Ratings, payroll and playoffs

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No matter how the MLB playoffs shake out now that we’re in October, there aren’t too many paths which don’t seem entertaining.

The venerable Red Sox could be challenged for a spot in the Series by Tampa Bay. There’s the possibility of an all L.A. Series or a Chicago Series (at least before 10 p.m. Tuesday night).

Milwaukee is in the postseason for the first time since 1982, and as long as C.C. Sabathia can pitch three times in each series, the Brewers have as good a chance as any club. While Milwaukee vs. Tampa Bay would make a nice storybook, Fox is certainly pulling for L.A. vs. L.A. or Chicago vs. Chicago, or the best of all, Red Sox vs. Cubs.

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But, go back and look at the last five champions. It usually isn’t the team which was the most complete team during the marathon that keeps it going through October. Rather, it’s a team that gets hot or fortunate.

I’d argue last year’s Red Sox were the only team since 2003 to be the most talented team and win the World Series.

In 2003, the Marlins won as a hodge-podge mix of young kids (Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Pierre) and veterans (Pudge Rodriguez, Uggy Urbina, Jeff Conine, Mike Lowell) that happened to find chemistry.

In 2004, the Red Sox of course were down 3-0 to the Yankees before finding the most momentum in the history of sports. Boston was three outs from one more chapter of Yankee dominance instead of the ongoing expansion of Red Sox Nation.

The White Sox nearly lost a huge lead, slumping from July until mid-September, before suddenly finding great starting pitching, A.J. Pierzynski confusing umpires, and rookie Bobby Jenks throwing 101-mph out of AA Birmingham to go 11-1 in the 2005 playoffs.

In 2006, St. Louis was 83-78 in the regular season, which would’ve been 12.5 games behind the Yankees, 12.5 games behind Detroit or 9.5 behind Oakland. In a seven-game series, it didn’t matter how much better the AL was than the NL. Detroit pitchers repeatedly throwing the ball into the right field stands helped, too.

All those examples don’t bode well for the Angels, who were the best team from April to September.

The teams with the three highest payrolls are on the golf course. The Yankees ($209 million), Detroit ($139 million) and the Mets ($138 million) are done while Tampa Bay ($44 million) is the next-to-last team in payroll.

The Rays, and at the moment, the Twins, are the only teams in the bottom half of MLB team payrolls to make it to the postseason. So while the titans of the league fell apart this season, the rule is still clear. In Major League Baseball, the more money a club can spend, the chances of a winning season, playoff spot, or championship, go up accordingly.

Look at the Marlins. Their payroll was $21 million this season, behind No. 29 Tampa Bay by more than 2-to-1. Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter each make more by themselves than the Marlin roster.

By all reasonable thought a season of 84-77 and third-place in the NL East was great by the Marlins. Yet, that type of news only resonates with baseball diehards. There are few of us, I mean them, anywhere, let alone South Florida. Therefore, Marlin attendances in September read along the lines of 12,209, 11,211, 12,024 and 12,121. It’s really good news Florida apparently has about 10,000 season-ticket holders.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins, coming off a 1-15 season, drew 65,859 for their home opener on Sept. 7.