Q. Okay, each year half the teams make the postseason with about +75 differential. Does this mean that the 2012 Mariners are contenders if they hit +75?
For the Mariners, the target is more like +100. Maybe even a bit more.
The AL Wild Card the last five years has been won by Boston, New York and once the Tigers, with run differentials of +140 to +190 runs every cotton-pickin', chicken-pluckin' year. If you want to shoot for the wild card in the American League, you better pencil in 95 wins, bro'.
So the Mariners have to factor in the reality that the Wild Card is a no go, not unless they become a truly powerful team. To win the AL Wild Card, you frequently have to be (pretty much) the 2nd-best team in baseball.
That ain't happenin'. Not unless you got like three more Pinedas in the minor leagues somewhere.
Now, MLB claims that it is adding a Wild Card "no later" than 2013. ... meaning, maybe this year?!
I don't have to tell you how much this would change the landscape for teams like Seattle. Probably five AL teams per year would see their playoff chances double, triple, or even more.
The AL Wild Card is a joke. Boston's payroll is $165 million. Crawford, AGone, Youkilis, Pedroia, Ortiz, on and on - they can run a 110 OPS+ in 2010 and then add two oil tankers at $20M apiece.
Boston and New York, they "break" the wild card. Add a second wild card yesterday, and then we're not even arguing about whether teams like Seattle "should" try to make the playoffs.
Q. Does the AL West present special difficulties, beyond the general +75 standard?
A. Depends whether you're talking to Taro...
The AL West the last five years has these run differentials from the 1st and 2nd teams:
- 2011: Texas +178, Anaheim +34
- 2010: Texas +100, Oakland +37
- 2009: Anaheim +122, Texas +44
- 2008: Anaheim +68, Texas (-66)
- 2007: Anaheim +91, Seattle (-19)
If a new team -- say Houston -- had entered those races, it would have needed an average of +115 differential to win. But! Notice that in each season, the winner could have entered the playoffs with a differential of less than 50.
Texas had a whopping +178 runs this year, but Texas could have won the division* with only +40.
It's a philosophical question. Is it reasonable, in sports, to pressure your opponent and hope for your opponent to falter?
I believe it is. Chess players don't resign when their position is discouraging. They resign when it's no longer feasible for their opponent to foul up bad enough to lose.