Where, oh where have you gone, pennant races? Here we are, September 21st, and I can't get into any of the games that will be played over the next two weeks. None of them. That could change depending on what happens, but most likely, we're headed towards a yawn fest for the last two weeks.
The only series that appears worth paying attention to over the next two weeks is the Tigers hosting the Twins for four next Monday through Thursday. The Tigers are trying hard to give this division to the Justin Morneau-less Twins, going 4-9 in their last 13 while watching their AL Central lead shrink to three games entering Monday's action.
The Tigers confound me a bit. Looking at their statistics, it's hard to believe they're in first place. They've actually been outscored by three runs for the season. Offensively, in terms of runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and stolen bases, the Tigers rank no better than ninth in the AL in any category. To me, that says they don't do anything especially well offensively.
So they must be lights out on the mound, right? Well, no. The Tigers rank 7th-9th (fully average) in the AL in ERA, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and WHIP. The Tigers have also issued the second most walks in the league, behind only Cleveland.
So how are they in first place? The easy answer is that everyone else in the division stinks, as the Central is the clear weak sister in the American League in 2009. Three of the bottom four team ERAs in the AL reside in the central. The good news is that all of the Tigers remaing regular-season games are against AL Central foes. The bad news is that Detroit has only put up a 13-12 record against teams in the Central in the second half. Bottom line on the Central is that whoever wins it really isn't that good.
But why are the other five divisions so boring? That's pretty easy, actually. Around baseball there are (by my count) six teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers) that are really, really good, 10 teams (Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Mets, Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Padres, Diamondbacks) that are really, really bad, and 14 teams (everyone else) that are just good enough to beat the bad teams and just good enough to get you beat by the really good teams.
So, the really good teams rise above everyone, the bad teams sink to the bottom, and the other teams smack around in the middle, with too many games against bad teams to sink, but too many games against good teams to rise out of mediocrity.
And this creates boring September baseball, where the only things that can happen to playoff bound teams are bad (see: injury).
There are no flukes over the duration of 162 games. I'm not making any playoff predictions just yet, but you can rightfully say that I'd be shocked if this year's World Series champs were not among the six teams I have labelled as really, really good.