I wish I could cue up some nice background music for you listen to while you read this. Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A Changin'” would be perfect.
You see, those tired, old “It's only April” or “It's only May” excuses won't fly any more. We're about to start the third full week of June. More than a third of the season is already in the history books. The all-star voting is in full swing. There's little doubt anymore that we're witnessing a changing of the guard in the National League.
Check the standings in the NL East and what do you see? The Braves have had a stranglehold on that division for over a decade, but there they are just a single game ahead of the last-place Marlins, while the Mets hold a 9-1/2 game lead over the Phillies.
That's not all: At one point last year the Padres (who eventually won the NL West) were leading their division despite having a losing record. Check the standings today. Every team in the NL West is above .500 with just two games separating the division leading Dodgers from the cellar-dwellers, Colorado and the Giants.
In the NL Central, the Cardinals have shown that they're more than just Albert Pujols by holding the lead in the division for most of the time Pujols has spent on the DL. But look at the other teams in the division.
The Cubs, who early this season entertained hopes of ending their streak of not having played in a World Series since 1945, are instead just a game ahead of the Pirates, barely out of the basement. The Astros, the wild card team two years running and last year's NL representative to the Fall Classic, is in somewhat better shape, they're only six games behind. And if the playoffs started today, guess who would be the wild card team in the NL?
It comes as no surprise that it's a team from the NL Central. The NL wild card team in three of the last five years has come from the Central division (Astros in 2004 and 2005, Cardinals in 2001).
What comes as a surprise, the final piece of evidence that we're witnessing a changing of the guard in the NL, is that it's the Reds who currently lead the wild card race.
Now, granted that any team in the league could be one or two injuries away from a long slide of the kind the Cubbies have been experiencing since RHM wrote that Destiny had directed the Cubs to meet the Pirates in the cellar (and since Derrek Lee promptly went on the DL to insure that his team would eventually keep that appointment). Granted, also, that there's still a lot of baseball to be played.
None of that changes the fact that the balance of power in the NL is definitely shifting - something the balance of power in any sports league is prone to do from time to time, just like the sands of the desert, and the transmission in RHM's car when she realizes she's made a wrong turn on her way to Cinci.
The Reds, who currently are in the driver's seat in the wild card race, are clearly one of the teams that's on the positive side of the shift in power. They haven't made the playoffs since 1995, unless you count the one-game playoff against the Mets in 1999 (MLB does not - officially that was a regular season game). Hopefully they don't make any wrong turns anywhere: Five wild card teams have made it to the World Series since the year 2000, and three of them got World Series rings to mark the occasion.
Hmmm…on second thought, maybe Thin Lizzy's “The Boys Are Back In Town” might even be better. Since they seem to play it after most soccer games in Ireland, it would be a good way for us baseball fans to get even for Gatorade stealing our “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” for its ads during the World Cup soccer matches.