Because baseball has been played for so many years, and because so many games have been played in each of those so many years, it’s rare to find things that happen for the very first time. I remember watching a strange play earlier this year in which a rundown occurred and the center fielder ended up making the tag on a base runner. I suggested that it might have been the very first time that a 4-3-6-1-8 double play had ever happened. I was quickly corrected.

Such is baseball.

So, it’s rather remarkable that over the weekend, the Oakland A’s swept the New York Yankees in their four game series on the West Coast, winning each game by one run. It’s the first time that the Yankees have ever suffered such a fate in the long and storied history of the franchise. However, more important than the historic four game set for the Athletics is that the four wins in a row mean that if the season were to end today, they’d have a playoff/play-in spot. The Oakland A’s would be tied for a Wild Card spot.

Given Major League Baseball’s new playoff format, we find ourselves on July 23, 2012, with seven teams within four games of getting a chance at postseason baseball.

According MLB Commissioner Bud Selig:

Mission accomplished.

Over in the National League, things aren’t quite as tight, but the standings do have the promise to be equally interesting by the end of September and in early October.

By comparison, at this point last season, no team in either league was within five games of the Wild Card holder at the time. Of course, things worked out to be plenty exciting despite the gaps in July. This year, you can legitimately make a case for two-thirds of the teams in baseball being in a place to make the playoffs.

When the new format was introduced, I didn’t really like it. I thought that it made the Wild Card less relevant, and I believed that the Wild Card was important because over the course of the season, the Wild Card winner will typically have a better record than one of the division winners. The very same can’t be said of the Wild Card runner up. It seemed unfair to put those two teams on equal footing, even if the new rules put a much needed emphasis on winning the the division.

However, the type of excitement and potential for a happy mess in a couple months time is eliminating the dog days of summer for several fan bases. That’s really good news for baseball fans, and even better for people who happen to write about baseball every day. While it won’t be the first time there’s an exciting finish to a baseball season, it could very easily be the first time so many teams will be involved in making that finish as exciting as it is.

And The Rest

It was Hall of Fame day yesterday. [MLB.com]

And the Chicago Cubs celebrated Ron Santo’s induction in a unique manner. [Big League Stew]

Jerry Crasnick writes more about the dilema facing voters ahead of the next Hall of Fame ballot. Personally, I don’t see any dilema at all. Either baseball’s Hall of Fame remains relevant, or it does not. [ESPN]

Pittsburgh Pirates everything Andrew McCutchen wears zubaz socks. [Old Time Family Baseball]

Baseball’s most valuable players. [Beyond The Box Score]

Today in more reasons to cheer for the Washington Nationals. [DC Sports Bog]

The Japan Professional Baseball Players Association have unanimously voted to sit out the next World Baseball Classic. [The Japan Times]

Who is Dan Straily? [Baseball Nation]

Omar Vizquel is in line for a potentially historic season. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the least amount of relevance ever on a Major League roster. [Bluebird Banter]

Pete Rose burns Bruce Jenner. Sort of. [Cincinnati.com]

Nothing seems to be going the right way for the Milwaukee Brewers. [Disciples Of Uecker]

Who is getting the calls? Who isn’t getting the calls? What it’s like to get the benefit of the umpire’s bias. [Baseball Nation]

Hmm. Since the dawning of man, one question has been asked. [Web Gems]

Bottom of the Ninth: An animated graphic novel. [Baseball Prospectus]

Is Jonathan Papelbon in a free fall? [Crashburn Alley]