Welcome to baseball parity.
After years of lamenting about the haves (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers) having a distinct advantage over the have-nots (Oakland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay), Major League Baseball’s transformation into a league where every team has a chance at the postseason is nearly complete.
The addition of the second wild-card spot, which started last season, has given any team hanging around .500 a belief that a playoff spot can be earned.
And this season, there are plenty of teams in the vicinity of .500 that can dare to dream. Of the 30 teams in baseball, there are 22 teams that are over .500 or within three games of it.
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“Isn’t this wonderful?’’ commissioner Bud Selig told USA Today. “This is what we set out to do. We have, unquestionably, more competitive balance than at any time in history. We had to do a lot of things to achieve this, make changes in the economic system, and it has led us to where we are today.”
It’s why the Minnesota Twins spent the money to sign Kendrys Morales to a one-year contract a few days after the MLB draft.
It’s why teams aren’t as likely to wave the white flag and start dumping players for prospects.
It’s why the Mariners and their .235 team batting average can still try to find a bat or two to make a push for the postseason.
It’s why more fans can still believe there is meaningful baseball being played late into the summer.
In all three American League divisions, the leaders Oakland, Toronto and Detroit have leads of 3½ games or less going into Saturday’s games. In the National League, the Giants carry a seven-game lead over the Dodgers, but the NL East has Atlanta and Washington tied, while the Brewers’ lead in the NL Central has been whittled down to 4½ games.
With the exception of San Francisco, no team has pulled away yet. That could change in a month. But this season has shown that the margin between the best teams and the worst has been reduced. There isn’t a true dominant team.
To quote Lloyd Christmas in the movie “Dumb and Dumber” — “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”
And that’s all that teams hope for is a chance. The wild-card games are a one-game dice roll that could lead to something much more, something that many teams couldn’t envision a few years ago.
Selig believes the rise in overall attendance, which is at a high for the last decade, is a product of the parity, er, competitive balance.
“The fact that this is the best 10 years in attendance in history is no accident,” he said.
Around the bases
• For prospect geeks, die-hard fans and fantasy baseball participants, Pittsburgh’s call-up of hard-hitting outfielder Gregory Polanco on Tuesday was huge news.
Polanco made his big-league league debut, going 1 for 5 in a 7-3 loss at PNC Park, where he received a standing ovation in his first at-bat.
Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen’s reception in his first at-bat wasn’t quite as grandiose. But hey, he’s not a prospect anymore.
“I did not expect this,” Polanco said during a pregame news conference. “I did not think people would be this excited. I’m excited, too. My dream has come true. I’m in the big leagues.”
At 22, much is expected from Polanco. He hit .347 with 17 doubles, seven homers, 49 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases in 62 games for Class AAA Indianapolis to start the season. Could he be a catalyst to help the Pirates get back into the postseason picture?
“I’m not going to get in front of myself and predict the future but it was exciting to watch him play tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle said after the game. “There was a really great atmosphere in the ballpark. It was fun. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Gregory.”
• Once a lock to win the AL Central, the Tigers find themselves clinging to their division lead. The Royals are surging, and the White Sox and Twins won’t go away.
One of the big issues of the recent stretch of Detroit losing has been the struggles of former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who is 6-6 with a 4.61 earned-run average in 14 starts this season. He’s 2-5 in his past seven starts with one of those wins coming against a Mariners lineup that was without Robinson Cano.
Part of his struggles has been decreased velocity with his fastball. But he told reporters that it has been corrected. He hit 98 mph in two of his starts, and his fastball was right around 95 in his most recent start.
“I haven’t thrown this hard in a while,” Verlander said. “It’s there, I know it is. It’s just a matter of reining it in and executing with that stuff. When that happens, it’s trouble-trouble, not for me.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish