The AL Central Is Hot

I recently wrote about the race between the Detroit TIgers and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central Pennant. Now I add the Kansas City Royals to that race. In the earlier articles, I mentioned that tension and focus would be important even mentioning that “playing with your hands around your throat” is difficult.  The Indians had just blown two games with the Twins at that time with costly errors.
This last week has seen the Indians win six in a row, the Tigers win four in a row, and the Kansas City Royals win seven in a row.
Clearly, the Indians have their goove back. I saw the Royals beat the Twins 7-2 last night and was impressed by this very balanced team. Furthermore, seven of the Royals are batting over  .260 and Eric Hosmer and David Lough are moving towards  .300. I have been very impressed by these two players for some time and have been waiting for them to emerge as stars.
The point here is that Detroit is still playing well, and Cleveland has removed the “hands of the throat” play of a week ago. The Royals have arrived as a contender and believe, if I can properly interpret the way the game was played last night, that they can also win. If Detroit falters, either the Indians or Royals can move up. Both of these teams are also in the Wild Card race, but it is a little early to focus on that and the new Wild Card playoff that occurs this year. Stay tuned, folks, this will be interesting.
The Boston/Tampa Bay race in the AL East is very tight. I will be watching that as well going forward, but the AL Central has the most potential for drama as the teams involved can either flourish or flounder in the next two months. Right now they are all flourishing.

Major League Baseball, Attendance and Competitive Balance.

Major League Baseball is my first interest each morning. World news can wait as I peruse the sports section, especially MLB standings and box scores.There is a lot of information there and I find something of note every day.

Today, what captured my eye was MLB attendance levels at the ten games played Monday.  This is an era of intense media coverage and modern stadiums that has pushed average attendance at MLB games to rise to over 30,000 per game. Yesterday, however, the attendance figures were more typical of the 1970’s. In those days, for example, the only video available of live action, was a 10 second shot of something that happened in the first five innings of the local game that was shown in the 10 O’clock news on one  of the four channels available.. It was hard to generate excitement with this limited exposure. Today, fans see all the great plays that occur each day, on multiple cable channels, and that drives interest and attendance.

Last night, however, attendance was 17,653 in Kansas City, where the Royals extended its winning streak to 6, 15,514 in Baltimore, where the Orioles beat the Angels 4-3, 15,447 in Tampa, where the Red Sox won in 14 innings, 18,126 in Chicago, where the White Sox won , 12,811 in Seattle where the Mariners won 3-2, 13,259 in Miami, where the Brewers beat the Marlins, and 21, 192 in San Diego where the Padres beat the Braves 7-6. Texas and the Dodgers both drew over 30,000 for their games. 

I am always concerned by low attendance as that is the first measure of public appeal. The games were well played, five were decided on one run, one was extra innings. MLB is a very competitive business and teams rely on attendance for revenue to pay for players who are more expensive every year. Reduced attendance has an effect on competitive balance, and competitive balance is what it is all about.

The next topic that captured by attention this June morning, was the intense competition in divisions where three teams are within four games of the lead. In the AL East, Boston, New York and Baltimore are within 3.5 games, even the fourth team, Tampa Bay is over .500. In the NL West, Arizona, Colorado, and San Francisco are within two games and in the NL Central, St.Louis,the best team overall, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are within four games. The most intense two team race is Texas and Oakland, where one game separates them.

This all means that the championship will be determined by the little things that happen, a ball that bounces erratically, a double play missed, an outfielder that loses the ball in the lights, and the hundred other little events that determine the outcome of a game or two of the 162 played each year. 

This is why we pay attention to the game and these races. There are 100 games to the playoffs, and I am making no predictions other than Detroit will win the AL Central. Then again, I picked Toronto to win, and it is last in its division. The infinite possibilities make this a wonderful game, I just hope attendance reflects that wonder.