Teams that are playing catch-up often find themselves taking one step forward and then one step back. You pick up a win, but so do your rivals and you’ve gained no ground. Your opponents drop a game, but you fail to capitalise by doing the same.
So when the chasers successfully take a swipe at the leaders, as happened in three divisions yesterday, the effect it can have on both parties shouldn’t be underestimated. The Cubs’ charge continued with a 12-1 victory over the Giants, while the Brewers lost to the D-Backs and watched their lead go back down to 3.5 games. The Mariners edged to within just 1.5 games of the Angels with a victory over the Orioles, while the Angels lost to the Rays. And the Red Sox went down 6-5 to the Royals, allowing the Yanks to reduce their deficit in the standings to seven games with a victory over the Blue Jays.
In each case, the division leaders will not be panicking just yet. Everyone would prefer to be the team with the wins on the board, controlling their own destiny and not relying on others slipping up. But that privileged position brings its own pressures. While it’s easy to say that you are just concentrating on your own game, in reality it is very difficult to ignore what the chasing pack are doing, not least because every media person is constantly reminding you.
From now until the end of the season, each day is likely to bring another twist to the tale. The balance will shift one way and then another; that’s what makes it so exciting to watch.
And, of course, that’s what makes it so frustrating when your team isn’t involved in the battle.