In the midst of hearing his team get ripped by soon-to-be retired Commissioner Bud Selig, Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg went off this week about the unbalanced schedule and how its penalizes a small budget team like his. I suppose Sternberg has earned the right to speak out since his Rays, despite one of the lowest payrolls in the Majors at $58 million, are entering the final weekend of the regular season holding down the first Wild Card spot in the American League, one game ahead of Cleveland and two up on Texas.
Sternberg's point is that it's unfair for his team to have to play 19 games apiece against the likes of the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees in the toughest division in baseball every year. Sternberg maintains the easier schedules of teams like Texas and Cleveland give those teams two, three or four extra games "in the bag on us" over the course of a season.
The Blue Jays could easily say the same thing. I was curious to see how they have actually done against the East over the last 10 years. I got a bit of a surprise in that, over the decade, the Jays have had four winning seasons against their own division, five losing seasons and one where they broke even.
The problem is, in all but one winning season, they were barely over .500. In the five losing seasons, they were blown out of the water.
Here are the telling numbers. In the last 10 years, the Blue Jays are 23 games over .500 against the American League Central, three games over the break even point against the West and 12 games under in inter-league play. Total that up and the Jays are 14 games over .500.
The troublesome number is in the East. Heading into this weekend's three-game set against Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre, the Jays are 52 games under .500 against their own division. The only winning season they've had against the East in the last five years was 2010 when they wound up 39-33 against the East and finished with a record of 85-77. They still finished 11 games back of the divison-winning Rays and 10 games back of the Yankees for the Wild Card spot.
The Jays' only truly dominant season against the East was 2006 when they went 43-31 and finished with 87 victories and 75 losses. Even at that, they finished eight games back of the Yankees and Tigers, who finished with 95 wins. The Yankees won the East while the Tigers took the Wild Card.
Fixing the schedule and making it balanced wouldn't necessarily turn things around for the Jays. Major League talent, scouting and a productive farm system figure into the mix as well. Blue Jays president Paul Beeston has said on numerous occasions the organization doesn't want to give up the extra home games against the Yankees and Red Sox because they are such huge draws. At some point, though, you'd think the Blue Jays would want to even the playing field a bit.
Along those lines, if the Blue Jays sweep the Rays this weekend, they will finish with 75 victories, just two more than last year. Yet over the last 10 years, in each and every season, the division winner has won at least 95 games with the Yankees breaking 100 twice.
Even looking at the Wild Card clubs, under the old system where there was just one in each league, Tampa Bay got into the post-season with the fewest number of victories at 91 in 2011. Last year, Baltimore and Texas were the Wild Card teams with 93 wins apiece. That's how far the Blue Jays have to go.
A balanced schedule certainly couldn't hurt, especially when you see the Indians going 17-2 against the White Sox, and Texas putting up the same numbers against Houston.
It's such a fine line between winning and losing. A year ago, Baltimore made the post-season in part because they went 29-9 in one-run games. This season, the 0's have 31 one-run losses. Part of that is the fact that Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who was nearly flawless last season, has blown nine saves this time around.
When the Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, they were able to bring back a breath-taking array of former stars and even World Series heroes. Next season is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Though there are quite a few Cubs legends still with us, I would be shocked if there were any still alive who played the last time they made it to the World Series in 1945. And sadly, there is no one left from the last time they actually won the Fall Classic in 1908, when they didn't even play at Wrigley.