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:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
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: