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Parity, extra wild card gives many teams hope in AL; Cueto could benefit from move to Royals

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The Oakland Athletics have lost four in a row and already traded one of their top pitchers when they sent Scott Kazmir to Houston. They are nobody's idea of a contender.

Yet Oakland — with the worst record in the American League — is only nine games behind the second wild card.

It's been over a half-century since an entire league was within nine games of a postseason spot at this point in the year, and what's happening in the AL speaks not only to the effect of an extra wild card — but also to a level of parity that has become the norm in baseball in recent years.

On the morning of July 27, 1958, the entire eight-team National League was within 8 ½ games of first place, according to STATS LLC. There were no divisions and no wild cards back then, so you had to finish first to make the postseason. The Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants were tied atop the NL at 51-41. Philadelphia was in last place at 41-48.

The Braves eventually pulled away and won the pennant by eight games over Pittsburgh, with the last-place Phillies 23 back. Maybe this year's AL will sort itself out in similar fashion, but with the trade deadline approaching, even teams who haven't looked like playoff material are hanging around.

Minnesota (52-46) holds the second wild card at the moment, but there are six teams within five games of the Twins, including the Chicago White Sox, who were eight games under .500 before taking four in a row from Cleveland.

Texas has lost 19 of its last 29 but trails the Twins by only 4 ½ games. Tampa Bay has lost 21 of 30 but is only four back.

PHOTO: FILE - In this July 25, 2015, file photo, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto works against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday in Denver. The Kansas City Royals acquired Cueto in a trade with Cincinnati on Sunday, July 26, 2015, sending three prospects to the Reds for a legitimate ace for the front of their beleaguered rotation. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
FILE - In this July 25, 2015, file photo, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto works against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday in Denver. The Kansas City Royals acquired Cueto in a trade with Cincinnati on Sunday, July 26, 2015, sending three prospects to the Reds for a legitimate ace for the front of their beleaguered rotation. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Last year was the first time since 2007 that there were no 100-game winners or 100-game losers in baseball, and in the AL this year, only AL Central-leading Kansas City looks like much of a threat to reach triple digits. Even the aforementioned A's, who got off to a 14-30 start, are on pace to finish with only 91 losses.

When nobody is terrible and hardly anyone is great, it's hard for anybody to be too far behind.

Here are a few more developments from around baseball:

STRIKING DISTANCE

The team closest to catching the Twins for that wild card is Toronto, which is 50-50 despite having outscored its opponents by a whopping 95 runs on the season. The Blue Jays lead the major leagues in runs and look like a definite candidate to add some pitching at the deadline. They have not made the postseason since winning the World Series in 1993, and they've finished higher than third in their division only once since.

FANTASY FOCUS

Johnny Cueto's move from Cincinnati to the Royals gives the right-hander a chance to pitch for a first-place team, and it could also make his fantasy owners happy, now that he'll be working in front of that Kansas City defense.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Cole Hamels' 294th start for the Philadelphia Phillies was certainly a memorable one. His no-hitter against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday calmed some of the concerns about his trade value after he pitched poorly in his previous two outings. The left-hander is actually one of the game's most consistent starters. For example, his opponents had an on-base percentage of .295 in 2013, .296 in 2014 and .297 so far in 2015.

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