Realignment And The End Of An Era

See you soon

When I was in school, my freshman year I lived with two roommates. One of them was pretty bright, but the other one was not so bright, and every day for about three weeks I would find a way to leave the second one a coin as a surprise. A nickel, a dime, a quarter - something more than a penny, something worth grabbing and keeping. Sometimes I'd leave it on the floor. Sometimes I'd leave it on his desk. Sometimes I'd leave it in a coat pocket. I don't remember why I did this exactly - I must have had a limitless supply of coins - but freshman year was a long time ago, and I guess I just had fun affecting in some small way a simple man's reality. I don't know how he never figured it out. Anyway, one day, I stopped. I remember that day. I wouldn't say my roommate was upset, but he was definitely confused, and a little annoyed.

I thought of that when I read this Peter Gammons tweet this morning:

Houston ownership change expected to go through in mid-November, w/ AL move.

People have been talking about the Houston Astros moving to the AL West for a long time, now, and the talk has accelerated with the ongoing ownership transition. Gammons makes the move sound the closest it's ever sounded: the Astros moving into the AL West appears inevitable, and it could happen astonishingly soon.

The reasoning is sound: by moving the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West, baseball would be left with six five-team divisions. Perfectly even. Having six five-team divisions and two fifteen-team leagues means there would need to be interleague play at all times, which some people might find annoying, but it's a small price to pay for symmetry, symmetry that probably should've been there all along.

Yet, I'm still kind of annoyed. I know that I shouldn't be annoyed. On no rational level should I be annoyed. Moving the Astros into the AL West would make everything fair. But that's just the thing - for so long, things haven't been fair, and they haven't been fair in the AL West's favor. Between 1994-1997, the Mariners got to play in one of baseball's two four-team divisions. Since 1998, the Mariners have gotten to play in baseball's only four-team division.

You see what that means, right? In a normal five-team division, all things being equal, a given team will stand a 20% chance of finishing on top. In a four-team division, all things being equal, a given team will stand a 25% chance of finishing on top. All things aren't equal, of course, and all things have never been equal, but as a member of a four-team division, the Mariners have begun ever year with better playoff odds than they'd have as a member of a five-team division.

It doesn't matter that they haven't made the playoffs in a decade. Just because they haven't recently taken advantage doesn't mean there wasn't and isn't something there to be taken advantage of. Now that opportunity's almost certainly going to go away. That opportunity should go away, to make things fair, but it sucks for us, because we were making out like mathematical bandits.

I suppose it'll ease the transition that the Astros are terrible, and that the Astros will probably still be terrible whenever they get around to moving. The Astros, right now, are as close as an organization can get to being hopeless without actually being hopeless. In the short term, the Astros' move might actually make the situation better. But it won't always be that way. Eventually, the Astros will be competent, if not more than that, and then it'll suck for sure. The Mariners, and the Angels, and the Rangers, and the A's will have a fourth division rival.

I can't believe baseball's divisions have existed the way they have for so long, but I've grown rather fond of the current alignment, myself, and it's too bad about the upcoming change. Equality is great until it works against you.

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