New teams involved make MLB races fun

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By Larry Goffinet

When I did not pick the Boston Red Sox to win their division or even place second this year, someone asked a friend of mine if I was sick.
Actually I was being practical, as after last September’s remarkable collapse and the off-season loss of star closer Jonathan Papelbon I feared it would be impossible for the Red Sox to recover this season.
As it turns out, I still overrated them by picking them to finish third in the American League East.
Since the Red Sox are my favorite Major League Baseball team, some years after they have fallen out of the race or been eliminated in the playoffs I have not even bothered to watch the rest of the playoffs.
But this year, even though the Red Sox have basically been out of the playoff race since May, I have followed most races closely due to the excitement of seeing several new teams in the mix.
With two weeks left in the regular season, who thought that four teams that finished with losing records last year—Baltimore, Oakland, Cincinnati and  Washington—would all be in position to make the playoffs?
Or that the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit and Philadelphia, with their huge payrolls and free-agent additions (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Papelbon, respectively) would be on pace not to make the playoffs, especially after each league expanded its number of playoff teams to five?
OK, some, including me, did predict the Reds would win the National League Central because they have several young stars and they weren’t that far away last year when they finished 79-83.
But I don’t think anyone would have picked the Reds if they knew former NL Most Valuable Player Joey Votto would miss more than a month of the season with a knee injury.
A few did pick the Washington Nationals to at least earn an NL wild-card spot because of their strong, young pitching staff. But I don’t think anyone expected them to have the best record in the majors at this point and the Reds to have the second best record.
As for Baltimore and Oakland, try to find anyone who predicted they would finish higher than third in their divisions.
Most picked the Orioles, whose last winning season was 15 years ago, for last in the five-team AL East, but they are tied with the New York Yankees for first and in position to make the playoffs as a wild card even if they don’t win the division.
Oakland is second in the AL West, just three games behind Texas and 41⁄2 games ahead of the Angels and their zillion-dollar payroll.
Josh Reddick, acquired from the Red Sox in one of Boston’s worst trades, leads Oakland in home runs with 28. That’s more than Fielder has hit even though Fielder’s salary is 47 times what Reddick is making.
Reddick and fellow former Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp are excellent fielders as well and have helped make the Athletics an exciting team to watch.
So I will be rooting for the Athletics in the playoffs, which was unthinkable six months ago. That unpredictability has helped make baseball exciting again.