Paul Hagen | Parity has more teams buzzing around playoffs

Posted: September 28, 2007

MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball sent out an advisory yesterday that outlined, among other things, how the National League would go about untangling its knot if five teams ended the regular season with the same record.

Which pretty much sums up the parity that existed in baseball this year.

Even though the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox once again dominated the AL East, the playing field appears to be getting more level. Revenue- sharing seems to be gaining some traction. And while there is nothing particularly enthralling about widespread mediocrity, it clearly doesn't help baseball to have half the teams come to spring training having no chance to compete, either.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said recently. "There's a lot of parity ... It's good for baseball, in a way."

How much has the middle class grown? Well, no team in the majors will either win or lose 100 games this year. According to Mike Emeigh, of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), this is only the third non-strike year since schedules were expanded to 162 games in 1961 that's happened. The others were 1992 and 2000.

Not only that, going into play last night there was still a slim chance that no NL team would even win 90 games.

The fewest games won by a league leader in the era of the longer schedule is 91 by the 1974 Orioles and 1983 Dodgers.

Whether this is an entirely good thing is open to debate. There's still something to be said for excellence.

Still, there's no question that having so many teams so close with so few games left this year has created a real buzz and a lot of excitement ... at least for everybody but the people on Park Avenue in New York who had to figure out how to break a possible five-way tie.

The hot corner

-- It's been reported that the Kansas City Royals will have an alternate, powder-blue home uniform top next season and that Tampa Bay will have a new color scheme, drop the "Devil" from their nickname and have only the new logo on the front of their road shirts.

-- It's been reported that the Kansas City Royals will have an alternate, powder-blue home uniform top next season and that Tampa Bay will have a new color scheme, drop the "Devil" from their nickname and have only the new logo on the front of their road shirts.

-- After 3 years of rumors, it appears that the Marlins will at least try to gauge the trade value of lefthander Dontrelle Willis this winter.

-- The Braves dispute rumors that next year's payroll will be slashed by Liberty Media, the team's new owner. "It's not true," said club president Terry McGuirk. "The trends will be upward. You don't get anywhere by cutting."

Around the bases

-- Remember when you couldn't get a ticket at Oriole Park at Camden Yards? The actual turnstile count for Monday's game was estimated to be less than 5,000. That's sad.

-- Remember when you couldn't get a ticket at Oriole Park at Camden Yards? The actual turnstile count for Monday's game was estimated to be less than 5,000. That's sad.

-- Noted sports psychologist Jack Llewelyn had this observation about the ugly confrontation between Padres outfielder Milton Bradley and umpire Mike Winters last weekend: "I don't know Milton Bradley personally, but it sure looked like somebody knew what button to push ... and then pushed it."

-- When Braves third baseman Chipper Jones opened the front door to get his newspaper last Friday morning, his yardman asked, "Are you going to win the batting title?"

On deck

CHEERS: For Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. It's gone largely unnoticed because Tampa Bay might as well be playing on Pluto as far as getting national attention is concerned, but Pena has had a remarkable season.

CHEERS: For Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. It's gone largely unnoticed because Tampa Bay might as well be playing on Pluto as far as getting national attention is concerned, but Pena has had a remarkable season.

Going into last night's game against the Yankees, he had 43 home runs and 118 RBI. His OPS of 1.013 was behind only Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Chipper Jones, Magglio Ordonez and Prince Fielder.

Not bad for a guy who was released by the Tigers last spring and bounced through the Yankees and Red Sox organizations before signing a contract with Tampa Bay last winter that guaranteed him only $300,000.

JEERS: To Barry Bonds. He played his last home game for the Giants Wednesday night. After it was over, the crowd chanted his name, pleading for one last curtain call.

Bonds never came out. He couldn't, since he had headed for the parking lot before the final out was made.

Longtime teammate Rich Aurilia noted before the game that the people of San Francisco had consistently supported Bonds even as he became one of baseball's most controversial figures. "The fans here loved Barry for the last 15 years, win, lose, draw or controversy," he noted.

Aurilia is right. Which is exactly why Bonds, who hasn't hit a home run since Sept. 5 and isn't expected to play this weekend in Los Angeles, was so wrong not to give them the final farewell they deserved.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3: Teams in history to make the playoffs despite being outscored for the season: 1987 Twins, 1997 Giants and 2005 Padres. The Diamondbacks are poised to join that list this season.

7: Division titles for the Indians since the leagues were split into three divisions in 1994. Only the Braves and Yankees have finished first more often.

16: Times the Brewers have blown leads of three runs or more this season, most in the majors.

UP NEXT: Alex Rodriguez already has topped 50 homers and become the first Yankee with more than 150 RBI since Joe DiMaggio in 1948. He's the clear front-runner to win another AL MVP Award. But none of that will matter next week when the playoffs start. A-Rod is 4-for-41 (.098) in his last 12 postseason games and hasn't driven in a run. New York is 3-9 in those games, but Rodriguez sounds confident that this year will be different. "More than anything, I think it's keeping the intensity of each at-bat at a high level," he said.

Weeklies

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mets closer Billy Wagner, on the team's recent bullpen meltdown: "I think they're bringing in Tom Seaver tomorrow. Basically, anybody who can get three outs right now."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mets closer Billy Wagner, on the team's recent bullpen meltdown: "I think they're bringing in Tom Seaver tomorrow. Basically, anybody who can get three outs right now."

DÉJÀ VU OF THE WEEK: Would the Phillies trade for a veteran White Sox righthander, with a workhorse reputation and 1 big-money year left on his contract, coming off a mediocre season but a strong finish in September?

They did it last year with Freddy Garcia and ended up getting one win for the $10 million (not to mention pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd that it cost them).

Now it appears the Sox will shop righthander Jon Garland this winter. He'll make $12 million in 2008, the final year of his contract. He is a disappointing 10-13 with a 4.23 earned run average but had a 1.38 ERA in five September starts. He also pitched over 200 innings for the fourth straight year.

ONE MORE THING: The Phillies had a scout at the White Sox game Wednesday for the express purpose of watching Garland pitch.

U-TURN OF THE WEEK: Indians righthander Fausto Carmona was 1-10 for the Tribe in 2006. This year he is 19-8 and his 3.06 earned run average is expected to lead the league.

TIMING OF THE WEEK: Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent lashed out this week, taking veiled shots at both manager Grady Little and the team's faction of younger players. "I don't know why they don't get it," he said in part. "I'm angry, disappointed, perplexed, bitter, curious. Pretty soon we're going to pay the piper and it's going to be painful."

The timing of Kent's outburst was interesting. He did it immediately after he got his 550th plate appearance of the season, which vested his $9 million option for 2008.

Little wouldn't respond directly, but did indicate that he thought Kent should take his share of the blame. "In a lot of ways, it's like a two-way street," the manager observed.

Finally

There are some fans in Pittsburgh who are calling for the dismissal of Pirates manager Jim Tracy. And it could happen. New general manager Neal Huntington repeatedly declined to address the manager's status during his introductory press conference. That's baseball.

There are some fans in Pittsburgh who are calling for the dismissal of Pirates manager . And it could happen. New general manager repeatedly declined to address the manager's status during his introductory press conference. That's baseball.

Last year Tracy bought a house outside Pittsburgh and became a full-time resident of the area. His son transferred from Pepperdine to Duquesne so he could play college ball closer to his family.

None of that will factor into Huntington's ultimate decision, and it shouldn't. He has to do what he thinks is best for the organization.

But at times like this, it's important to remember that there are real human beings with real lives and real families that are affected by these decisions. *

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