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Wednesday, August 21
Let's hope AL West race not ruined by strike

By Rob Neyer

Is there any sight more beautiful in late August than this?

Anaheim  74  50  .597  -
Seattle  75  51  .595  -
Oakland  75  51  .595  -

Just three dashes: the most inconsequential characters you'd ever want to meet. But in this context, they mean so much more. In this context, they mean a three-way tie for first place, the absolute best that baseball has to offer.

In September, the Athletics have eight games against the Angels, who have six games against the Mariners, who have six games against the Athletics. Friends, that's 20 games in September, each of which could determine who keeps playing and who goes home.

Actually, those 20 games are all scheduled for a 21-day stretch that begins on September 9 and runs through the last day of the season. And taking this even further, the Mariners close with three games against Anaheim and three games against Oakland in Seattle, then three games in Anaheim.

We've now reached the point in the column at which I would typically employ a few of my trusty analytical tools with the aim of predicting, with some degree of precision, which of these three teams will finish on top.

You know what, though? I can analyze the American League West until the cows come home, but the unvarnished truth is that I just don't know who's going to win.

Of course, that's what makes the pennant race the best thing not only in baseball, but in all of sports. We're presented with the promise of a daily drama, and nothing that's come before really matters all that much. Even if we assume that the preseason dope was right, and the Mariners are a little better than the A's, who are a little better than the Angels ... even if we assume that ... and it's anything but a safe assumption, because these teams look different than they did five months ago ... even if we assume that, it just doesn't matter. Because five or six weeks simply isn't enough time for these three teams' true qualities to necessarily shine through.

Which is to say -- and I this will sound strange, but please bear with me -- the best team probably will not win. It's more likely that either the second- or third-best team will win. So if the best team doesn't even have a 50-50 chance of winning, then what sense does it make to look for the best team?

It's an interesting intellectual exercise, I suppose. And if you pin me down, I'll say the Athletics are the best team, because they've got the best rotation and Jermaine Dye seems to have hit his stride. But again, 1) I could be wrong, and 2) even if I'm right, it doesn't tell us a whole hell of a lot about who's actually going to win the thing.

Like I said, we just don't, can't know.

And so now I've got something to worry about. Before last night, the possibility of a strike wasn't something that I spent a lot of time worrying about. But now that I stand to lose something -- a possibly amazing three-team pennant race -- I'm starting to worry. Because now they're threatening to hit me where it hurts.

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