|The A's and the Angels are locked in a tight race for an AL wild-card berth. (Getty Images)|
Heading into Wednesday, there are exactly 22 days left in the Major League Baseball season. No, this isn't a piece about how time flies (but, wow, it really doesn't seem too long ago that everyone was freaking out about Albert Pujols not being able to hit a home run). Instead, my focus here is how many teams are still playing meaningful September games this season.
Last season, when there were 22 days left, the landscape was much different.
The Tigers had an eight-game lead in the AL Central and no divisional lead in the NL was less than six games. The AL wild-card lead was eight while the NL wild-card lead was 7.5. Granted, we know both of those wild-card leads were blown, but those were historic collapses.
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Overall, last season at this juncture, 12 teams were either in playoff position or within eight games of one. Only nine -- with eight playoff spots up for grabs -- were either in playoff position or within four games of a spot. Basically, it looked like the rest of the regular season would be boring.
This season? There are 19 teams either in playoff position or within eight games of a spot with a whopping 17 either in position or within four games of a playoff berth. Yes, more than half the freaking league is within a long series of the playoffs, and we only have three weeks of play remaining.
Or, to put this in specific perspective, the Diamondbacks, Phillies and Brewers are all closer to a playoff spot than the Rays and Cardinals were at this point last season. The Padres -- the San Diego Padres! -- are the same number of games out as the Cardinals were last season with 22 days remaining.
The extra wild-card spot helps, but baseball as a whole has been tons more competitive this season than in the past few years. For as much as we hear NFL apologists/MLB haters bemoan the lack of parity in baseball, this season proves otherwise.
As far as the argument that the extra playoff team devalues the regular season, that's hogwash. It puts more emphasis on winning the division -- as the wild-card teams are relegated to a veritable play-in game -- increasing the value of the regular season.
And what a finish to this regular season we're about to see.
Rankings, comments and stats are through Tuesday, September 12. Please feel free to contact me via email with comments: email@example.com.