MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

If you looked at the American League standings Wednesday morning, you saw all five teams in the AL East with a winning record, with the last-place Boston Red Sox having a better record (.525 winning percentage) than the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins (.524). And the Twins had to win seven out of 10 to even get that close.

In fact, for most of the season, all five teams in the AL Central have been under .500 with the Twins being the only one over .500 now.

In the AL West, four of the five teams are over .500, led by the Texas Rangers, who have been one of the most consistently-good teams since Opening Day. The Rangers have the third-best record in the league, behind the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, both residing teams of the American League East.

Had the postseason begun on Wednesday, the division winners would have been Baltimore, Minnesota and Texas. The three wild-card teams would have been Tampa Bay, the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays. Of the six teams, three are members of the AL East, with Boston and the New York Yankees within 2.5 games of the final wild card spot.

There are two reasons why AL East teams as a whole are having more success than either of the other two divisions: It is top-to-bottom the best and most competitive division in baseball, and the balanced schedule.

Ah, the balanced schedule. MLB has returned to the balanced schedule this season, meaning every team in baseball now plays fewer games in its own division than they did when MLB used the unbalanced schedule. For instance, rather than each team going into every city of its own division three times per season, they now visit those cities just twice a season.

In the days before the wild card, when only the four division winners advanced to the postseason, the unbalanced schedule was better suited to determine true division champions over 162 games. But then MLB screwed that up by going to a balanced schedule in the ‘80s because teams in both West divisions complained they weren’t getting enough large gates, home and away, that the East teams routinely drew.

But then MLB went back to the unbalanced schedule, even though it had added a wild-card team in each league, which bastardized the integrity of the unbalanced schedule. Then they added partial interleague play, which made the unbalanced even more nonsensical, compounded more by the extra wild cards that would come next.

Then, when they decided every team would play all teams in the other league in one three-game series, they decided to go back to the balanced schedule, which makes sense even if it still does not provide a fair or balanced schedule for any team.

In 1980, for instance, with the balanced schedule in place, the Yankees won the AL East with 103 wins, while the Kansas City Royals won the West with 97 wins. In the meantime, the Orioles finished second in the East with 100 wins, but since there was no wild card, they didn’t qualify for the postseason, even though they won more games than Kansas City did, playing more games against teams in Kansas City’s division than they did against teams in their own division.

Same thing happened to them in 1982 when they finished second in the East by one game to Milwaukee with 94 wins, while the California Angels won the West and went to the postseason with 93 wins.

In fairness, it’s never going to be possible to have a completely equitable schedule for any team. Some teams are going to get a break for one thing, such as which single interleague series they play at home or away (as opposed to the so-called natural rival interleague which is home and home), and some teams are going to get the break for another thing.

Does it all balance out? Given all that MLB is doing to market and rebrand the game with the interleague, three divisions in each league and the extra wild cards, it all likely does balance out, which is why the balanced schedule is definitely the way to go.

Apparently, what Major League Baseball envisions down the road (hopefully well after I’m off the road) is essentially one expanded and restructured league – one entity such as #NFLTheTVShow – with no American or National leagues. In part, we’ve seen the phasing of this with one umpiring body, the elimination of league presidents, the universal designated hitter (which is a good thing) and the dumbing down of the All-Star Game.

Baseball has long been the most resistant game to change because of its timelessness; but these times are changing fast and with them have come changes for the purpose of faster. Some we like, some we don’t. Yet it’s not about what the fans want; it’s about MLB’s vision of what fans MLB doesn’t even have yet might want.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT