The idea behind adding a wild-card berth was, as you can guess, adding revenue. Another round of playoffs, another round of playoff money, and there would be reason for fans to flock to the ballpark in September even if their team happened to be 16 games out of first place (as is wild-card contender Milwaukee).
There hasn't been any major improvement in attendance for the wild-card contenders. The Oakland Athletics theoretically are chasing one of the extra playoff spots in the American League, and they drew 10,191 Thursday. The Houston Astros are leading the wild-card race in the NL, and they drew 12,537 the same day.
But if it isn't necessarily a financial boon, the wild-card races are notable because most of the teams involved are, by and large, mediocre. Gauging strengths and weaknesses for these contenders is like trying to pick a winner from a stable of plow horses.
Some of the usual factors in handicapping the wild-card race can be thrown out. Strength of schedule, for one. The Texas Rangers have, statistically, one of the weaker schedules remaining, but because they're a mediocre team, you cannot assume they will exploit this advantage.
In picking a wild-card winner, it's all about momentum and
* Texas Rangers: They've rebounded from their July swoon and now they've got Juan Gonzalez and Bobby Witt back. They'd have to be considered a favorite. Not the favorite, but a favorite.
* New York Yankees: Went into Boston and got bombed. If they keep losing, the pressure from owner George Steinbrenner will grow and the team will wilt. And ace David Cone is just hoping his arm stays healthy for the rest of the year.
* Milwaukee Brewers: Everybody else went out and added players, and the Brewers did nothing, plugging along with a rotation that includes four rookies. You've got to believe that when push comes to shove, these guys will fold.
* Seattle Mariners: The favorite. As part of their last-gasp run at saving baseball for their city -- King County, Wash., residents will vote on a referendum to support a new stadium next month -- the Mariners acquired Andy Benes and Vince Coleman, and rushed Ken Griffey back into the lineup. More than any other club, they have a tangible reason to succeed.
* Kansas City Royals: You can tell the Royals' ownership is taking the wild-card race seriously. Just a handful of games behind Texas and the Royals are dumping veterans Coleman and Chris James. Late owner Ewing Kauffman would've at least tried to compete.
* Oakland Athletics: Too many injuries. Mark McGwire is down, Rickey Henderson is hurt. Fading fast.
* Orioles: Yeah, they'll win it. And then Howard Stern will be elected president.
* Houston Astros: They miss first baseman Jeff Bagwell, out with a broken hand until next month. Bagwell's intensity probably will work against him, too, when he does come back. They need a big boost from the pitching staff.
* Colorado Rockies: They can be offensive monsters, and most of their remaining games are at Coors Field. If they don't win the division, these guys are in as the wild card. (Talk about a home-field advantage in the playoffs. . . . Wow. How would you like to go into Colorado for the first two games of a five-game series?)
* San Diego Padres: They've got a better chance of winning the division than winning the wild card. The bullpen must become more consistent.
* Chicago Cubs: They're the Cubs. No chance.
* Montreal Expos: Lots of infighting and not much depth. Will watch from the sidelines in October.
* Philadelphia Phillies: Sure, they'll suddenly start pitching, hitting and fielding, all those things they haven't been able to do for the past two months.
Gwynn has break, not bruise
Tony Gwynn acknowledged this week that his right big toe is broken, and not bruised as he had been saying for more than a week.
"It's not that big a deal," said the Padres right fielder, who is leading the NL in hitting. "My shoe is taped to my foot now, so my foot's not sliding in my shoe. That's what made it tough before. It's more of a problem jumping and hitting, because I hit off the front toe."
The Padres, actually contending for the first time since their fire sale, need Gwynn healthy. Last year, they hit .218 in those games he wasn't in the starting lineup.
* Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek gave Kent Hrbek a pig last weekend, when the club retired Hrbek's number. Why?
"Stelly always called me a pig," Hrbek said. "Now he gave me one." The Twins also presented Hrbek with a cow.
* Another reason baseball's great: Last week, filmmaker Spike Lee's request for a press pass to a Red Sox game was denied.
"He's not with an accredited news organization," said Kevin Shea, Red Sox publicist. Maybe Spike can call his friend Michael and get into a White Sox game.
Nevin in left for Tigers