I’m just going to put this out there right now: If you’re not a Red Sox fan like me, you’re probably not going to agree with what you’re about to read. And you’re probably not going to believe that my being a Red Sox fan doesn’t have all that much to do with what I’m about to say. (By the way, if you’re a Yankees or Rays fan, you should agree with me. But I doubt you will.)
Here’s the deal. Major League Baseball’s divisional setup needs a shakeup.
All right, cue the resounding “I know where this is going,” and “Funny you should say that when the Red Sox are 78-64 but 8.5 games out of the wild card.” You can boo and spill your beer on my head and ask me about David Ortiz’s October tee time as much as you’d like, but once your cup is empty and you get tired of yelling, hear me out.
There is a better way to do this. The Yankees and Red Sox should both be able to win their respective divisions. And there shouldn’t be 19 Yankees-versus-Red-Sox games every season so that each team plays 11.7 percent of its regular season games against the other. And teams in the National League Central shouldn’t have five other teams to compete with for the divisional title while teams in the American League West only have three.
See, it’s not just about the fact that the Red Sox would probably make the playoffs this season if they weren’t in the same division with both the Yankees and the Rays.
But now that you’ve brought it up .
As of yesterday, the Red Sox were tied with the White Sox for the fifth-best overall record in the American League behind the Yankees, Rays, Twins and Rangers. They were one game behind the Rangers for the fourth-best record, but they were 8.5 games out of a playoff spot. Go figure.
One major reason why Boston is in the playoff position it’s in right now is because it plays in the American League East with New York and Tampa Bay, which both own the two best records in baseball this season. Under MLB’s current divisional system, teams play 18 or 19 games against each other team in their division each season, meaning that 36 to 38 of the Red Sox games each year are spent playing two of the best teams in the American League. Meanwhile, the rest of the league’s teams each play the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox somewhere near an average total of 18 to 20 times per season. Again, go figure.
Now here’s a question for you: Can you name the four teams in the American League that own a winning record against the teams in the American League East?
Hint: They all play in the American League East.
That’s right. The Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays (who own the sixth-best record in the American League as of Monday behind the Red Sox and White Sox, by the way) all have winning records against teams in the East. No other American League squad can claim even a .500 record against the division. The Twins and the Rangers – the current leaders of the other two American League divisions – are a combined 32-43 against the East. The lowly Kansas City Royals actually lead the pack with a 15-16 record against the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Jays and Orioles.
So no one can beat them aside from themselves, but only two of the five are allowed to make the playoffs. It seems awfully generous to let the Twins and the Rangers show up in the postseason when you look at it that way, doesn’t it? Why doesn’t Commissioner Bud Selig just decree that we’re skipping the American League Divisional Series this season so that the Yankees and the Rays can save money on plane tickets and hotel rooms?
The truth is that I’m not bitter about the Red Sox not making the playoffs this season. The team is beat up, certain players have underperformed, and I wouldn’t like their odds to win three consecutive playoff series with the guys they have on the roster right now. But have they earned the right to give it a shot anyway? I think so. Even without Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis or the real Josh Beckett (Would you please stand up? Please?), the Red Sox have been one of the best four teams in the American League. Their record just (barely) doesn’t show it because of the unevenness – and I argue unfairness – of the divisional setup.
So here’s how Mr. Selig can set things straight.
First of all, don’t have divisional opponents play a sickening amount of games against each other each year. Even out the schedule so that teams in each league would play each team in their league the same number of times each season. Selig could even keep his beloved interleague play if he wanted to. For the sake of compromise, we’d put up with the Yankees playing the Pirates and the Astros in the same season that the Red Sox play two series against the Phillies. Oh yeah, like this year.
Second of all, break up the Yankees and the Red Sox. With all respect to Tampa Bay, Boston and New York will continue to run the East in the long run unless MLB does something about it. Every now and then one of the division’s teams is going to be undeservedly left out of the playoffs when the Rays or Jays or even the O’s decide to win 95 games in a season. With the Yankees in one division and the Red Sox in another, the two best teams in baseball would make the playoffs more often (as they should) and the Rays of the world would have a better chance to win the wild card or compete for their division with the Yankees or the Red Sox (but not both) whenever they play well enough to do so.
Third of all, stop this four-team American League West and six-team National League Central business. Put the Astros in the AL West with their in-state rivals, the Rangers, and call it a day. Sure, there would be 15 teams in each league, and it would be impossible to have every team playing on a given day without at least one interleague series. But hey, we all know how much Bud loves his interleague play, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
The plan as stated comes with some casualties, including listening to fewer Joe Buck and Tim McCarver broadcasts from Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park on summer Saturdays. (Oh, darn.) The Yankees and the Red Sox wouldn’t be in the same division anymore, and that would bother some people. But fans of those teams would still get to see them play each other a few times per season, and who knows? Maybe the scarcity would add some extra excitement to the games or something weird like that.
When you boil it all down, the point of the story is this: When Bill Hall, of all people, is given enough at-bats to hit 17 home runs for the Red Sox in a season and they still manage to win somewhere around 90 games, they ought to make the playoffs.