The Baseball Desert

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I was just looking at the standings in the different divisions and in the Wild Card races, and it struck me that there are some really good teams out there (San Francisco, Atlanta), some really awful teams (Detroit, Tampa Bay) and a hell of a lot of teams somewhere in the middle. The point was brought home not so much when looking at the divisional standings, because they very much depend on divisional context - it's obvious that the Yankees are always going to be be 20+ games ahead of the Devil Rays and that the Giants juggernaut is going to have the same lead over the Padres - but rather when looking at the Wild Card races. The Wild Card - whether you like the idea of giving a playoff spot to the second-placed club in each league with the best record or not - at least allows us to look at the standings, take out the exceptional teams and then compare the teams that are left, not against the big boys (although Kansas City hardly qualifies as a big boy...), but against each other.

With around 55 games left to play, I don't know what would be a good cutoff point in the Wild Card races. If we say that a team could make up, say, an 8-game deficit on the Wild Card leader, then the National League Wild Card race has NINE teams (right down as far as the Pittsburgh Pirates, with their slightly-less-than-stunning 48-55 record) with a shot at that last precious postseason berth. Maybe 8 games is a little optimistic, but if we bring the number down to 5, there are still eight clubs in contention for the spot. What's interesting is that if we apply the same criteria to the American League, then there are only TWO clubs with a legitimate shot - the Red Sox and the A's. I guess this shows up both an imbalance in the two leagues and a certain mediocrity in the NL, where no team (except the Braves and Giants) has yet managed to prove it true superiority.

In a sense, the Wild Card race really benefits the teams chasing the runaway leaders such as San Francisco and Atlanta. So far, the Phillies - in second place in the NL East - have been making the most of a chance to join the Braves (who are 11 1/2 games ahead of them in the division) in the postseason, but they seem to be undergoing a mini-meltdown, and so now they have the Marlins (and all the others) breathing down their necks.

I've always said that I'll never really understand this game and all its complexities, so I'm not going to go out on a limb and make any rash predictions for the postseason. I will, however, draw up my postseason "wishlist", just like I do on - I know that I'll maybe never be able to afford all those country music CDs on there, but it's nice to see them all listed together.

So, here's my 'nonetheless within-the-realm-of-possibility' wishlist:

AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Kansas City Royals
AL West: Oakland A's
AL Wild Card: Seattle Mariners
NL East: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: San Francisco Giants
NL Wild Card: Montreal Expos

Hey - a guy's allowed to dream, isn't he?