Which teams are most capable of a 'magic' run?
Nobody does magic teams better than Major League Baseball. You've seen them, and you've followed them.
You've also loved them.
Remember the Miracle Braves of 1914? Well, probably not, but you're likely familiar with "The Shot Heard 'Round The World," when Bobby Thomson's home run punctuated an improbable sprint for the New York Giants from also-rans in early August to the National League pennant.
Everybody knows about the Amazin' Mets of 1969.
More recently, the White Sox ended decades of obscurity to capture a World Series in 2005. Eight years later, with a city in deep mourning over the bombing of the most popular marathon in the world, Big Papi and his Red Sox teammates used the slogan "Boston Strong" to surge from worst to first by winning it all. Then it was "Kansas City Strong," but in a different way. Those '14 Royals became mighty enough to reach the World Series by ignoring the fact they hadn't made the playoffs in 29 years.
So this is wonderful news: Rarely have we seen this many candidates for Magic Team of the Year honors. There are four of them, and they are primarily separated by personal preference.
Here are those four, along with my prediction for the one that will be most sprinkled with pixie dust at season's end.
Let's go in reverse order.
4. Blue Jays
Why not the Blue Jays? Since "Kansas City Strong" stretched into last October, they now are the Major League-team with the longest drought between postseason appearances. They haven't made the playoffs since Joe Carter leaped and danced his way around the bases in 1993 after his homer gave the Blue Jays a World Series championship over the Phillies.
That means the Blue Jays are way overdue for big things (OK, "magic" things), but there is much more happening here. For one, the Yankees appeared to be continuing as American League East bullies with an eight-game lead over the Blue Jays on July 28. But that was pre-Troy Tulowitzki for Toronto, which has lost just twice since acquiring this perennial All-Star shortstop in a trade with the Rockies.
Overall, the Tulowitzki-led Blue Jays won 11 in a row to take a division lead before relinquishing it to the Yankees on Friday night. They Blue Jays hit like crazy, leading the Major Leagues in nearly every hitting category of importance. And after they struggled on the mound for much of the early season, their starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 17 straight games.
This helps: In addition to Tulowitzki (there's that man again), the Blue Jays spent their time around the Trade Deadline acquiring David Price, a five-time All-Star pitcher with a Cy Young Award on his resume.
We won't even mention that the Cubs haven't won a pennant since 1945, or a World Series title since 1908. We will mention that they've won eight straight for their longest winning streak in four years (they've taken 13 out of 14 overall). The Cubs are 4 1/2 games up on the Giants for the NL's second Wild Card, and they are doing this after adding video boards to a renovated Wrigley Field.
Coincidence? No. Magic. The Cubs also have Joe Maddon in his first year as their manager, and he arrived just in time to mold his favorite commodity in baseball: young players with talent.
Those types of players just keep coming for the Cubs.
The latest is Kyle Schwarber, a power-hitting machine, who joins rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell as fan favorites on the North Side. The same goes for Anthony Rizzo, who is among the old men of the Cubs these days at 26. He's a leading candidate for the NL Most Valuable Player Award with a .296 batting average, 22 home runs and solid glove around first base.
If that isn't enough, the Cubs have one of the game's best one-two pitching duos in Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Those pitchers and hitters have helped the Cubs become one of the game's most successfully dramatic teams. They are tied with the Cardinals for first place in the Major Leagues with 26 one-run victories, and they have baseball's most walk-off victories with 11.
This is equally impressive for the Cubs: In late July, they dropped a three-game series at home to the lowly Phillies, and doomsayers were waiting at the city limits of Wrigleyville.
The Cubs have lost just twice since then.
I know. I know. Last summer, Sports Illustrated actually picked the Astros to win the World Series...
Guess which team is leading the AL West right now by two games in the loss column? This makes no sense. No way all of this goodness in the standings was supposed to happen these days for an Astros club that averaged more than 90 losses per season for the previous four years. They are defying logic with youth, inexperience and a manager in A.J. Hinch who only won 42 percent of the time during his parts of two seasons as skipper of the D-Backs.
Magic trumps logic, though.
It was illogical, for instance, that the Astros held off the Angels and others for the top spot of the division for much of the first half with a dreadful team batting average. But the Astros overcompensated by slamming more homers than anybody. They're hitting better for average now, while scoring a slew of runs. They always could pitch, and they use analytics as well as anybody in the game.
Still, what contributes to the Astros' success more than anything is their youth turning potential into reality, spanning from first baseman Chris Carter to starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. The roster is led by Jose Altuve, their little second baseman with the big bat.
And Astros officials showed they believe their future is now instead of 2017 by acquiring standout outfielder Carlos Gomez from the Brewers and All-Star pitcher Scott Kazmir from the A's.
Nobody in the Major Leagues has a worse team batting average than the Mets. Only six teams score fewer runs, and just four steal fewer bases. In other words, the Mets are an offensive mess on most days.
They also lost their best player, David Wright, to a back injury in April, and he hasn't played since then.
Not good for a Mets team in the same NL East as a loaded Nationals team picked by many to win more than just their division. Oh, and when the Mets tried to trade shortstop Wilmer Flores in late July for Gomez, the deal collapsed at the last moment. Before then, Flores thought he actually had been traded that day, and he cried on the field during the game.
You know the rest. The Mets still don't hit, but they have as much pitching as anybody when it comes to quality and quantity. Wright is due back any day now, and while they couldn't get Gomez, they got a significant hitter in Yoenis Cespedes.
And a few days after the Gomez trade didn't happen, Flores became a folk hero to Mets fans by ripping a walk-off homer. The Mets have won 11 of their last 14 games to lead the Nationals in the NL East by 4 1/2 games.
One more thing: When it comes to magic, the Mets have been there, done that. Several times. In addition to that 1969 bunch, there was the "You gotta believe" team of Tug McGraw in '3. The Mets were also a pitch away from losing the '86 World Series to the Red Sox during Game 6, but they survived that night and won Game 7.
I'll take the Mets, and I'll give you the field.