As of today, the San Diego Padres lead the National League West by four games over the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Padres have a record that is below .500, at 61-63. They have not been above .500 for more than a day here and there for much of the second half of the season.
Baseball needs a rule under which if a division leader ends the season below .500, the division forfeits its right to a representative in the playoffs in favor of the runner-up in the wild-card race. No reason to reward mediocrity.
While the Padres are below .500, every team in the NL East is over .500; in fact, over .516 (64-60).
It has never happened in baseball that a playoff team has finished its regular season below .500. It might have happened in 1994, when the players’ strike ended the season with the Texas Rangers below .500, but there were still some 50 games to play that year, so we can’t say.
Moreover, 1994 was in the old “balanced” schedule, by which the division you played in had no bearing on the opposition you faced: you faced every team in your league the same number of times, regardless of division. Now the schedule is “unbalanced,” meaning teams play more games against each of their division rivals than they play against any each extra-divisional team.
That means the Padres are really quite mediocre, at best, as is the entire West division.
The Padres currently have the eighth best record in the league. Yet only three of those seven teams with better records would go to the playoffs if the season ended today:
St. Louis Cardinals–the Central division leader by 12 games, with a .632 record.
Atlanta Braves–the East division leader by 4.5 games, with a .568 record.
Houston Astros–the curtent Wild Card leader as the best second-place team in the league, clinging to a 1/2 game lead over Florida and Philadelphia.
I have heard a lot about what a great wild-card race the NL has this year. Oh, sure, there is a big fight among six teams–including every team in the NL East–to see who gets the Wild Card. Meanwhile, more than one of the ‘losers’ will have a better record than the Padres, even if San Diego manages to get its head above the surf before the season ends.
Let me say this clearly: If the Padres remain below .500, it will be a travesty. It will be even more a travesty if they beat the Braves, against whom they are 5-1 this season, in the first postseason round.