Call this an open letter if you like to the new leader that baseball chose for itself this past Thursday. Rob Manfred is the new Commissioner of Baseball starting in January replacing Bud Selig. This is good for baseball, in that you have a leader who has built good trust with the MLB Players Association and no matter what you think of player salaries, you must admit that a good relationship with the arm that represents the players is necessary. After all, Google a list of the men and corporations that own the 30 teams in the majors and you will quickly see that they are all connected to multibillion dollar outfits.
All that being said, here are things that the new commissioner should consider.
First, pace of game issues. A lot is being made of the longer and longer baseball games that are being played even though we are back into an era of lower scoring games that rivals that of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s excluding the 1987 season. Part of this is institutional cultural based and can’t be changed, because every player is encouraged to get on base at all costs. The players are given the view that on base percentage is the all mighty statistic and that it is best to draw a walk, foul off a bunch of tough pitches and have long grind it out turns at bat. ON top of this though, you have the constant stepping out of the box by hitters who want to adjust their batting gloves after every pitch, totally unnecessary. Pitchers too are guilty as they step off, throw to first countless times, and stall if they are in trouble. This leads of course to bad baseball because the games are long and the poor guys in the field lose concentration because of this slow pace. This can be solved by making some changes in the game that don’t take away from the actual playing rules of baseball. Make the umpires greatly limit the number of times a hitter gets granted time to step out of the box. Once a hitter has stepped out, he can’t do so again for at least the next four pitches of the at bat. The pitcher should also be limited in the number of times he steps off the pitching plate also known as the rubber, once every fourth pitch of an at bat is the allowed rate just like the rule keeping hitters in the box.
Conferences between players and the pitcher should only be allowed once every other hitter so long as the pitcher remains the same in the given inning and so long as the on deck hitter is not replaced by another batter. You can easily decide how you want to approach the current hitter and the guy on deck in the same meeting.
No more conversations with the batter and a base coach, they can do it all via hand signals. They can also do it the instant the previous pitch is over and the ball has been returned to the pitcher. Glance at the coach, get the sign, and three seconds later get in position and prepare to deal with the next pitch.
Baseball can do other things too that would improve pace. No one wants to talk about the two minutes between every half inning for commercial TV time and this goes to more than 3 minutes in the post season. Limit commercial breaks to 90 seconds at all points of the season from spring training to the final game of the World Series. It is not often I’d ask baseball to take a page from the soccer book, but what helps soccer speed along is the constant play and the fact that commercial sponsorship is not at all a problem in that sport. Baseball could do some in inning advertising and focus each half inning on a particular sponsor. This actually works better for the sponsor, because you get the attention of the viewer during the game, rather than hoping viewers see your spot during the 2 to 3 and a half minutes of break time between innings. In a 9 inning game, cutting commercial time between innings in this way cuts 9 minutes off the length of a regular season game and it cuts up to 36 minutes off the length of post season games. In addition, reduce the number of warm-up pitches on the mound for a relief pitcher entering the game during an ongoing inning to 5 and cut the commercial break to 30 seconds during a pitching change of an ongoing inning. Lastly, pitching changes to start an inning must be made the minute said team takes the field. At the Miami and Houston game on July 27, the bottom of the seventh started by the Marlins coming out and changing pitchers before a single pitch had been thrown and the Astros had not changed batters by pinch hitting, thus the Marlins were just stalling for their appointed relief pitcher.
Baseball can also change another recent tradition and while some won’t agree with this, end the seventh inning God Bless America routine which started only after September 11. This could and should be part of the game, but do it at the beginning of the game, incorporate it into the time prior to first pitch right alongside the National Anthem or how ever else you want to honor this great land. A four minute middle of the seventh inning certainly is and was never in the best interest of the game.
Second, lost ratings. Baseball will never be the NFL, football plays 10% the number of games baseball plays. But baseball can do a lot to address its ratings issues. For one, fans get tired of seeing the same teams on television all the time when it comes to national broadcasts. Only the true baseball devotee purchases the out of market packages that provides access to additional games on television, or said fans purchase similar TV and radio packages through the MLB internet offerings known as Game Day Audio and MLBTV. Many fans would appreciate seeing all teams at various points and this is how you ultimately market very good players in smaller markets. One way baseball markets all of the stars on various teams and markets all the teams for that matter, is to insist that all teams get on a certain percentage of nationally broadcast games. Additionally, teams who are in more meaningful postseason positions should get the greater consideration for games shown after the All Star break. The first Sunday of August we were forced to watch yet another Yankees and Red Sox game, Boston is just about a guarantee to miss the playoffs and the Yankees were not all that much better. A more meaningful game would have been to show us Mariners at Orioles, Brewers at Cardinals, or Royals at Athletics. The preset schedule with the artificial pumping up of big market teams is not a way to truly capture baseball fans on a national level, especially the casual fan who would appreciate the chance to flip on a national game and see different teams and yes, teams who are actually contending for something? This was the very reason the NFL went to a flex schedule for the Sunday night games starting in week 10, because the NFL did not want to find itself in a situation where in week 13 of the season, the scheduled game featured a pair of rivals who enter with records of 6-6 and 4-8 respectably.
Baseball has done a lot to embrace modern technology, its apps for mobile technology are the best of all the major sports leagues. But baseball needs to incorporate this modern look while not leaving behind its non-technical and poorer audience who can’t afford all the gadgets. Baseball should insist that all teams have a local TV contract that carries at least 75% of the games on local over the air TV. All teams should be on powerful radio stations with strong signals that reach a broad audience, not just the lower power AM all sports station or the FM all sports station that covers areas within 60-80 miles of the home turf. A young fan in Texas today can find that he or she can’t get a Rangers or Astros game on the radio unless a local affiliate exists that carries the game, because Houston is on an AM all sports station that can’t be picked up 50 miles outside Houston at night. Texas is on an FM all sports station that can’t be picked up well at all 20 miles south of the greater DFW metro, its signal is tilted north toward the more wealthy areas of the metro extending up into far southern Oklahoma 80 miles away. When I was a kid, I became hooked on baseball and both teams were on powerful stations, the Rangers on WBAP which could be picked up anywhere in the state and over much of the southern and central US at night. The Astros were on KTRH and though not a clear channel frequency, its signal covered all of central, eastern and southern Texas at night and you could easily here the station at night over southern Louisiana, Mississippi and southern Alabama. Now baseball fans in Texas who are like me at age 13 back in 1986 get cheated. Today, the story is similar for existing and potential new fans of the Athletics, Twins, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Pirates, Nationals, Braves and Marlins. The Royals and Braves are teams that do have extensive radio networks, but for teams such as the Marlins, Rays, nationals, and Diamondbacks, large radio presence is not existent.
Third, expansion. Baseball is a sport that has more talent sources now than ever. There are markets that clearly can support baseball and it would make sense for the game to expand to 32 teams. It gets rid of the big problem people have with interleague games all the time, though I personally don’t see an issue with that. Put teams in Montreal and Portland. Both would go to the AL and Houston would move back to the NL. IN addition, baseball should be open to adding other markets in the future as cities like Vancouver, San Antonio and Charlotte could clearly support a team and a team in Brooklyn is overdue.
Baseball in theory could expand to 36 teams, hosting six teams in each of the six divisions. The interleague schedule would grow from 20 to 22 games, three games against each of six teams in a given division plus the four rivalry games. IN a division rotation year where the rivals were included as part of the rotation, the rival would be played for 6 games, while 4 would be played against a second team and 3 against the remaining four. All teams outside the division in the same league would be played 6 games each, this adds 72 games to the schedule. The remaining 68 games would be played within the division, 13 games against a pair of teams and 14 each against the remaining three within the division.
Call me a huge fan, call me an idealist, but most of all I am one who loves the game as much as you do Mr. commissioner and there are fans who would gladly serve on a special blue ribbon committee to bring even more greatness to our beloved game.
Believe it or not, most of the new ballparks built since the 1990’s have now hosted All Star games. Baseball should not reward a city a game just because it built a new park at tax payer expense with no real assistance from MLB itself.
Here now, a look at the candidates for the next several years of All Star Baseball, keeping in mind that Cincinnati will host in 2015.
Assuming the AL/NL rotation remains, for 2016, believe it or not the Tampa Bay Rays would and should be in line to host. Their AL East rivals have all hosted within the last 22 years, Toronto (1991), Baltimore (1993), Boston (1999), and the Yankees (2008). All teams in the AL Central have hosted games in just a 17 year period, Cleveland (1997), Chicago White Sox (2003), Detroit (2005), Kansas city (2012), and Minnesota this year. IN the AL West, Houston hosted as an NL franchise in 2004, while the Angels hosted in 2010 and the Mariners in 2001. The Rangers hosted in 1995 and the Athletics in 1987, the longest drought for any AL franchise that previously hosted the game.
Meanwhile, the NL has more candidates to host future games. The Marlins originally had the 2000 game before it got moved to Atlanta, Miami would be a natural and obvious choice in 2017, 2019, or 2021. The Washington Nationals have not yet hosted the annual game and last did so as the Montreal Expos way back in 1982, the longest drought for any existing MLB team that previously hosted the game. The Phillies have not hosted the game in their new ballpark either, but the franchise did have the game in 1996. the Pirates though did have the game twice in a 13 year period between 1994-2006 at their two stadiums, so a return to Philly is certainly reasonable. The Mets obviously just hosted in 2013 and as mentioned before, Atlanta hosted in 2000. IN addition to Washington and Miami, the Cubs are the only NL Central team to have gone more than 20 years without the game, the Cardinals 2009, Pirates 2006 and Brewers 2002 all hosted the game more recently, the Cubs last hosted in 1990. Finally out in the NL West, the Dodgers shockingly are overdue to host the game which has not been played in Dodger Stadium since I started watching baseball in 1986, it was 1980 when the game was in Los Angeles. the Padres last hosted in 1992 and thus the same case can be made for San Diego that I argued for Philadelphia. The Rockies last hosted in 1998, the Giants in 2007 and the Diamondbacks in 2011.
So with that in mind, now I present the cities that should next host the midsummer classic.
2016, Tropicana Field. Say what you will about it as a venue, but it was built in the late ’80s and was state of the art at the time.
2017, Dodger Stadium. The return to Los Angeles after 37 years seems only proper.
2018, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. NO other 1990’s retro park should host the game a second time until it is played here.
2019, Marlins Park. New stadium deserves the game within the next five years.
2020, Arlington, TX. The Ballpark of several names in its history is another one of the AL favorites and a game here is always enjoyable.
2021, Petco Park. San Diego has gone longer than Philadelphia without the game, so it is only right to go here first.
2022, Cleveland. It will have been 25 years since the last game in this great ballpark.
2023, Philadelphia. At this point, it would have been 27 years since the 1996 game and this would put the game in every new NL park outside DC.
2024, new Yankee Stadium. 16 years after the game in the old stadium and 11since the game in Queens, a return to the new place is only natural.
2025, Washington. Nationals franchise would have game sooner if not for return to Baltimore and long line of NL parks that needed to host the game.
2026, Athletics. OK so they may be gone from Oakland by then, maybe they have a new park in Oakland or somewhere in northern California. It would return the game to the franchise after a 39 year wait.
2027, Wrigley Field. It deserves one more game if it is still here, 37 years after 1990 tilt.
2028, Boston. Is Fenway still in operation? If so, it deserves the game one last time after a 29 year wait.
2029, Colorado. Coors Field is another one of the great parks, it would have been 31 years since the 1998 game.
2030, Toronto. It would have been 39 years by this time since the Jays hosted the 1991 game.
Almost every baseball season if you follow the shuffle that is minor league franchises, teams are bought and sold by various ownership groups and moved from city to city. Sometimes a team leaves town for a new home in a nicer stadium, sometimes the ownership simply wants to put the team in a new city despite a nice existing ballpark, see the transfer from Casper, Wyoming to Grand Junction Colorado.
A solution could be at hand though if a group of civic leaders, baseball fans and business owners decided to step up to the plate and it involves the choice of joining existing leagues or creating a new league.
Each team in Major League Baseball has one minor league affiliate at each of the top four rungs or classifications in the current structure of the minors. At the top Triple A level, 16 teams in MLB have working agreements with 16 franchises in the Pacific Coast League, which spans from the west coast to Tennessee. The remaining 14 teams are affiliated with 14 franchises in the International League, which has franchises across the northeastern US and as far west as Ohio and south to Georgia.
At the double A level, 8 teams are affiliated with the same number of franchises in the Texas League, which operates in four Texas cities, with teams in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Another 10 teams are in the Southern League, which operates teams from Tennessee and North Carolina south to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The remaining 12 affiliations are with a dozen teams in the Eastern League, which covers the northeastern US.
The next rung down is the Advanced A Ball or High A leagues, again each MLB club has one minor league team that it is affiliated with. The Florida State League is home to 12 of these affiliations with all teams in the Sunshine State. Another 10 teams are in the California League and again all teams are in a single state that is the league’s namesake. The remaining 8 teams are in the Carolina League, which has teams in both North and South Carolina, as well as in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
The lowest level of A leagues which are full season leagues consist of the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues. The Midwest League has 16 teams with 16 different MLB affiliates, the remaining 14 are with the SAL. The teams in the Midwest League are in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. The South Atlantic League also features a Kentucky franchise, with teams extending from there to include the states of Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.
Where things change is at the short season level. Two leagues are at the A level and two are a step below that at advanced Rookie level. The two short season A leagues are the New York-Penn League which features 14 teams around the northeastern US, while another 8 are in the Pacific Northwest with teams in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and one in Vancouver, BC. Each of the 22 teams in these two leagues have 22 different MLB affiliates. The 8 MLB teams that do not have an affiliate at this level are the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Reds, Royals, Twins and White Sox.
Below this are the advanced Rookie Leagues which are also short season leagues. Here 18 minor league teams make up two leagues, 8 in the Pioneer League which is in cities around Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, while the 10-team Appalachian League features teams around that region of the eastern US. The 8 teams that do not have a team at the short season A level do have teams in these leagues, the Royals in fact have two, one in each league. Thus there are 13 teams that do not feature a team at this level, the Athletics, Cubs, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees. Because Kansas City has two teams at the lowest of the two short season levels, the 13 teams that don’t feature an advanced rookie team and the 7 outside Kansas City with no short season A level team are all home to one less minor league affiliation. Thus, expansion would be the logical step to provide teams for these 20 slots that are available in theory.
At the Short Season A level, 8 slots are available to be filled, likely through the creation of a third league. The Royals would move one of their Rookie level affiliations to this league where they and 7 others lacked a team. The opened slot from the Royals in Rookie ball would go to one of the 13 teams that has no affiliate at that level. Two new teams would be added to the Pioneer League, Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming would be obvious fits and Casper had a team at one of the best rated ballparks in the minors until it was moved to Grand Junction, Colorrado. The remaining 10 would come from the creation of a second new league that would be home to 10 franchises.
The new 10-team league that would be on par with the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues could play in areas that were previously home to minor league baseball. The circuit could consist for instance of Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, Waco, Tyler, College Station, Beaumont, Victoria and San Marcos, all within the state of Texas and The league would be known naturally as the Lone Star League. San Marcos, College Station, Beaumont, Waco, Lubbock, Abilene and San Angelo all have modern existing stadiums that are operated for college baseball and these could easily accommodate a minor league team from June to September. With three 10-team circuits at the rookie level, the 10 teams in the western divisions could make use of the Rookie league, though the Rangers and Astros would likely go with Texas based clubs, leaving two teams in central divisions to use the Pioneer League. This would not be an issue as the Royals and Brewers already do this. The remaining teams in the central divisions of MLB could have affiliations with the new Lone Star League and this would leave the 10 teams in eastern divisions to affiliate with the Appalachian League.
Moving up one level to the Short Season A leagues, an 8-team league would be created to join the previously mentioned Northwest League with 8 teams and the new York-Penn League with 14 or the NYP could expand by a pair of teams and grow to a total of 16 teams and the Northwest League would expand by adding six teams and growing to a total of 14.
So if you live in a city that wants to have minor league baseball affiliated with the big leagues, you have a way to make it happen. Create it, and the fans might very well come.
IN just over four weeks, the minor league season will begin to close in most portions of the country. What follows is a look at the final date of scheduled regular season games in each of the 16 United States minor leagues that are affiliated with Major League Baseball.
Friday August 29 is closing night for some teams in the Arizona Rookie League, which is played at Spring Training locations in and around Phoenix. Earlier that day, the Gulf Coast League which is very similar and operated at Spring Training Sites in Florida closes out with a slate of noon contests. Saturday August 30 is closing night for the short season Appalachian League regular season, one game is at 1:05 that Saturday afternoon. It is also closing night for the rest of the teams in the Arizona Rookie League. Monday September 1, Labor Day. Many teams will play their final games on this date and this day features more day games than any other on the minor league calendar. The triple A Pacific Coast and International Leagues, Double A Texas, Southern and Eastern Leagues, Advanced Class A Florida State, California and Carolina Leagues, full season class A Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues, as well as the short season New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues will all play their final regular season games on this date. The short season Pioneer league will conclude its season on Thursday September 4 with all teams playing early evening contests. All Pioneer League teams are in action on Labor Day as well.
ON Thursday, the trade deadline lived up to the hype with a dozen deals done on July 31 alone. Some trades were pulled off between teams that had not swapt players during the 21st century as the Yankees and Red Sox completed their first deal together since 1997. So using the trade history provided by www.baseballreference.com, here is a look at the trading partners who have not made a deal since at least 1999.
Tuesday August 3, 1999: Astros and Twins
Two little known players, one in the minor leagues were traded, George Williams went to the Houston organization in exchange for Josh Dimmick.
Wednesday July 21, 1999; Red Sox and Rays
Two rivals now, what was then the Devil Rays made a deal where they sent Julio Santana to Boston, the Sox completed the deal nine days later on Friday July 30 sending minor leaguer Will Silverthorn to Tampa.
Friday October 31, 1997: Angels and Rangers
Matt Perisho went to Texas in exchange for Mike Bell.
Wednesday July 16, 1997: Giants and Tigers
Marcus Jensen went to Detroit in return ffor Brian Johnson.
Friday July 21, 1995: Reds and Giants
Dave Burba, Darren Lewis and Mark Portugal all went to Cincinnati in exchange for Dave McCarty, Ricky Pickett, John Roper, Scott Service (the pitcher) and some famous two sport athlete named Deion Sanders.
Sunday December 30, 1990: Dodgers and Rangers
Jim Poole went to Texas for a pair of minor leaguers, Steve Allen and David Lynch.
But what is by far the longest gap between the present and the last deal made between two teams takes us back more than 40 years.
Wednesday April 1, 1981: Angels and Astros
A young promising shortstop named Dickie Thon was sent to Houston in exchange for pitcher Ken Forsch.
One other interesting note, the Orioles and Nationals have not made a trade since the Nats moved to DC, the last deal taking place Wednesday October 3, 2001 when Tim Raines was sent from Montreal to Baltimore so he could be on the Orioles club with his son the final few days of the season.
Looking at the standings this morning, you see the Phillies in last place five years removed from consecutive appearances in the World Series and six years removed from winning it all.
While some teams have quickly fallen to very bad regular season records in a shorter amount of time, what is telling is the number of teams that win and want to keep winning, or come this close to winning like the 2005 Astros, which hang on too long to certain players and aggressively go after other older free agents, while neglecting to maintain a healthy pipeline of future talent from the minor leagues. The result is a team that 5-7 years later is unwatchable by even the most loyal of baseball loving fans.
The last 40 years of results should be a story of caution to any baseball executive that short changes the player development pipeline during periods of extended success at the major league level. It makes it clear that resources must be deployed to take advantage of the draft even if picks are not coming from the top 20 in the first round and it clearly means that stronger international programs should be the main goal for any team but especially winning teams that don’t get the top amateur picks in June.
The Athletics were a dynasty from 1971-75 with three straight World Series wins from 1972-74. By the end of the decade, Oakland was one of the worst teams in baseball and yes while the owner contributed to that process, even if the team had not been broken up, there would have been some decline which might have made the Oakland clubs of the early 1980’s worse than they would turn out to be.
The Reds were one of baseball’s best teams in the 1970’s, winning in 1975-76, but times would be very tuff in 1982-83 in Cincinnati.
The Pirates won the 1979 World Series and they were competitive through 1983, but the team began to fall apart in 1984 and the franchise hit rock bottom in 1985-86, before surprising many and finishing near .500 in 1987, a preview of success that would follow in 1988 and 1990-92.
The Phillies won the World Series in 1980 and lost it to the Orioles in 1983. Both would enter major decline afterward, Philly would not win more than 82 games in a season accept in 1986, but that year their 87-75 mark was an afterthought as the Mets ran away winning 108. Philly had a surprise run in 1993 but no regular success would come to the franchise until the turn of the century. The Orioles went from 1983 champions and winning seasons in 1984-85, to a second half collapse in 1986 and by 1988 a record worst 0-21 start to the season, losing 107 games.
The Tigers were 35-5 to start 1984 and they would roll to championship glory. They would contend through 1988, but lose 103 games in 1989 and despite teasing fans in 1991 and 1993, the team would never find its winning ways on a regular basis again until 2006. I would worry about 2019-2021 if I were a Detroit fan now.
The Royals won it all in 1985 and have not seen postseason since then. KC did not have a dramatic decline like some of the teams mentioned here, but eventually the winning ways left KC and only recently have the Royals moved back into a discussion as a postseason candidate. The Cardinals team they beat would lose another series in ’87, St. Louis would then go into a bit of a decline though not dramatic like some other franchises mentioned above. The Cardinals have been a model of consistent play since 1996.
The 1986 Mets would win it all and be great through 1988, but 1989 began to show the first signs of possible decline, which were on full display by 1991 and in 1993, the Mets lost 109, by far more than either of that seasons expansion teams, the Rockies and Marlins both did not even hit the century mark in the loss column.
The Twins won it all in 1987 and ’91, but 1993 began a long term period of bad baseball in Minneapolis and other than a decent 1996 twins team, they would not be truly relevant again until 2001.
The Dodgers had that most memorable 1988 world Series victory, starting with what we all remember as the ending of the opening act. “High fly ball in to right field, she is gone!!!!!” By 1992, the Dodgers were a 99 loss franchise that had hit rock bottom, but the rebound would be quicker for LA as they were back in postseason in ’95.
The Reds make this list again, winning it all in 1990 after several better seasons from 1985-88. The team would have some success through 1995, surprise many as a 1999 contender and the team had a winning 2000 season, but 2001-2009 was a forgettable time in Cincinnati baseball. The Reds are good again these days, but if the team doesn’t see a World Series in the next 2-3 seasons, it won’t be remembered as a decline could be on the way if the system does not improve in the minors.
Back to the Athletics, they had lost in 1990 to Cincinnati after a 1989 championship. They would be great through 1992, have a run of six bad seasons, and we all know the up and down history of Oakland since 1999 as that franchise is run by one of the most capable GM’s in all of baseball.
The 1990’s best teams were probably the two main exceptions to the rule as the Braves and Yankees kept winning and winning and winning. But even the tide would turn somewhat for the Braves as a down period came to the franchise from 2006-09. The Yankees would seem to finally be in some decline now following the 2009 championship and a period of difficult times that remind some of the 1990-1992 period in Yankee history could be on the horizon.
The Blue Jays won it all in 1992-93, Toronto has never won more than 88 games since then and is awaiting its first playoff appearance since ’93. The franchise never hit rock bottom which in a way might have prolonged that very process of not getting into postseason.
The Nationals would have been one of the great 1994 stories when they were still the Montreal Expos, the strike happened that year. Soon after the team would be broken up and other than teasing seasons of 1996 and 2002-03, the franchise never really contended until 2012, though the 2005 team in Washington got off to a lucky start and held as much as a five game lead into July.
The Indians were great from 1994-2001, the model franchise that brought us into the world of developing a core of players together and then bringing them on to the big league seen together. The team would have a sharp decline from 2002-06 following World Series losses in 1995 and 1997. Cleveland had 90+ winning teams in 2007 and 2013.
The Padres had a run of success in the late 1990’s which was the best in team history. San Diego never hit the bottom following a 1984 World Series loss until the team was truly stripped down in 1993. By 1995 it was clear improvement was coming and it resulted in 1996 and 1998 division titles, a World Series loss by the team in ’98 and what seemed to be future success. The Padres would take a few steps back and forth, get to the playoffs in a weak NL West in 2005-06, suffer a dramatic ending to their hopes of October baseball in 2007 which in terms of record was the best team since ’98, only to repeat the same feat in 2010. It may be time for a total reset in San Diego.
The Diamondbacks were a 1998 expansion team, a 2001 world champion, and a 2004 111 loss team that had the worst mark of any team outside Detroit’s 2003 club and matched by Houston in 2013. Arizona has been up and down since then, winning division titles in 2007 and 2011.
The Angels have been a relatively successful team since they won it all in 2002. Worry in Anaheim though, as the farm system is not strong and this team is getting old. It may not be that much fun at the Big A come 2016.
The Marlins are another team that can’t fit on this list like the Braves and Yankees, because the Marlins are the classic case of build a nice house, tear it down five years later and start all over, then after another few years, do it yet again. They won it all in 1997, tore it down, came back to win in 2003, tore it down after 2005, contended in 2008, went for it in 2012 and then tore down yet again. Could Miami repeat 2003 in say 2015-16? If they do, what is 2017, a contending team or a stripped down outfit. Who knows.
Then there are the Astros, a team that was a contender through the 80’s, started over in 1991 but quickly came back to being respectable by 1993 and a contender through 2005. The team would get to the World Series and lose in 2005 and with an aging team, right then should have been the time to reset. Instead no major young talent would develop and a late 2008 push would bring about false hope. The team was torn to the ground and since 2011 it has been one of the jokes of baseball. The jury is out on how well this team may perform long term over the next 3-5 years, but success needs to begin soon at the big league level or the current regime may be out the door.
Which brings us finally to the Phillies, a team that had been so close to October baseball in the period from 2004-2006, finally breaking through in 2007 and winning it all in 2008. Philly though like Houston kept its franchise faces and now with an old team and a lack of young talent coming up from the farm, the future seems very bleak in the City of Brotherly Love. It could be several years before times are good again and until then, you may hear lots of booing from Philly as their team struggles to find its way. The Phillies would be well served to eat some contracts and start all over, now!
While my dream job that I will surely never get is that of Baseball Commissioner, I have come up with a major change in scheduling that would in theory help with potential travel and it would shockingly be a very fair and balanced schedule (all apologies to FOX News).
The solution is very basic and get this, all teams would play everyone in both leagues.
A baseball schedule takes exactly 26 weeks on the regular season calendar or exactly half a year. A typical series of three or four games is thus played in the early half of the week and then another is played over the weekend. Baseball fans know this but for those who don’t get the art of the scheduling, the typical arrangement is for a team to play a Monday-Wednesday, Monday-Thursday, or Tuesday-Thursday series, followed by a Friday-Sunday. On some occasions, a series closing on Wednesday is followed by a Thursday-Sunday arrangement and sometimes teams will stay over and play a Friday-Monday series. It is almost unheard of for a team to start a series on Saturday or Sunday, this did happen a few times during the interleague early years of 1997 and 1998. From 1999-2001, teams would play a Thursday-Saturday and then a Sunday-Tuesday series after the All Star break, which was then followed by a small Wednesday-Thursday set.
The key number though is 51 available blocks of scheduling, 25 early-week and 26 weekend series. The proposal I am sharing here, the one I will put forward with a completely built schedule this fall as an example to the MLB Players Association, the 30 MLB Front Offices and to MLB corporate headquarters is based off a very linear approach.
Teams play each of the four oppositions within the same division 14 games each for a total of 56 division games. This percentage at just over one third of all games taking place in the division is close to the ratio seen in the NFL and NHL, the former like MLB having a much stronger focus on division play as a component of qualification for postseason play. A team currently plays 66 games against the ten teams that are intraleague outside the division, this number would reduce to 60 such games at six games per team divided as three each home and away. Thus, you have 16 scheduled series or blocks of games within the division and another 20 such series against the intraleague teams for a total of 36. This leaves 15 series of games to be scheduled naturally against 15 interleague opponents. The schedule arrangement would feature three games at home against seven teams, three games on the road against another seven teams, with four games played as a two home-two away block on four consecutive days. Where this proposal is more like the NHL and NBA is the percentage of games played against the opposite league or conference. In both hockey and basketball, 30 of 82 games are against the 15 teams in the opposite conference, or just over 36%. The ratio for the baseball proposal would put that figure at 28%, 46 of 162 games and as a percentage of regular season games, that figure is actually closer to the 25% as is the case for the NFL.
The home and road assignments would change from one season to the next and the 4-game block series would also change. IN cases where a team from the Eastern time zone was facing a western team in Arizona or on the west coast, the block series would always start in the eastern city. Furthermore, the team playing in the east would need to be previously scheduled at another city within the eastern Time zone and the team traveling to the western city would then be scheduled for its next series in a western division city or a central division city in the central time zone.
Over the first two and a half weeks of the season, all teams would play divisional opposition, two home and two away series, the fifth against either an intraleague or interleague opposition, with minimal interleague play during this period. The same approach would be taken over a period in June during weeks 10-11 and the first half of week 12 and in September during the ladder half of week 24 and weeks 25-26 closing the season. Division play with interleague play and no intraleague games outside the division would be scheduled for the period in late July and early August covering the back half of week 16 and weeks 17-18. Thus, teams in the same division would be scheduled for series in April and late July or early August in one city, with games scheduled for the opposite city in June and September.
The remainder of the schedule would feature various combinations of interleague and intraleague play and with 195 interleague series to be scheduled over 31 blocks of the schedule, two approaches could be taken. First, schedule five different interleague series during each of 11 blocks in the schedule and seven interleague series over each of the remaining 20 blocks, or schedule 15 interleague series during a single block of the schedule, leaving 180 interleague series to be scheduled over 30 blocks of playing time. Those remaining 30 blocks would then be split evenly with 15 blocks of the schedule featuring nine interleague and six intraleague series, while the remaining 15 blocks feature just three interleague series and a dozen intraleague series.
The pros, it makes for some easier travel arrangements as teams could in many instances get scheduled for consecutive road series at neighboring cities that were in both leagues. It would certainly allow for some instances of teams taking a road trip where they played consecutive series against the Giants and Athletics, Cubs and White Sox, Etc.
While some will certainly react very negatively to this, the one con is simply that AL teams have to go without a DH for 23 games instead of the current ten games. My counter argument to this would be based on three points of fact. First, most teams have not used the same DH for more than 139 games in any given season since the DH came to the American League in 1973 and a full time DH playing every day would miss 23 games if he could not play the field. This would force AL managers to sometimes choose to play someone in the field and give up a player with better defensive ability. It also forces NL managers to keep a bench warmer regularly into game situations since that player would be called upon at times to serve as DH when playing at the AL city. Second, you can please the players association by adding a 26th roster spot that would be made part of the full-time active roster for the period from opening day through August 31. Third, build in some basic scheduling rules to include limits on how games are scheduled. For example, no team would play more than two consecutive road interleague series. Furthermore, teams would play one series against an intraleague team outside the division during the first 13 weeks of the schedule and the series at the opposite city would be scheduled between weeks 14 and 26. This ends the practice of having the Rangers and Red Sox facing one another twice during the first six weeks of the schedule and thus not playing one another at all over the season’s final 20 weeks as was done in 2014.
Call it radicle, call it out of the box, call it whatever you like, but perhaps baseball should try this idea for the 2017 season and see how it is received. It focuses on division play, a truly balanced intraleague schedule and ends the practice of giving certain teams a weak interleague schedule as opposed to others who face much stronger competition.
Six years ago to this very day on Monday July 21, 2008 my life was at a very different place. At that time, I was still single and it would be another 22 months before I met my now wife in person. It would be another 13 months until I had completed my masters in student affairs, 13 months until I knew where my next job would be as a direct result of finishing the degree at Texas State University-San Marcos. At that time though, I had some doubt as to if my degree time line would even remain in place.
Originally scheduled to graduate in May of 2009, my plans were altered weeks earlier during the summer of 2008 by a shocking discovery. After feeling off for a few weeks, I had a lump discovered on my thyroid and by the time June 20 came around, I had gone through a surgery and then got the shocking news that early stage cancer was discovered. A second surgery would follow July 14, the day Josh Hamilton hit 28 homers in the first round of the Derby at the old Yankee Stadium. I was scheduled for a follow-up July 21. It just also happened that July 21 was plan B of my attempt at seeing baseball outside Texas for the very first time in my life.
Earlier that spring, I had been scheduled to meet my friend Liz in San Diego for a weekend getaway where we would see a pair of games, the Padres on Sunday May 11 and the Angels the next night. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold and those plans had to be scrapped. Only days afterward, the thyroid issues would be realized.
That same summer, I had circled dates on the baseball calendar for some time in July and I picked a time when the Mets and Yankees were both at home, the Yankees against Minnesota July 21-23 and the Mets against Philadelphia July 22-24. Originally scheduled to be in summer school with a window that would allow travel in late July, the plan was to leave Tuesday the 22nd, see both teams on the 23rd as the Yankees had a day game and the Mets a night game, then fly home the morning of the 24th and be in class that evening. As a result of the events in June though, now classes were off the board. Summer classes in 2008 which were are graduate electives in the program would be pushed to summer of 2009 and I hoped to just be in position to maintain myself for my already scheduled courses that fall.
Sunday night the 20th, I stayed with my aunt Barbara and she was taking me to my appointment the next morning. The plan would be one of two approaches, return to my San Marcos apartment or head to the airport for a Southwest flight which when from Austin to Philadelphia via Nashville. I would end up cleared to travel and so off I went.
I got into Philly late that night and it was near midnight before I got to my hotel. I took care of some other travel arrangements, then discovered Hotwire had double debited my bank account, I never book online that way anymore. I was able to get the banking situation dealt with in time Tuesday before my train to New York. I arrived at 2:15 that afternoon, then used the subway and an airline train to get to my hotel. I then dropped my things and headed out via cab to the subway at 5:00. I was now headed to the Bronx for the first time on my own.
This was not my first visit to New york, I had been in the city in 2002 and 2003 with friends, but as a blind person in a relatively new environment, it certainly presented for some adventure.
I made it to the game about an hour before first pitch. I was awaiting the arrival of my friend Heather who at the time lived in Connecticut and she had decided to meet me for the game. We would get connected with each other just minutes before first pitch.
The game would be very enjoyable, the home town 9 with a relatively easy victory over visiting Minnesota. Little did we know that in 2008, the Yankees would miss the playoffs all together and the Twins would lose a dramatic divisional playoff game against the White Sox. Sitting near us that night, another group of fans who were as it turned out also going to the Mets game the next night. Like me, they were in town to see two ballparks that would soon fall to the wrecking ball.
After the game, I said goodbye to Heather and eventually got back to my hotel. I would sleep well and I was trying to plan how to spend a day alone in New York. The answer, make an impromptu visit to the Empire State Building. I would get to go all the way to the top on a very cloudy afternoon and it was an experience I will never forget. Storms were in the forecast that night and I asked the guide who was with me, what do you do when you have all these people up here and lightning approaches. He said please don’t say that, though in my mind I was thinking it could happen while I was on site.
The next big question due to the weather, what about the Mets game that night. Before I could worry about that, came a jam of people back at Penn Station. A major electrical failure had shut down the New Jersey transit trains going into the Garden State and I could not even guess how many people were at the station awaiting those trains. Thankfully, the subway systems were not impacted and a little after 5:00 that Wednesday July 23, I was off to Shea. This game would be close all the way, the Mets ultimately held on for a one-run victory. That night, I sat with a father and son who were also doing the ballpark visits and the prior night, they were also in the Bronx but on the other side of the stadium from where I was seated. The weather held until the game ended that night, though shortly after returning to my hotel, the rain would begin to fall.
It would be a short night as I had a mid-morning train back to Philadelphia on Thursday July 24 and I tried out the Acela Express. It was a very comfy train and as someone who loves riding train cars, it was an experience I would recommend again. I got to Philadelphia a bit before 11:00 and a few hours later, I was on my flight back to Austin.
Three weeks later, the treatment would conclude and before I knew it, I was back in graduate school for fall classes and a year later, I had finished what I had started in August of 2007. I will never forget that baseball experience and how it kept me going. Baseball along with politics and weather were those things that kept my mind occupied when I was not worried about my medical situation. Above it all, I will always remember how much I enjoyed those times at the ballpark. If you know someone who is facing a challenge in life, no matter how big or small it may seem, find a way to get them out of the house and into a ballpark. It just might help in more ways than you ever realize.
Minor Scheduling and Structural Changes to MLB First Year Player Draft Could Help Avoid Astros, Aiken Style Fiasco
At the time of this post, we are down to just under 46 hours for the Houston Astros and Brady Aiken to decide on a professional contract. Reports first published by CBS Sports Line on July 7 indicated that the two sides had broken off contract talks after Houston supposedly found a medical concern with the top pick’s elbow.
While I could dedicate a lot of space to what the Astros should do, noting the success rate of TJ procedures while also noting the high number of top picks that were pitchers that did not pan out when fully healthy, that is not my focus tonight. Rather, the topic here is all about how some minor changes to how the MLB draft is scheduled and organized and how medical information is communicated to the ball clubs would bring an end to toxic situations like the one in place between the Houston franchise and the San Diego native Aiken.
In no other major United States sports league is a draft held during the season as the NFL draft is nearly three months after the Super Bowl, while the NHL and NBA hold drafts a week or two following their final championship clinching playoff games. While amateur levels of college football, college basketball, and college and high school hockey run concurrent to the professional regular season, in baseball the high school leagues in warmer states play games that count before spring training has kicked off exhibition games in Florida and Arizona. Division I college teams traditionally open between February 14-20 and smaller colleges in some parts of the nation play games that count as early as February 1 before the Super Bowl has even been decided. Baseball has its draft while state championships are still being decided at the high school levels and the College World Series doesn’t start for another week or two following baseball’s draft.
Thus, while the NFL and NBA have pre-scouting camps and the combine, no such program exist in baseball. NO opportunity exists to get a medical report on players that teams are being asked to offer 10 thousand to 7 million dollars in bonus payments as amateur draft picks, I won’t even go into the risk taken in the same vein internationally. It thus brings about situations where medical issues are found after the player has already been drafted and even after the player has signed a contract in a few cases.
The solution is seemingly simple if baseball wants to do something it finds difficult, buck tradition. First, move the draft from the first week of June to the first week of July and schedule it for 10 days following the final date of the College World Series. Schedule the short season minor leagues that are home to recent draftees to run from around July 20 to October 5, rather than the current June 15 to September 1 model you see in leagues like the Pioneer, Northwest, New York-Penn, Etc.
Schedule a combine for all listed draftees from four-year colleges for 3-7 days after the College World Series where all players get among other things, a total medical evaluation. For those players who are in the MLB Scouting Bureau’s database who are from high schools and junior colleges, schedule regional locations around the nation where combines are done for the same purpose between June 15 and July 1. The ball clubs could send medical and scouting personnel to staff these various events and it would allow for teams to get final medical clearance on all players following their final amateur competition. This would then catch any red flags from elbow and shoulder troubles, to more serious issues like those we hear about that are found with football and basketball players concerning the heart and other high risk organs.
Would it require more work, the use of more resources, cost more money? Would it require a change in the calendar for the scouting community? Yes is the answer to all of these questions, but this also becomes an affirmative way to avoid problems like those currently embroiling the Houston organization and its highly prised Californian hurler.
As we awake this morning on June 30, we are now in terms of the calendar at the midpoint on the baseball schedule or very close to that point for all teams. So for fun, let’s look at the standings on this very calendar day of Monday June 30 from the three prior seasons that also were at this same point on the schedule for this very date and examine how predictive those standings were in identifying those teams that would go to postseason. The three seasons which are identical in terms of the baseball schedule and yes to the calendar are 1997, 2003, and 2008. Interestingly, the Marlins had success in all three of those seasons and they have been a mild surprise this season as they were in 2008 and 2003. It is not so likely though that a Florida team will be in a World Series this season unlike the Marlins of 1997 and 2003 and the 2008 Rays.
In 1997, the Orioles, Indians, Mariners, Braves, Astros and Giants claimed the division titles, while the Yankees and marlins were the Wild Card teams. Had a second Wild Card been added in ’97, the 84-78 Angels would have played at New York against the 96-66 Yankees, while the 86-75 Indians rested as AL Central champs. The NL would have been even wilder as the Mets and Dodgers were both 88-74 and they would have had to play a game to decide who would then play another elimination game at the 92-70 Marlins, all teams with better marks than the 84-78 Astros that claimed the NL Central crown.
As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Orioles lead the Yankees by 5.5 in the AL East, they ultimately would go wire-to-wire but only win the division by 2 games over New York. The Indians held a 1 game lead on the White Sox in the AL Central and the Brewers were 3 back at 37-39. It would be September before Cleveland had enough separation and they ultimately won the division by 6. The Mariners lead the angels by 5.5 in the Al West and they ultimately won the division by 6. The NL East was very competitive, the Braves lead the Marlins by 4.5, the Mets by 6.5 and the Expos by 7.5. Montreal would fall back after the All Star break and though the Mets and Marlins would eventually lose ground with Atlanta winning by 9 games over Florida, those teams along with the Dodgers would contend for a Wild Card into September before the marlins pulled far enough away. The NL Central was the joke of the league, Houston at 40-41 had a 1 game lead on the Cardinals and 3 on the Pirates. Houston’s struggles and Pittsburgh hanging near .500 most of the season would ultimately make the Pirates the largest threat to the Astros who would finally claim a weak division the season’s final Thursday. Meanwhile, the Giants had a 4.5 game lead on the Rockies in the NL West and the Dodgers trailed by 7. Ultimately Los Angeles would get to within 2 by seasons end, the Rockies would finish 7 back. As for the Wild Card races, the Yankees had a 4.5 game lead on the Angels which would end up at 12 by seasons end while the Marlins had a lead of 2 over the Mets and 3 over Montreal, ultimately they would finish 4 ahead of the Mets and Dodgers, the Expos would slip 11 games further behind the Marlins over the second half. IN 1997 as it would turn out, the 8 teams in the lead all would end the season that way and in fact, the only change would have been for the second Wild Card berth in the NL if it existed, as the Dodgers would have pulled even with the Mets, overcoming the Expos by a wide margin.
Moving forward six years to 2003, the ultimate division winners that season were the Yankees, Twins, Athletics, Braves, Cubs and Giants. The Red Sox and Marlins would claim wild Card births. Had second Wild Card teams existed in ’03, the Red Sox heart break in game 7 against the Yankees may have not even occurred because they would have hosted the Mariners at Fenway, Seattle was 93-69 and just a pair of games behind Boston. Meanwhile in the NL, the Marlins at 91-71 would have hosted the 87-75 Astros and the Phillies at 86-76 would have missed that second spot by a single game in their final season at the Vet.
As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Yankees held a 3.5 game lead over the Red Sox that would end up at 6 in the AL East. IN the Al Central, the Twins and Royals were in a tie six games over .500, Minnesota had two more games played and thus on percentage points they were listed as the first place team. The White sox were 4.5 back and ultimately Minnesota would edge Chicago by 4 and KC which stayed in the race would finished 7 games out. The AL West was a different story as the Mariners held a 6 game lead on the Athletics on this date. Seattle was 52-28, they would play exactly .500 the rest of the way and ultimately finish 3 behind Oakland in the division and 2 behind Boston in the Wild Card. Seattle in fact on this date had the best record in baseball, though the Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, Braves and Giants would all end up better than Seattle three months later. The Braves would hold a 6.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, the Expos were 7 back and the marlins were 12 back and a game under .500. Ultimately Atlanta won the division by 10 over the Marlins, the team with the second best second half in baseball. The Cardinals would hold the NL Central lead at 43-37, they would end up finishing in third 3 behind the Cubs. The Cubs on June 30 were a game behind St. Louis and the Houston Astros trailed by 1.5, all would hold the division lead at various points into September before the Cubs won out. The Giants held a 3 game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West, San Francisco would ultimately get on a second half roll and cruise to a 15.5 game lead.
The Wild Card races would look completely different from June 30 to the end of the season. The Red Sox lead the Athletics by a game and the Blue Jays by 2 on June 30, Toronto would finish 9 games behind Boston and Oakland would actually finish a game ahead of the Red Sox and take a division title, Boston would get in because of the Seattle clubs going cold. The Phillies would have the NL Wild Card lead on June 30 which they shared with the Dodgers and the surprising Expos in their second to last season in Montreal were only a half game off the pace. The Marlins of course would ultimately come from nowhere to claim that spot, they were in the bottom half of the race among all NL teams on June 30 5.5 games out, but went 50-29 the rest of the way and ultimately took the World Series as they had six years before.
Unlike in 1997, 2003 would not be as predictive as on June 30, teams leading the AL West and NL Central would miss postseason all together, the AL Central which was tied would see the Twins outperform the Royals in the second half and the NL Wild Card race would look completely different when the ’03 season had concluded.
We now move forward another five years to 2008, a season that saw a lot of change from what had been the norm. The Rays came out of nowhere to claim the first franchises division title, joining the white Sox who won in a division playoff game with the Twins, as well as the Angels, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers as division champions. The Red Sox and Brewers would be wild card teams and it would mark Milwaukee’s first postseason visit since 1982. The Brewers would hold off the Mets who had a legendary fall the final two weeks of the season and it marked a great collapse the final weeks of the season for a second straight year in New York. If a second Wild Card existed, the Mets would have claimed it in the NL and yes the Yankees would have done so in the AL and in Yankee Stadium II’s final season, the Wild Card game would have been Yankees at Red Sox, while the Mets would have played the Brewers and the Twins and White Sox had that AL Central playoff as both finished game 162 a single game behind New York.
As for those June 30 standings in 2008, the Rays held a half game lead on the Red Sox in the AL East. Tampa would win by 2 though they had the lead as high as 7 games and they would clinch the division with 8 days to go in the 2008 season. The Yankees who were 5.5 out would close to within 3 but ultimately they would finish 8 back. Baltimore which was 42-39 and just 7 out on June 30 would have a horrible second half and not even win 70 games while Toronto at just 40-43 would have a good second half and if additional wild card births existed, the Jays would have been in a battle with the Yankees as the season concluded along with the Twins and White Sox for that slot. IN the AL Central, the White Sox lead the Twins by a game and unlike in 2003, the very tight standings would in deed hold true to the very end. The Tigers were just 4.5 back but they had a rough second half and finished 14 back and in last place. The Angels lead the AL West by 4.5 over Oakland, the Athletics would have a horrible second half and the Angels would cruise to a 21 game lead over second place Texas when it was all said and done. The Rangers were already sliding and 7.5 out on June 30.
For all the struggles of the Mets in 2008 in closing out the season on a good note, they were just a very average team on June 30. The Phillies in fact had the division lead at 44-39 and a game back at 42-39 were the surprising Marlins. The Mets at 40-41 were in third 3 off the lead and the Braves were only 4 games out. The Cubs were showing they were one of the best teams in baseball as they were 49-33 and well on their way in the NL Central. The Cardinals and Brewers were in the race, St. Louis second 2.5 back and Milwaukee third 4.5 out. The Brewers would stay hot the second half, but the Cardinals would slide and the Astros would come from nowhere to make a very interesting contender for the wild Card. Houston was just 39-43, they would get very hot in August and early September before things came apart when hurricane Ike arrived. The Diamondbacks at just 41-41 lead the NL West, the Dodgers 2.5 back were the only contender, though the Rockies who were just 32-50 would play better in the second half and begin to make some wonder if an even more amazing repeat of 2007 was in order.
The Wild Card races on June 30 saw the Red Sox leading the Twins by 4, Athletics by 4.5 and Yankees by 5 games in the AL, while in the NL the Cardinals lead the way, Milwaukee at 2 and Philadelphia at 3 out were next, while the Marlins at 4 back, Mets 6 and Astros 8.5 would all become second half factors.
Ultimately, the teams that had division leads on June 30 accept the Diamondbacks would end up advancing to post season, though for the White Sox and Phillies, a lot of doubt existed along the second half route. Boston would get the Wild Card which it lead, but the Cardinals would be the team ultimately let down in the NL. The Dodgers played well enough in the second half to overtake Arizona by two, though the NL Wild Card contenders all had better records. Just how different was the NL in the second half you ask? The Cardinals were just 39-40 and the Brewers at 45-36 were good enough to get the wild Card berth, though the 49-32 Mets and 47-32 Astros certainly made things very interesting.
So overall during those three previous seasons, 15 of 18 division leaders would get to post season, the ’03 Mariners, ’03 Cardinals and ’08 Diamondbacks would not. Among the six Wild Cards, the AL leader advanced to post season each time, but in the NL, only the Marlins of 1997 were so fortunate as the ’03 Phillies and ’08 Cardinals were overtaken. Philadelphia would have been the second Wild Card team in 2003, St. Louis would still have missed all together in 2008.
On this morning of June 30 in 2014, the blue Jays lead the Orioles by 1.5 in the AL East, though both are not playing as well of late. Do the Yankees at 2 back or Red Sox at 6 back come through in the second half? All teams that won division titles on this date in the seasons reviewed were no worse than second in the division, though Oakland was in terms of games played 6 off the pace where the Red Sox are now when they came back in 2003. Amazingly, the Rays are 10 back and they have played a bit better of late. But the odds of a team that is 14 under .500 going 24 to 30 over in the second half and finishing 10 to 16 over are very long. Interestingly, this is the first time since 1993 that the Yankees and Red Sox would both be out of the playoffs on this date. The Tigers lead the Royals by 3.5 in the AL Central. KC has played much better since May 28 and Detroit has been a streaky team in both directions this season. The AL Central has provided several dramatic finishes when teams are 10 or fewer games over .500 at this point, so are we looking at another 2008? If anything is likely a guarantee at this point, it is that the Athletics at 51-30 will win the AL West or at least get into postseason play. The Angels show signs of cooling off a bit and they now trail by 5.5, the mariners continue to hang in at 7.5 off the pace. Does Seattle’s offensive troubles come back to pass in the second half, how about the Angels pitching? The wild Card race in the AL is rather remarkable, the Angels are leading and they are followed by a bunch of teams in play for that second birth that now exists. The Mariners currently claim that position, while the Royals and Orioles are 1.5 back, the Yankees are just 2 out and teams under .500 are very much alive, the Indians the closest at 5.5 out.
Over in the NL, the Braves and Nationals appear to be in place for a great NL East race as the 44-38 Braves and 43-38 Nationals are a half game apart. The Marlins though now under .500 are still just 5 out but they are showing signs of fading. The Brewers just keep on winning in the NL Central and they are now 6.5 games ahead of everyone else and out in the NL West, the Giants and Dodgers are now in a dog fight but the rest of the division is so bad that while these two rivals are just 10 over .500, the closest teams are 10 under .500 and 10 games off the lead. The drama may very well be held in the NL’s second wild Card slot this season. If the Giants and Dodgers keep playing well, one of them will almost for sure get a wild Card and the same could be said of the Braves and nationals, though both are not appearing to be as solid as their western counterparts. This morning, the Nationals, Reds and Cardinals are all tied for that second wild Card slot 5 games over .500, while the Pirates are 1.5 out. The closest team under .500 is the Marlins at 4.5 games off the pace. If this holds, six teams are in play for this slot, three each from the NL Central and NL East.
When we awake September 29 and the season is at its likely conclusion, will these standings look similar to today? Which team stumbles and gives away its position on top? Does a team that is struggling get red hot and become the second half surprise? Stay tuned for what is coming over the next 13 weeks of the season.