The Yankees and Phillies are in the playoffs, again. The Royals and Pirates are not, again.
Same teams, same big money, same October story?
Not so fast.
The Diamondbacks just went from last to first. The Tigers won a division championship for the first time in 24 years, the Brewers for the first time in 29 years.
This is a big deal to the fans of those teams, perhaps a bigger deal to a commissioner who has worked toward weakening the correlation between player payroll and postseason participation.
Of the nine teams with the highest payrolls this season, six will sit home in October, and the Red Sox could make it seven. Of the nine teams with the highest payrolls last season, seven are not in the playoffs.
"That could not have happened in the '90s," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
In the first five years of the wild-card era (1995 to 99), one of the 40 playoff spots was won by a team in the bottom half of player payroll. That team, the 1997 Astros, was swept in the first round.
In the five years preceding this one, 12 of the 40 playoff spots were won by a team in the bottom half of player payroll, with the Brewers and Diamondbacks ranking in the bottom half this season.
"I used to say, my job is to try to make the dollar less important than good management," Selig said. "I think we have done that."
Selig isn't senile. The Yankees always will have an economic advantage, and a huge one.
But the Mets share the largest market in the major leagues, and the Mets have been out of the playoffs for five consecutive years, despite never ranking lower than seventh in the league in payroll.
And the Rays, perhaps the most disadvantaged team in the majors, remain alive for what would be their third playoff berth in four years.
The Rays offer Selig the perfect response to cries of economic unfairness from any other precinct in the majors.
The Rays and A's are the only teams in ballpark purgatory — and the A's have a solution upon which Selig refuses to act. The Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays are the only teams that must beat out the Yankees or Red Sox to qualify for the playoffs as a division champion.
The Yankees, blessed with the most resources in baseball, have won the American League East twice in four years.
The Rays, cursed with the worst resources in the major leagues, also have won the AL East twice in four years.
"What the Rays have done is nothing short of extraordinary," Selig said. "They've played in the World Series. They're battling for the playoffs. They lost a bunch of players (last winter). Everybody thought they were going to have a bad year, and here they are.
"They are a dramatic manifestation of what good management can do."