This baseball season is best represented by the Cincinnati Reds. Through their first 80 games, the Reds were 40-40 overall, 20-20 at home, 20-20 on the road, 36-36 in nine-inning games, 4-4 in extra inning games, 28-28 against right-handed pitchers, and 12-12 against left-handed pitchers. And where did such monumental mediocrity get them? Just one game in the loss column out of first place in the NL Central.
Parity -- otherwise known as competitive balance around MLB offices -- means anything close to .500 is contending. As this week began, marking the official second half of the season, 17 of the 30 teams were separated by just five or fewer losses. Eighteen teams were within four games of a playoff spot. The Mariners were closer to the playoffs than the Rays. The Astros were nearer the playoffs than the Mets.
The baseball season breaks down like this: you have the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers playing for October, then you have 19 teams that are fairly interchangeable, and then you have eight teams that are playing for next year. Of course, it's not quite that simple, but you get the idea.
Baseball 2009 means a wide-open playing field. It also means possible runs for .400 and a Triple Crown, a generation of young starting pitchers dominating the game, and a golden age of all-time great managers still at the top of their game. To recap a tightly if not always well-contested first half, here are my leaders for the major individual awards and some not-so-major team awards: