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Dave Anderson has seen the NL West and he's afraid
2008-08-03 23:21
by Bob Timmermann

Dave Anderson of the New York Times has seen a horrific vision of the Division Series and he thinks that there could be a team with a losing record making the playoffs. This horrific possiblity must not stand!

With the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers each struggling to stay around the .500 mark, if not falling below it, it’s possible that, as a division winner, a team with an under-.500 record (in other words, a losing team), would automatically qualify for the postseason.

Should that happen, it would make a mockery of the playoff structure. A team with a losing record does not deserve to be in the playoffs, much less deserve to be considered a champion of any division or anything.

It may not happen. The Diamondbacks, now three games over .500, and the Dodgers, at .505 but presumably reinforced by Manny Ramírez’s bat, each may rise well above .500 over the last two months of the schedule.

Anderson proposes that if a division winner not have a winning record, then a second wild card team be accepted.

I can think of a lot of horrible things that could happen in baseball. I think a team winning a division with a record below .500 is not one of them.

For starters, what if it's your favorite team that has the losing record and wins the division? What are you rooting for down the stretch? Is there something so much more magical about team winning 81 games than 80?

In 1973, the Mets won the NL East with an 82-79 record? There were no calls in the New York Times to ask for the NL East champ to be removed from the playoffs if no team in the division had a winning record (which was the case as late as September 21, 1973).

I still think the chances of the NL West champ having a losing record are pretty slim mainly because Arizona and Los Angeles get to play lots of games down the stretch against the likes of San Francisco and San Diego (and Colorado to a lesser extent).

Anderson brings up the example of the 1994 season ending with the Rangers atop the AL West at 52-62. The Rangers poor record that year wasn't helped by the team losing 9 of 11 games before the Great Unpleasantness began.

The 2005 Padres had to win the final game of the season at home against the Dodgers to avoid finishing at .500.

But remember the hard and fast rule of writers like Anderson: New York teams with bad records winning pennants (1973 Mets and 2000 Yankees) are gutty underdogs, but teams like the 2006 Cardinals or the 1988 Dodgers are just flukes and not worthy of mention.

And Anderson does like to point out that when there were no divisions, there was no danger of the pennant winner not having a losing record.

Amazing things those kids do with math today.

2008-08-04 05:56:00
1.   Ken Arneson
I happen to like this idea. I've liked it since 1994. If there had not have been a strike 1994, and the A's had played 12 games below .500 and still won the pennant, I would have been more embarrassed than proud. I think you should have to accomplish something more difficult than just the good fortune of being assigned to a division with some other lousy teams.

When baseball inevitably expands to 32 teams, and there are eight four-team divisions, this rule will be even more relevant, as the below-.500 division champ will become more common. And the moneygrubbers at the networks will like it, because it will keep the possibility of the Yankees and Red Sox meeting in the playoffs intact.

2008-08-04 07:45:52
2.   dianagramr
Well, I'm not crazy about seeing sub-.500 teams make the playoffs in ANY sport (I'm looking at you, NBA), but I can flip it around and say that even great regular season teams can flop in the playoffs (cough .... 2001 Seattle Mariners ... cough).

If Anderson doesn't like the prospect of having a sub-.500 division winner making the post-season, why have divisions at all? Let's go back to one big division (pre-1969) and let the top 4 in each league advance?

Of course, that means that you'd have 6-10 teams playing out the string starting in late June, which would hurt attendance.

2008-08-04 08:09:33
3.   Travis08
Joseph Durso, New York Times, September 1, 1973:

"Somebody suggested recently to Chub Feeney, president of the National League should skip the Eastern winner at the end of September and stage the playoff between the top two teams in the West. He blushed and grunted."

2008-08-04 08:11:39
4.   Bob Timmermann
I want the Dodgers retroactively placed in the 1973 NLCS!
2008-08-04 09:22:03
5.   underdog
John Shea in the SF Chronicle yesterday wrote a very similar article about the NL West and .500 and the all-time record and blah blah playoffs blah blah. It's like they got the same boring press release about the NL West and decided to write a pointless article about it. At least Shea wasn't calling for any radical changes, was more just pointing out historically bad overall division records and that the NL West's overall division record is close to that record. But improved play by Az and LA will probably make that highly unlikely.

Anyway, too bad Dave Anderson's never written any articles about how good the NL West has been in previous years when it was pretty darned good. He probably slept through that.

2008-08-04 09:26:00
6.   Bob Timmermann
The most typical Dave Anderson line in the whole thing is:

In the two-league era from 1901 to 1968, the N.L. low was the 1959 Dodgers at .564 (88-68) in their second year in Los Angeles after having abandoned Brooklyn following the 1957 season.

2008-08-04 09:48:43
7.   underdog
6 Did he write that part in tears?
2008-08-04 09:49:09
8.   underdog
(using tears as ink, that was supposed to say. Ah, never mind.)
2008-08-04 13:12:10
9.   KG16
one of these days, someone is going to have to explain to me how a team that wins 94 games (the '88 Dodgers) is somehow considered a scrappy underdog, that's a full 13 games above .500. That's probably going to be better than most of the division winners this year.

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