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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Updated: September 24, 1:29 AM ET
Adding two more playoff spots would spice up baseball's final month

ESPN.com

Jeff Curry/US Presswire

Despite their problems, the Cubs would still be in the playoff hunt if there were two more spots.

By Peter Gammons, ESPN

All things considered, baseball has done a remarkable job holding the means.

There have been no legitimate races per se, no media storyline despite Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter, and still attendance is down only 6 percent in an economic climate distraught with fear, loathing and unemployment.

We appreciate that from 1995 to 2008, baseball's revenues grew at an unsustainable pace. But two clubs' CEOs fear that -- even as the economy shows signs of turning around -- the fans are growing used to giving up fancy steakhouses for the grill and eschewing the $250 seats; the entire country has seen that, even in New York, one doesn't have to be seen behind home plate at baseball games.

So 2010, despite agents' promises of seven-year, $147 million deals to players such as Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, could well be another year of belt-tightening as the corporate sponsorship dollars become more difficult to attract.

Now, this might be an overreaction to a September in which there are essentially no races. The Twins are within 2½ of the Tigers with a series next week, but the other division leaders are in front by five to 10 games. Boston's wild-card lead is seven games over Texas. Colorado is five games in front of the Giants and Braves.

Essentially the only teams thinking about tomorrow in a September in which the NFL, college football and golf all blitz our consciousness are the eight teams that will be playing in October. So baseball, for 22 franchises, is either tepid or in full autumnal frost, with little momentum heading into the playoffs.

So is it time to think about expanding the playoffs? I agree with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who says, "Most general managers don't want it watered down like the NHL or NBA. Not many are wild about the idea."

Granted, it seems as if so many teams make the Stanley Cup playoffs that they need a WCCA-Hockey East shootout to fill out the brackets.

But why not think about having two wild-card teams per league? For instance, in what might be an aberrational season, the Giants, Marlins, Braves and Cubs would be within 2½ games of that NL spot right now.

So MLB can avoid a Thanksgiving clash with the Lions, start the season half a week earlier; someone much smarter than I points out that, as opposed to starting on Monday and getting no one at weekday games on Wednesday and Thursday, they should start on Thursday and play the first weekend.

Then have the two-out-of-three play-in series on the weekend. For years, folks have tried to punish the wild-card team and make winning the division more important. Well, if you use up a pitching staff on the weekend to get to a Tuesday or Wednesday divisional series, there is a serious disadvantage. On the other hand, it would be an advantage to teams such as the Rays and Blue Jays that compete against the economic powers in New York and Boston.

No one suggests that a wild card play-in is going to blunt the ratings of a USC-Ohio State season jumper or the NFL's ability to get prime games into the first two weeks. However, it's something to think about in a September when baseball seems to have drifted off beyond the horizon.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 21 | Sept. 20 | Sept. 17 | Sept. 16 | Sept. 15

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Prince Fielder, MIL41WellsBot 2: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Adam Dunn, WAS38KurodaBot 3: 2-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Derrek Lee, CHC35SmithTop 4: 0-1, 2 Outs. None on.
Aaron Hill, TOR33HendricksonBot 3: 2-2, 1 Out. None on.
Raul Ibanez, PHI32BadenhopTop 8: 2-2, 1 Out. None on.
Dan Uggla, FLA30MoyerBot 2: 3-2, 0 Outs. None on.
Michael Cuddyer, MIN29DanksTop 6: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Tuesday's homers

ON DECK: WEDNESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Tigers at Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

With the Tigers and Twins winning Tuesday, Detroit remains 2½ games ahead in the AL Central. The Tigers send Eddie Bonine out for only his third start of the season and the eighth of his career. Bonine was called up Sept. 1 and is 0-0 with a 5.96 ERA in eight big league appearances this season.

Twins at White Sox, 8:11 p.m. ET

The Twins have had little trouble with the White Sox lately, going 8-2 in the past 10 meetings. And just how good is Brian Duensing, who pitches Wednesday, been this month? Well, he's 2-0 with a 1.07 ERA in four September starts.

Giants at Diamondbacks, 10:10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Jonathan Sanchez is 0-2 in his past four starts, but he has been more a victim of the San Francisco offense than anything else. Three times in those four starts the Giants have scored no more than one run. Still, in his two most recent starts, Sanchez has exited early, lasting 4 1/3 innings in consecutive outings against the Dodgers.

For the rest of Wednesday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: WEDNESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
1 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina

BBTN MINUTE: REYNOLDS RESETS K's RECORD

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the homer-happy Yankees offense, which helped the Bronx Bombers clinch a playoff berth Tuesday:

Most homers in a season
Yankees history

Year Homers Result
2004 242 Lost ALCS
1961 240 Won World Series
2009 231 ?
2003 230 Lost World Series
2005 229 Lost ALDS

WEB GEMS

TUESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Anibal Sanchez• The Marlins-Phillies doubleheader produced a pair of similarly strong pitching performances. In the first game, the Phillies' Joe Blanton tossed seven shutout innings of two-hit ball in a win. In the nightcap, the Marlins' Anibal Sanchez, tossed eight shutout innings of two-hit ball. Blanton struck out nine; Sanchez whiffed seven.
WORST
Mark ReynoldsMark Reynolds is having a huge season at the plate; he has 43 homers and 100 RBIs. But he struck out three more times in a 10-8 win against the Giants, breaking his own single-season strikeout record. The old total was 204; his three whiffs Tuesday raised the mark to 206 and counting.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Scott Kazmir

Scott Kazmir has impressed in his first four starts with the Angels after being acquired from the Rays.

The lefty is only 1-1, but he has a 1.42 ERA and the Angels are 3-1 in games he started. His numbers have been better across the board since making the move to Los Angeles, thanks in large part to his fastball's being more effective since he switched teams. He is throwing it for strikes more often for the Angels, and opponents' batting average against it has been close to 100 points lower.

Kazmir's fastball (2009)

Angels Rays
BA against .203 .293
Strike pct. 71.6 63.8
OBP .329 .417
Swing pct. 54.3 43.7

The numbers against his slider and changeup have also improved since the trade, with the opponents' batting average against his slider dropping from .238 to .154 and from .256 to .238 against his changeup.

On Wednesday, Kazmir will face the Yankees, the second-best fastball hitting team in the league.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF WEDNESDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Wednesday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound, and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 86-65 -- 90.9%
Giants 81-70 5.0 4.7%
Braves 81-70 5.0 3.7%
Marlins 81-71 5.5 0.6%
AL CENTRAL
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Tigers 80-70 -- 74.3%
Twins 78-73 2.5 25.3%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October