As the regular season winds down and we’re approaching the best time of year for the teams in contention, either hopes and dreams on the line on a nightly basis for a postseason berth or the sweet satisfaction of upcoming October baseball, the rest of the fan bases that are left out feel a little bit differently.
For those who know their fate, it’s officially “What if…” season. They ask themselves, “What if (an unfortunate regular season event) never happened?” and talk themselves into that minor tragedy’s absence, resulting in a championship in their pleasant alternative delusional sports fan reality.
However, sometimes that’s all it takes is luck in baseball, a sport that is so romantically based on momentum and metals. One minor wheel falling off can cause The Sound of Thunder level of butterfly effects.
So, for the delusional fan bases that are already having to cope with a lost season, we’re going to recap those moments with some multiversal “What If” storylines of the season.
What if… the San Diego Padres Hadn’t Had Their Opening Fan Fest Celebration Before the Season Started?
In 2011, the Miami Heat formation of their “superteam” of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh began with a historic sports karma moment; the big three pompously had smoke machines in South Beach, touting their formation on barstools in front of maniacal Floridians with the infamous sound byte of LeBron’s “not one, not two, not three…” championship expectations.
They then lost in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games.
This year, the Padres held a similar Fan Fest; while they went from a fan fest that looked like a suburban state fair to an A-listed SoCal event with thousands of fans attending, the fan base that has spent the second-most behind the Mets and gone all-in on their roster, acquiring Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and a cast of superstars. Soto, Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Manny Machado sat in chairs not unlike the ones from our icons in South Beach when Tatis Jr. said, “It doesn’t matter because we still gonna win it all!” when asked about who they would face in the World Series.
Since then, the Padres have been out of playoff contention essentially all season behind the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Giants; they’ve statistically been the unluckiest team in baseball. In WAR, they should be 8 games better than their actual record; they somehow are 9 games below .500 with a run differential of +64 and are on pace for the worst record in 1-run games in baseball history. Manager Bob Melvin even said, “There’s no point in looking at the standings anymore,” to emphasize how utterly done they are with this milquetoast year.
Is it the curse of the preseason star-studded hype? Who’s to say?
We’ll write out the story that if they didn’t hold that opening fan fest that could have cursed them with the burden of overbearing expectations, they ended up building off of the momentum of eliminating the Dodgers, they got better production from their stars, and Blake Snell and Ha-Seong Kim continued to be unsung heroes to make their depth a murderers’ row.
Maybe someday the Padres won’t be the little brothers of SoCal, but for now, all we have is this reality of asking, “What if…”
What if… the Cardinals’ Manager, Oliver Marmol, Never Berated Tyler O’Neill’s Effort the First Week of the Season?
The St. Louis Cardinals have been known for being one of the most drama-free, consistently well-run organizations in sports (and their fans, who hail themselves as the “classiest in baseball,” will surely tell you). They’re the San Antonio Spurs of the MLB if you will.
However, second-year manager Oliver Marmol tore into outfielder Tyler O’Neill’s “unacceptable” effort running the bases in a 4-1 loss to Atlanta in APRIL, to which O’Neil fired back at the boss-man publicly to defend himself.
Marmol was just in his second year of managing a big league team and was brought in to be a “player’s coach,” so there’s a large possibility that he didn’t exactly have that sort of built-up tenure to call out his own players like that.
After a year where they had the reigning NL MVP in Goldschmidt and the runner-up in Arenado, for the Cardinals to continuously spiral down from that moment to a team that was out of playoff contention from end to end has been utterly shocking for the team with the best odds to make the postseason in the NL Central. They’ve been a combination of terrible defense, 27th in defensive runs saved, and an ERA ranking 25th, headlined by the corpse of Adam Wainwright, starting with an ERA over 8. It’s been a year from Hell, and it could have started with the dysfunctionally divided locker room from that moment on from Marmol.
What if Marmol had instead rallied the troops in the locker room? Maybe that could have resulted in some veteran leadership stepping up and taking an NL Central that has been up and down all year, and they instead get an energized Jack Flaherty, who is not traded to Baltimore!
What if… Edwin Diaz Had Never Had a Season-Ending Injury in the World Baseball Classic?
The Mets were coming off an offseason in which they were flying high! They had the most expensive roster in baseball history (even without Jacob deGrom), they extended Diaz, arguably the best closer in baseball and national phenomenon from his “Narco” entrance music, and the Steve Cohen era of “maybe we CAN buy our way into a World Series” had begun.
Then a freak Edwin Diaz tendon tear in March celebrating at the WBC knocked him out the entire year. Then the old veteran starting pitchers in Verlander and Scherzer got off to a shaky start, including Scherzer getting suspended for excessive sticky stuff. The team that won over 100 games last year with the highest payroll in baseball bet on a veteran roster, and it didn’t pay off- the eight of their returning players have had their worst year (Lindor, Vogelbach, McNeil, Marte, Alonso, Canha, Escobar, and Nimmo), and it resulted in a trade deadline garage sale where Cohen pivoted to targeting their World Series window at now “maybe around 2026.”
Now, maybe Edwin Diaz and his high-energy entrance music for that one-inning was such a good omen that if he hadn’t gotten injured, we would have seen a Mets team that was able to go blow-for-blow with the Atlanta Braves in the division all season and begin a trend in the major leagues of aggressive ownership blowing their wads of money on players in free agency. Who’s to say? That bad injury omen from the beginning could have been the energy-zapper in the building for a team that has dealt with bad luck on and off the field for what feels like a while now.
What if… the Angels Made Shohei OhtaniAavailable at the Trade Deadline?
The Los Angeles Angels may be the single-most incompetent franchise in recent memory with their incapability of building a roster of makes it to the postseason with two of the greatest athletes in their respective sports the world has ever seen in Ohtani and Mike Trout. As he approached free agency, the debate was whether or not the team could stand the tough PR hit of dealing someone of Ohtani’s legendary ilk. Instead, they did a soft buy of Lucas Giolito (who went winless and put on waivers), Randal Grichuk (put on waivers), CJ Cron (injured), and Reynaldo Lopez (also put on waivers) as they had the worst post-deadline record in baseball and gave up their top prospects. Thanks for playing, Halos!
Ohtani’s current pitching injury aside, what would have happened if someone could have acquired him as a hired assassin before the postseason? What if Arte Moreno instead had put out a John Wick “ExCommunicado” level of ultimatum to the entire league, saying that he’ll go to the team that gives him the best offer?
Maybe that means instead, the Tampa Bay Rays gave up assets from their wealth of prospects; Ohtani then takes over the Trop, the fourth-lowest attended stadium for a team that has been one of the most successful now is rockin’ the same way that the Bucs were electrified by Tom Brady for a couple of years, and they get enough national revenue to build a new megadome stadium in St. Petersburg instead of a tin can where no one can see the fly balls! The Arozarena and Shohei handshakes at home plate would be sports images hung in the Louvre!
Maybe that means instead of pivoting on the hurt Aaron Judge season, the Yankees give up Jayson Dominguez and assets to acquire Shohei, and suddenly, the largest star in the sport is on the most iconic franchise and baseball cap all across the planet! It probably would not have been enough to get them to fight and claw their way back from behind four different teams in the AL East, but suddenly, New Yorkers are talking themselves into keeping Shohei long-term and selling them on the pinstripes! He wouldn’t even have to shave a beard!
Maybe that means the Dodgers go ahead and acquire him to sell him on the organization before they inevitably sign him to a megadeal this free agency. Their lack of spending the prior offseason was the plan all along to budget for Shohei and sell him on what they claim to be the “REAL” organization of LA, where he can just stay in his similar living circumstances and win a World Series for a team that has owned their division for over a decade now.
The Angels finally capitalize on the highest-valued athlete commodity in trade history rather than just taking a half measure and getting a compensatory pick when Ohtani inevitably leaves.
Those are all multiversal realities we can talk ourselves into believing would have changed the baseball landscape this year.
Instead, we can merely say, “What if…”