Tell me again about hope and faith.
Before the season–heck, before every season–the irresponsible among the
baseball media like to tell us that half to three-quarters of the teams in
baseball have no hope of contending or reaching the playoffs. Most readers
of Baseball Prospectus know that this isn’t true, regardless of their
opinions on the state of parity in baseball. But it’s interesting to note
now just how false it is.
- Right now, on Labor Day, 17 teams are either in a division lead, a
wild-card slot, or within ten games of one or the other. Thirteen are within
five and a half games of something that matters.
- Seven teams ranked in the bottom half of major-league teams in total
Opening Day payroll are still within ten games out of a playoff spot (rank,
- Oakland: 29th, 80-57, AL wild-card leader
- Houston: 17th, 80-56, NL Central leader and holder of the NL’s best record
- Philadelphia: 24th, 72-64, one game out of the NL East lead
- Minnesota: 30th, 72-65, 5 1/2 games out of the AL Central lead
- Chicago White Sox: 16th, 69-66, 7 1/2 games out of the AL Central lead
- San Diego: 25th, 69-68, 7 1/2 games out of the wild card
- Anaheim: 21st, 70-67, 10 games out of the wild card
- The Giants just missed the above list, ranking 15th and sitting just two
games behind Arizona in the NL West.
- The Boston Red Sox, with the highest Opening Day payroll in the American
League, are seven games out of the wild card in the loss column and eight
out of the division lead. Handed a golden opportunity to take at least the
first two from the Yanks this weekend, Joe Kerrigan managed his team out of
at least two and arguably all three games.
- The Mets (fourth), Rangers (seventh), Blue Jays (tenth), Orioles (12th),
and Rockies (13th) are all going to miss the playoffs and have been out of
the playoff race all year.
- The Dodgers (third) and Cardinals (ninth) are very much in the hunt, but
are both chasing at least two teams with lower payrolls.
- The Braves (sixth) are clinging to a one-game lead and the Diamondbacks
(eighth) are clinging to a two-game lead, each over a team with at least $15
million less in total player salaries.
In other words, fans of small-market teams who didn’t listen to the bleating
of Bud Selig and his mirthless minions about the complete lack of hope for
their teams this year were probably rewarded for their faith. Nearly half of
the sub-median-payroll teams have winning records right now; two are likely
going to the playoffs and two more have excellent chances of joining them.
When you consider that winning often begets larger revenues and thus larger
payrolls, there’s nothing here that’s out of line with what we should expect
from the business of baseball.
Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by