Four days ago, we were thinking about scenarios in which we might have two games to watch today. Now, we have none. Where do I go for a refund?

Speaking of which, have the Phillies set any kind of record for “most consecutive seasons printing and selling playoff tickets without ever tearing one in half?” They’ll extend it by a season, having come up a game short in their quest for the NL wild card. It’s hard to look at the Phils, a game behind the Astros with none to play, and not think of September 7, when a ninth-inning, two-out, three-run home run by Craig Biggio completed an Astros sweep at Citizens Bank Park. That Billy Wagner fastball is the entire difference between those two teams this morning.

The Astros held off the Phillies by surviving a bad Roy Oswalt inning that put them down 4-3 in the sixth, helped by a curious decision by Dusty Baker. With a chance to add to that lead in the top of the inning, Baker led Greg Maddux bat with first and third and two outs. Maddux flied out, then gave up a homer to Jason Lane leading off the bottom of the inning. A single and a Neifi Perez error later, Maddux had yielded the lead and left the game.

Maddux hadn’t been terribly effective to that point, allowing three runs on eight hits in five innings. Certainly, Baker had been managing Maddux in an effort to get him wins, going so far as to push Maddux to a season-high 114 pitches in his previous start to that end. Hitting for him with a lead and with runners on base would seem to have given him the best chance at his 14th win and a .500 record. It also would seem to have enhanced the Cubs’ chances of winning. After all, they had no reason to save the bullpen for another day, and the Cubs’ pen has actually been very good down the stretch, led by the return of Scott Williamson and Michael Wuertz‘s best month.’

The decision to leave Maddux in might not have meant so much had the Cubs not shut it down after giving back the lead. Over the last three innings, they sent 11 batters to the plate and saw just 33 pitches, swinging at a whopping 26 of them. That’s a team that’s just trying to get its season over with. It was an embarrassing display, one I’m sure the Phillies couldn’t have been pleased with.

Clay Davenport covers the Indians’ disastrous collapse, so I won’t pile on. It’s worth mentioning that the White Sox, who looked to be in trouble a week ago, closed the season with five straight road wins, allowing 10 runs and getting five very good starts in their last time through the rotation. They may have overachieved relative to their underlying performance and their core talent, and I’m not sure their matchup with the Red Sox is much more than a coin flip, but they led the AL in wins, have one of the league’s top defenses and do a great job of not beating themselves from the mound. That’s impressive, and if so much of the analysis of their season has been erroneous–and my personal coverage overly dismissive–it all makes them a threat in the postseason.

Oh, yeah, the Yankees and Red Sox are both in the playoffs, as are four other teams who played in the 2004 postseason. Wasn’t this the kind of thing that Bud Selig railed against five years ago? Where is the outcry today about how so few teams have hope and faith? It couldn’t be that “competitive balance” is merely a canard, a catchphrase brought out during negotiating periods that really means, “the players make too much money,” could it? It couldn’t be that as long as there are controls on labor costs and mechanisms that funnel money down the competence pyramid, the powers that be couldn’t give a damn what the standings look like?

Maybe, maybe not, but the fact is there is just as much stagnation atop the standings and in the playoffs as there was in the previous CBA, but we don’t hear about how increased revenue sharing and agreements to restrict the labor market…well, don’t have much effect on the game on the field. Perhaps now we can get some honest coverage of baseball’s economics as we head into the next round of CBA negotiations.

Back tomorrow with previews and predictions.