by Jordan Adams - 05/11/2006
"Trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cent" was a lyric from Tupac Shakur's "I Get Around." While it was clear he wasn't describing the game of baseball, that verse could apply to a majority of MLB teams in the 2006 season.
Major League Baseball has the biggest payroll differential between its top and bottom teams of any professional sport in the United States. The main reason for that is the lack of a salary cap, resulting in yearly free agency pools turning into bidding wars for organizations to throw money at available players.
We have seen teams open up their bank accounts to bring in the best available players, but that doesn't necessarily show dividends at first and sometimes not at all. Big bucks don't make big winners. 2006 was no different as we saw major coin thrown towards some heavy talent. The Yankees, Blue Jays, Mets and Dodgers were the most active in the off-season. It is May 10 and so far The Mets are the only team you could say has been successful. All other big spenders have lacked the winning results that they were looking for. However, it is early in the season and any team can turn it around.
Coming into Wednesday's games, every division currently has or had its share of parity. This trend has been seen in past years, but the 2006 campaign will see more teams closer to par all throughout the rigorous schedule.
While currently the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are first and second respectively, it was the Bombers who started off poorly and took the whole month of April to climb back to the top of the AL East. High expectations were set for Toronto but they have not been a big factor. Finishing behind Boston and New York would be nothing to be ashamed of, but nonetheless an unsuccessful year.
The AL Central has seen numerous teams take hold of first place this year. The defending champion White Sox started the year 1-4 and saw rivals Cleveland and Detroit share time ahead of them. Cleveland has recently struggled and fallen under .500 and to the middle of the pack. While the White Sox seem to have regained their '05 swagger in May, holding MLB's best record, it is the Detroit Tigers who have been the league's most surprising team. Detroit was off to their best start at 20-10 since they won the World Series in 1984. However, they have since lost three straight and trail Chicago by 3.5 games.
Perhaps the most up-in-the-air division is the four-team AL West. The smallest division in baseball has seen its teams flip-flop spots countless times throughout the first six weeks of the season. Currently, last year's AL West champ Angels are in the cellar and look far from good. They sit six games under .500 at 14-20 coming into Wednesday. Most picked Oakland to win the division and they currently hold the top spot. All four teams are separated by only four games.
The NL may not have as many dominant teams, but their three divisions are much deeper. As of now, every NL division has at least three teams that legitimately can vie for their respective crown.
The NL East has seen the New York Mets lead since opening day. While the Braves are still fighting to get over .500, you have to believe it is still their division until someone else wins it in September. Let's consider that Atlanta has won every NL East title since Zack Morris and A.C. Slater became household names. Its third contender is the hottest team in baseball right now. The Philadelphia Phillies have won nine in a row and are playing ball like this will have them tooth and nail with the Mets for the rest of the summer.
The St. Louis Cardinals were a consensus pick to win the NL Central and perhaps the pennant. While they have shown more and more consistency with each passing week, it is the Cincinnati Reds who have played the best team baseball and have not relinquished their first place spot since they snatched it up. They sit out in front at 21-12, percentage points ahead of the Cardinals. Houston started off exceptionally, but a current slide of five games has dropped them to 19-14, two back of the top spot.
Mediocrity best described last season's NL West and its teams' play. But for its five teams, a fresh start in 2006 has shown some improvement and a greater competitiveness from all the squads. Look no further than the Colorado Rockies. They are atop this division at 20-15. While only one game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks and three above the others, they have played the best in these young stages of the season.