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Beauty of baseball: Almost anyone can win

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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LOS ANGELES

After a one-year absence, the New York Yankees return to baseball's postseason. But before there is too much whining about the lack of parity in baseball, take a deep breath, count to 10 and get ready for a dose of reality. Baseball has the numbers to back up its claim that it's a sport of opportunity, where the big and little markets all have reason for hope each spring. Even last year, Tampa Bay proved what recently fired Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi claimed was impossible — a small-budget team could finish ahead of both Boston and the Yankees in the AL East, even if in eight years Ricciardi never did it once.
Of the four major team sports in North America, baseball is the most wide-open in terms of who has a shot at a championship. Consider that in the last 30 postseasons:
  • Twenty-six of baseball's 30 teams have appeared in a World Series, and 19 different franchises have won world championships. The only major league teams that have not played in a World Series during that span are the Cubs, who have turned losing into a cottage industry in what is now a 103-year drought, and Washington, Texas and Seattle, which have never advanced to the World Series. Only two franchises have even won back-to-back world championships in that stretch — the Yankees, who rattled off three in a row (1998-2000) and Toronto, which won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93. There has not been a National League team to win back-to-back titles since Cincinnati in 1975-76. In addition to the Yankees, who also won the World Series in 1996, and Toronto, six other baseball teams have multiple world championships the last 30 postseasons — Florida (1997, 2003), Philadelphia (1980, 2008), St. Louis (1982, 2006), Minnesota (1987, 1991) the Los Angeles Dodgers (1981, 1988) and Boston (2004, 2007). Five of the last eight teams to win the World Series, in fact, did not even advance to the postseason the following season. Tampa Bay, knocked off by Philadelphia in the World Series last year, is the sixth World Series loser in the last seven years that didn't return to the postseason the following year.
  • Twenty-four of the NFL's 32 teams have appeared in a Super Bowl, but only 14 different franchises have won the Super Bowl. Eight NFL teams have not made a Super Bowl appearance in the last 30 years — Kansas City, Detroit, New Orleans, the New York Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston and Minnesota. Four franchises have won back-to-back Super Bowls — New England (2004-05), Denver (1998-99), Dallas (1993-94), and San Francisco (1989-90). Eight NFL teams, however, have combined for 25 of the last 30 Super Bowl wins, led by the San Francisco 49ers with five (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990 and 1995), three each for Pittsburgh (1980, 2006 and 2009), the New York Giants (1987, 1991 and 2008), Dallas (1993, 1994 and 1996), Washington (1983, 1988 and 1992) and New England (2002, 2004 and 2005). Denver and Oakland (1981, 1984) each have won two Super Bowls.
  • Twenty-one of the 30 NHL teams have reached the Stanley Cup Finals, but only 13 of them have won the Stanley Cup. Eight NHL teams have been left out of the last 30 Stanley Cup battles — Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota, Phoenix and San Jose. Toronto, an original NHL team, has gone 41 years without a Stanley Cup appearance, the longest drought in the NHL. Seven NHL teams have combined to win 24 of the last 30 Stanley Cups. The New York Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-81-82-83). Edmonton won back-to-back titles in 1984-85, and 1987-88, and added a fifth Stanley Cup in 1990. Detroit won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997-98 as well as claiming the Cup in 2002 and 2008. Pittsburgh (1991-92 and 2009), New Jersey (1995, 2000 and 2003), and Montreal (1979, 1986 and 1993) each won three.
  • Only 18 of the 30 NBA teams have appeared in the NBA Finals, and only nine of those teams have won a championship. Twelve NBA teams have not advanced to the finals the last three decades — Toronto, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Atlanta, Denver, Minnesota, Golden State, Sacramento, the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans, Washington and Memphis. Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers have won 14 of the last 30 NBA titles. The Bulls have enjoyed two three-peats (1991-92-93 and 1996-97-98). The Lakers won three in a row once (2000-01-02), back-to-back titles in 1987-88, and also won the NBA finals in 1980, 1982, 1985 and 2009. Boston (1981, 1984, 1986 and 2008) and San Antonio (199, 2003, 2005 and 2007) have each won four NBA Finals, Detroit has won three (1989-90, and 2004), and Houston earned back-to-back titles in 1994-95.

Hot seat

Yankee manager Joe Girardi: In Girardi's debut last season, the Yankees finished third in the AL East, and were left out of the postseason for the first time in 14 years. The Yankees rebounded this year. After falling a season-worst 6-1/2 games out of first with a 15-17 record on May 12, the Yankees won 88 of their final 130 games, moving into first place for good on July 20, and winning more games (103) than any other major-league team. The Bronx, however, is all about today, not the past season, and so now comes the expectation of the Yankees reclaiming a world championship, which they have failed to win since 2000. How high are expectations? Well, Joe Torre managed the Yankees into 12 postseasons in 12 years as the manager, winning four World Series', but was forced out two years ago when the Yankees failed to win a championship in seven consecutive postseason appearances.

Series stuff

Will the fifth time be the charm for the Angels? They are matched up with Boston in the first round of the postseason for the fifth time. The Angels are 0-for-4 against the Red Sox so far, including losing 12 of the last 13 games in the postseason. The Angels lost three of four to Boston in the AL Division Series last year, and were swept in three games in the Division Series in 2007 and 2004. In 1986, before the addition of the Division Series, the Red Sox took four of seven from the Angels, winning the final three games, including a Game 5 that went down in history for the home run David Henderson hit off Donnie Moore with two out in the top of the ninth, tying the score at 5-5, and leading to Angels manager Gene Mauch being denied the World Series appearance that is missing from his managerial resume.

Postseason insider

Detroit and Minnesota finished in a tie for the AL Central title, prompting Tuesday's play-in game at the Metrodome. It's the eighth play-in game since the advent of divisional play in 1969, the third in as many years, and the sixth since the wild-card debut in the 1995 postseason. The host team has won four of the last five play-in games — the White Sox beating Minnesota last year, the Rockies beating San Diego in 2007, the Cubs beating San Francisco in 1998, and Seattle beating the Angels in 1995. The exception came in 1999 when the Mets went to Cincinnati and won the play-in game. Detroit is attempting to avoid becoming the first team to move into first place on May 10 or earlier, and then fall from the top in the final week of a season.

Overheard

Sudden-death drama

ALTTEXT Nothing gets your heart pumping like a winner-take-all battle. Check out some of the best one-game playoffs HERE.
"You can talk about strengths and weaknesses. You can talk about who is hot and who isn't. But the bottom line is the first one of the eight (postseason) teams to get to 11 wins is the champion."
— Rockies manager Jim Tracy.

Keep your eye on

Left-hander Scott Kazmir has been tabbed by the Angels for Game 3 of the AL Division Series at Fenway Park. Kazmir was only 2-2 in six starts with the Angels after being acquired from Tampa Bay, but his 1.73 earned-run average underscores how well he pitched after the deal. He was 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA for Tampa Bay. Kazmir has had success against Boston in his career. The Red Sox have hit only .241 in 23 appearances by Kazmir, who was 2-0 in two starts at Fenway Park during the 2009 regular season.

FYI

The Rockies swept the favored Phillies in the NL Division Series two years ago, winning the first two games at Citizens Bank Park. Philadelphia, however, has not been a welcomed stop for the Rockies during recent regular seasons. The Rockies have lost seven of 10 regular-season games at Citizens Bank Park the last three regular-seasons. They lost two of three this year, and were limited to one run in the final 21 innings of the August visit. They were victims of a four-hit, 7-0 loss to J.A. Happ and then were defeated 4-1 the next day, Aug. 6, in Cliff Lee's Phillies debut. Lee allowed that one run in his seven innings of work.

Quickly

  • Boston catchers threw out only 16 of 167 runners attempting to steal during the regular season, a major-league worst 9.6 percent. Could make for an interesting first-round in the postseason against the Angels, who ranked third in the majors with 148 stolen bases, succeeding on 70 percent of their 211 attempts.
  • Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who had 212 hits, and second baseman Robinson Cano, who had 204 hits, are the first middle-infield combo in big-league history in which both players had 200 hits.
  • St. Louis manager Tony La Russa moved into the No. 2 spot on the all-time games managed list during the weekend. With 4,772 games, La Russa is three ahead of John McGraw on the all-time list. Don't look for him to move to No. 1. He remains 2,983 games behind Connie Mack. As a point of reference, only 17 managers in major league history even managed 2,983 games. Bobby Cox of Atlanta is second among active managers with 4,346 games managed.

Final Word

The Yankees opened their new park this year, making this the first postseason they have ever played outside the House That Ruth Built. The old Yankee stadium hosted a record 161 postseason games, including 100 World Series games, during its 86 years of existence. With the Yankees move into their new facility, Fenway Park in Boston becomes the current park with the most postseason history, having hosted 67 games, including 28 world Series Games. When the Dodgers and Cardinals open the NL Division Series on Wednesday, Dodger Stadium will move into second place on the list of current parks by hosting its 52nd postseason game. There have been 51 postseason games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which is currently being called McAfee Coliseum.
Tagged: Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Rockies, Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, Scott Kazmir, Robinson Cano, J.A. Happ

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