A longtime American League evaluator called a colleague in the National League recently and good-naturedly chided his friend about the gimmes that seem to fill the NL schedules. You guys can be awful for a series, the AL official said, and then guess what? You get to play the Phillies. Or the Brewers. Or the Reds. Or the Braves. Or the Padres.
Baseball officials in both leagues fully expected a significant disparity between the good and bad teams in the National League this season, but now that the games are actually being played, they feel a bit like the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals.
And a lot of club officials believe this is a terrible thing for Major League Baseball, especially at a time when the sport is searching for ways to market a resilient game that has sustained itself for more than a century. For all those years, the theory has always been that on any given day, one pitcher could enable a lousy team to beat a great team. The 1972 Phillies were awful, but on the days Steve Carlton pitched, they were as competitive as any club, as Carlton's win-loss record shows.
As starting pitchers' workloads change and teams protect them more, however, that dynamic has largely evaporated, and now even the best starting pitchers on bad teams often hand two or three innings over to suspect bullpens.
And maybe that's why the disparity that we've seen early in the 2016 season is unlike anything we've seen in Major League Baseball in this century -- or last century, for that matter.