger investment to bring him back. Stroman may be more inclined to return, but he’s not getting any younger. With Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario, some of the fruits of Chicago’s rebuild are beginning to take hold, but Chicago’s prospects are unlikely to match those of the Reds or perhaps even the Pirates in the division, raising the specter of a team that is at its best missed.
Despite positive developments on multiple fronts, the Cubs are in many ways back to where they started the year, which may be the most disappointing goal of all.
After breaking through to the playoffs in 2022, should the Mariners get a reprieve from disappointment? Maybe, but the accumulation of starting pitching and the continued employment of Julio Rodríguez on this team raised hopes for more. In a sweltering August, they appeared to realize those hopes with a rapid rise to the top of the AL West, but they returned to earth and were eliminated from the playoffs entirely in September.
This Mariners team has been plagued by half measures. Even major progress from JP Crawford and continued improvement from Cal Raleigh couldn’t provide Rodríguez with enough support in the lineup. They traded closer Paul Sewald for offensive help at the deadline, but Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas couldn’t move the needle as much (nor should they have expected).
Seattle currently has one of the best pitching development programs in the majors with George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and a horde of good relievers on the team. At some point, the Mariners may need to do more to bolster the offense from the outside as their young rotation, including Luis Castillo, reaches its peak.
Is 2023 disappointing? Absolutely. Is it an end? Not necessarily. It could easily become a learning moment on the way up.
Frankly, the Giants’ leadership seems to be taking the team’s September stumbles harder than any reasonable observer would suspect. After Some reports questioned job security As head coaches for baseball’s top executive Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler, the Giants fired Kapler before the final weekend of the season.
This ended an era in which Kapler was often asked to prepare a gourmet meal from leftovers and leftovers. Frankly, the fact that he once had historic success — winning 107 games in 2021 — and had the Giants hoping for a postseason berth again this year seemed more of a merit than a reason for firing.
Sometimes change needs a visible spark. Sometimes a fresh start is necessary. But the Giants’ recent problems have never been difficult to diagnose. They don’t have any star hitters in their prime. They barely have a hitter who can play credibly every day, employing a barrage of options with platoon issues or defensive limitations that Kapler has had to work into a litany of lineups. Their pitching acquisitions, intended to complement Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, immediately turned into pumpkins, forcing Kapler to operate a two-man rotation for most of the summer, a tightrope that the team couldn’t sustain long enough to handle to stay in the NL wildcard hunt.
Still, a group of younger players is beginning to arrive in the Bay Area, and the team’s restructuring around those talents — including Patrick Bailey and Kyle Harrison — is just beginning. Adding proven stars always seemed like a necessary next step, and that still appears to be the plan heading into the offseason.
Maybe there were internal reasons that made it logical to move on from Kapler, but since Zaidi and the Giants have shellacked every major free agent and failed on too many mediocre options, they seem more likely to play the blame game than accomplish anything productive.
You can’t judge everything based on staff movements, but this one works. The Reds promoted Nick Krall from general manager to president of baseball operations and named player development manager Brad Meador as GM after the Reds enjoyed a surprising season with exciting newcomers making their debuts.
From the group of Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Stand, Noelvi Marte, Spencer Steer and Will Benson, the Reds saw a young core quickly emerge. There is real and difficult work ahead of us to maximize this group, perhaps by trading some of them, but the 2023 season was a big party in terms of house money.
The Reds didn’t make the postseason this year, but they’re far from disappointed. They had one of the most encouraging seasons in baseball.