Tom Verducci's View

June 20, 2004

KEEPING THE PLAYOFFS WILD

Commissioner Bud Selig (right) last week continued to move
further away from the possibility of reconfiguring the
postseason, such as adding a play-in game between two wild-card
teams in each league. Selig said the postseason last year was
such a success that he won't tweak the recipe.

Unlike other sports, baseball, with best-of-five first-round
series and almost no disadvantages for wild cards, has a system
that does not always reward the best teams. Since the wild card
was implemented in 1995, only one team with the best regular
season record, the '98 Yankees, has won the World Series. In 63
playoff matchups in that time, the team with the better season
mark was 28-34, and four of the past eight pennants have been won
by wild-card clubs.

Selig likes this unpredictability, which he sees as another tool
in achieving competitive balance. He sees the 2002 Angels and
2003 Marlins, second-place teams turned world champions, as good
for baseball. Indeed, NL and AL wild cards have fared better in
the postseason than the champions of four of the six divisions.
Here's how wild cards and division champs have fared in the 63
postseason series since 1995:

PLAYOFF TEAM W-L PCT.
AL East champion 17-5 .773
NL wild card 11-7 .611
NL East champion 10-8 .556
AL wild card 7-8 .467
AL Central champion 6-9 .400
NL West champion 5-8 .385
NL Central champion 5-9 .357
AL West champion 2-9 .182

COMPARABLE TO A YOUNG SCHILLING

Brewers ace Ben Sheets (left) isn't going anywhere, even though
general manager Doug Melvin says, "I get calls all the time about
him. He's still two years away from free agency. We're trying to
get better at the big league level, and he's a big part of that."

An 11-game winner in each of the past three seasons, Sheets (5-4,
2.66 through Sunday) is having a breakout year with 6.8
strikeouts for every walk, the best rate in the majors. Always
known for his nasty curveball, Sheets, a righthander who turns 26
next month, added about 4 mph to his fastball this year, hitting
95.

"He's like Curt Schilling was early in his career," says Melvin.
"He's getting stronger and throwing harder as he builds up arm
strength."

Schilling, after much bullpen work early in his career, had his
breakout season at age 25 in 1992. Here's how Sheets compares
with Schilling (through age 27) at similar junctures in their
careers:

PITCHER IP BB SO W-L ERA
Schilling 689 215 504 36-37 3.57
Sheets 676 2/3 174 510 38-43 4.19

TAKING TURNS AT THE TOP OF THE NL

How wacky has the National League been this season? In a 25-day
span beginning on May 16, six teams claimed at least a share of
the best record in the league: the Dodgers, Astros, Marlins,
Cubs, Cardinals and Reds. Cincinnati then entered an interleague
series in Oakland last week with the NL's best record and
promptly gave up 40 runs in three games. Only the 1901 and '49
Reds--clubs that finished eighth and seventh, respectively--gave
up more runs in any three-game span in franchise history.

IF BIGGIO WERE COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY

What would be the first thing on his to-do list if Astros
centerfielder Craig Biggio had Bud Selig's job for 24 hours? "I'd
do away with the running lane to first base," he says. "It makes
no sense that you start out running straight, then you have to
run to the side and at the very end you have to come back and
touch the base. I also don't understand if a game gets called
because of rain before it's official, why do you have to start
all over again? Why pretend it never happened? Why not just pick
up where you left off?"

THREE STRIKES

1. The Orioles have not hit a triple at Camden Yards this year,
and with only two on the road they are threatening the alltime
major league record low of 11 held by the 1998 Orioles.

2. The Marlins' Carl Pavano (right), 28, is blossoming into an
elite starter in his final season before he's eligible to become
a free agent. At the All-Star break last year he had a 33-47
career record. Since then he is 14-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 33 games,
including the playoffs.

3. Here's why the Cubs need rightfielder Sammy Sosa and
righthander Kerry Wood to get well soon: Starting June 7, Chicago
was scheduled to play 50 consecutive games against teams playing
.500 or better, including 19 against NL Central rivals St. Louis
and Houston.

COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES (SELIG) COLOR PHOTO: DARREN HAUCK/AP (SHEETS) COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN (PAVANO)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)