But if you don't have to manage a team or try to beat the AL champ, it's hard to ignore the AL's dominance, which has extended beyond the World Series to other events in which the leagues compete. Since the NL last won the All-Star Game in 1996, the AL has gone 9-0-1.
The NL entered this year with an 11-game edge in Interleague Play, until the AL's 154-98 performance this season obliterated that. The only NL teams with a winning mark were the Rockies (11-4) and the Giants (8-7), both of whom finished the year with 76 wins. NL playoff teams combined to go 23-37.
Rarely does one league dominate the World Series without a single super team being involved. But if the Tigers prevail, as many are already predicting, it will be the third time in Fall Classic history that one league has won at least three straight with a different team each year.
The NL took titles from 1979-82 with the Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers and Cardinals, and the AL won from 1983-85 with the Orioles, Tigers and Royals.
Throughout the season, the Mets were considered the NL's shining hope, but they had to play the NL Championship Series with a starting rotation depleted by injury. They were finsihed off by the Cardinals in Thursday's Game 7 of the NLCS.
Those who ranked the clubs this season seemed to believe the top clubs were in the AL. At season's end, four of the top five in "The Fab 15" for MLB.com and seven of the top 10 in the Baseball Prospectus Hit List were from the American League.
"I think it's somewhat of a convergence of coincidences," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Maybe some of the American League clubs happened to be financially positioned better. There has been an exodus of better players to the AL. Some of the most efficiently constructed teams are in the AL. The majority of it is the best free agents have migrated to the American League."
One theory is as simple as the child's game "King of the Hill." By scratching and clawing to surpass the best AL team, you become the best in baseball. Some believe this high-stakes playground game of sorts had its roots in teams trying to compete with the Yankees' 1996-2000 teams, which won four titles in five years.
Every champion since the 2000 Yankees has increased payroll in the year it won, including the two NL winners, the Diamondbacks (by $6 million) in 2001 and the Marlins ($6.7 million) in 2003. But the AL clubs made more dramatic jumps. The Angels' payroll rose by $13.9 million over the previous year when they won in 2002. The Red Sox added $28 million in 2004, the year they won, and the White Sox jumped $9.9 million from 2004 to last year.
By the way, the Tigers added $13.5 million to their payroll this season and $35.7 million over the last two years.
"It does have an effect," said Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes, who as Boston's assistant GM from 2002-05 was in the middle of competing with the Yankees. "With the Red Sox, we knew what we had to do to beat them. Living in that division and in that league, it's probably the same as being in a very strong conference in college football or the ACC in basketball. You know what the standard is.
"But you also have success stories of Minnesota and Oakland, winning consistently with lower payrolls."
The Twins and Athletics have not won a World Series in the current era, but a belief in their philosophies -- strong drafting and teaching, and shrew trades that maintain the talent level and the payroll -- and the continuity of their front-office decision-makers are the envy of baseball.
"It seems to be a battle to compete with many of the clubs that have been historically strong, but it still doesn't change your approach," Twins GM Terry Ryan said. "It's difficult to do that sometimes, but you have to trust and believe in the philosophy of the organization."
But this can all change. Remember 1963 to 1982, when the NL won all but two of the All-Star Games and was considered stronger, although the imbalance didn't show up in the World Series?
While the difference between the leagues seems stark when they're on the same field, they're statistically equal. According to an MLB.com statistical comparison of this season, there was barely a difference offensively when pitchers' batting is taken out of the equation, and NL pitching came out ahead in most categories.
Of course, pitchers being sent to bat in the NL -- as opposed to the AL, which utilizes the designated hitter -- is a significant difference between the leagues as well as a subject of debate since the DH's inception in 1973.
In addition, several NL teams have spent themselves into trouble, but many are returning to an emphasis on scouting and player development. That's the common thread of the best AL teams, regardless of payroll.
"I think young talent always is the most important thing," Byrnes said. "The Mets, whether they get to the World Series or not because of their pitching injuries, have a bright future in Jose Reyes and David Wright. Florida has a lot of young talent, and Philadelphia has young power.
"You look in [the NL West] -- us, the Rockies and the Dodgers are widely believed to have the best young talent base in the game. In time, those players will mature, and the National League will bounce back."
|Average stats in 2006 for every AL hitter per 500 at-bats compared to every single NL hitter per the same 500 at-bats, excluding pitchers.|
Senior (barely) Circuit
|Cumulative stats for AL pitchers compared to NL pitchers in 2006.|