Once college and pro football’s seasons hit the ground running in early September, a lot of the American sports public seems to tune out the stretch run in baseball. In a lot of ways, MLB’s final month becomes the forgotten season, where the climax to six months of jockeying for position is appreciated by what seems to be a reduced audience.
This phenomenon can be doubly evident if a city or region’s ballclub is well off the pace, out of the running and replaced by the surplus of optimism that comes along with a 0-0 record in pigskin. As this is certainly the case in New England, let me take the time to tell you all how crazy you are if you aren’t paying attention to the baseball season’s last two and a half weeks.
In the NL, it’s close to business as usual, as the four teams with a 98% or higher probability of qualifying are the usual suspects of the 2010s. The Nationals and Cardinals lead their divisions by comfortable margins, and while the Dodgers have the smallest lead of the division leaders (2.5 games), the team chasing them (the Giants) have a four game cushion on the rest of the Wild Card chase.
The fifth spot in the Senior Circuit will either go to a longtime contender (the Braves) or two franchises who have had little success over the last few decades. Before play on 9/10, the Pirates have a 1.5 game lead on both the Braves and the Brewers. None of these three teams are playing good baseball at the moment.
[Sidenote: for those interested in bad beat stories, the Brewers two week tailspin has set up the possibility for one that registers on the Belk Scale. At the beginning of the season, the Brew Crew’s season win total was set at 79.5. Milwaukee had the best record in the league in April (19-8) and never truly faltered, giving over bettors five months of a slam-dunk win of a wager. On the morning of Tuesday, August 26th, the Brewers sat at 73-58, 2.5 games off the pace for NL home field advantage, and more importantly (for some), needed to finish only 7-24 for the over to hit. Since 8/26, Milwaukee has gone 1-13 to sit at 74-71.]
The fruitless histories of the Pirates and Brewers are the appropriate segue to the much more interesting side of the stretch run. While the AL also has two runaway division champions, it’s the involved parties that make the league so intriguing. With a few breaks, the AL playoffs could essentially be a knockout tournament held on the Island of Misfit Toys.
Most AL teams with recent success – the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, even the Rays – are out of contention. Meanwhile, the Orioles and Angels have strangleholds on the East and West, with the top two records in the league.
Enter the two best races this season, the AL Central and Wild Card. Detroit, the only AL team still in it that’s had deep playoff runs in recent years, has pulled even with Kansas City after wins in the first two games of their series. Combined with the Central race, the Wild Card has become a four team race for three spots.
Oakland, currently in a Milwaukee-esque collapse of their own, holds a 1.5 game lead on KC and Detroit, who are a half game up on the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card.
I know it took a lot of groundwork laying to get to this one sentence, but do you REALIZE the sheer ineptitude of these teams that are fighting to make the AL playoffs?
The Orioles have made the dance three times in the past 30 years! The Royals have not been in the postseason in 29 seasons! In the franchise’s 38 years of existence, the Mariners have danced four times, and none since 2001. Even the freefalling A’s have had regular season success that hasn’t translated into deep postseason runs. They haven’t made the World Series since 1990.
Personally, I have no ill will for the Tigers, but I’m rooting for them to be the odd men out. I am rooting for the Royals to take the Central, and the A’s and Mariners to square off in the one game playoff, in a matchup of Lester versus Cy Felix. I’m rooting for the King to take it in standard King fashion, and then I’m rooting for the team with the least runs allowed all season (Seattle) to take down the top seeded Angels. I’m rooting for an ALDS matchup of the Orioles and the Royals, guaranteeing one of those fanbases that has endured a thirty year long dumpster fire a trip to the ALCS. So yes, I am rooting for a final AL pairing to consist of two of the Orioles, Royals, and the Mariners. If that’s not enough to garner good ratings, that’s a shame.
And then I’m rooting for the Dodgers to send them home in a sweep.