Baseball pennant races slow to a tedious crawl

by Dan | Posted on Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Baseball pennant races slow to a tedious crawlBut past that, the standings have all the drama of a sewing club. Oh, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are as close as peanut butter and jelly on bread, per their historical duties, but both will be in the playoffs, so that really can’t count, can it?

There’s not much out there in the way of deep intrigue at the moment. No wonder the public’s attention is diverted by so many other things. Peyton Manning’s neck. Notre Dame’s quarterback. Texas A&M’s Big 12 defection. NASCAR’s Chase. Even U.S. Open tennis.
If only baseball could drum up the same buzz as Maryland’s new football helmets.
But consider the mild-card standings. The Red Sox and Atlanta Braves have been in control for weeks. They don’t even need a rearview mirror.
The wild card is designed to prompt tight races and wider playoff opportunity, but this year is doing neither, in a rare malfunction. There have been 16 previous wild-card seasons, and in 13 of those years, the final margin in at least one of the leagues was three games or fewer. Nine years, it was one game.
Boston’s lead going into Thursday was 6½ games, Atlanta’s 7½.

Might be a good moment for Bud Selig to bring up his second wild-card idea again. There’d be a torrid race between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Angels in the American League and the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants in the National.

Curious thing. At the All-Star break, the combined lead in all six divisions was nine games. As of Thursday, it was 40. So the sport has a lot of time to kill before the playoffs. If there can’t be many traditional pennant races, key series and what-not — the Rangers do finish in Anaheim, Calif., if it still matters — we’ll just have to come up with alternates.

Or else nobody will even pause to notice baseball in September, on their way to seeing how the Green Bay Packers are doing.

•The Milwaukee Brewers are 1½ games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Phillies Avoidance Division. The winner gets home-field advantage in the first round. The loser has to go to Philadelphia to face Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.

•The Detroit Tigers hold a slender half-game lead on Texas in the No-Bronx League. The winner earns home-field advantage against Boston, which is even more appealing now that Josh Beckett’s ankle is wobbly. The loser gets the pleasures of Yankee Stadium.

•The Rays are a half-game ahead of the Angels and 2½ up on the Cardinals in the Close But No October Division. The winner gets the coveted title as the team with the best record not to make the playoffs. That feat, and $3.55, will get you a grande mocha latte at Starbucks.

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