As I scroll through my Facebook Memories feed this past week – it is filled with stories of pennant races gone by and some races that have faded from my memory. I came across an old quote from an article by Joe Posnanski as he described the bedlam of the final day of the 2011 baseball season:
“People tell me all the time that baseball is boring. I respond to them ‘Yes. Baseball is boring – and then it isn’t. That is what makes it great.”
Today is the final day of the regular season for Major League Baseball – except it might not be. While all is decided in the American League and has been for weeks if not months in some cases, the National League this year brought us a thrilling September that started with about 8 teams vying for 4 spots. Pittsburgh had made a run in July and a trade deadline before fading. Philadelphia managed to go just 7-20 this month to not only completely drop out of the race but fall under .500 and just barely maintain a lead over the Mets. Arizona had some tough series where they lost 3 of 4 to the Braves on a couple of extra-inning losses to get eliminated.
The Braves clinched the NL East with over a week to play – but what remained were the Cubs and Brewers fighting for the NL Central with the Rockies and Dodgers fighting it out in the West.
The Rockies went on an 8 game winning streak, while the Brewers have won 11 of their last 14. So after a Dodgers win last night, which officially eliminated the Cardinals, here is what we have today: A tied NL Central and West.
Yes – all 4 teams will make the playoffs. With the advent of the 2nd Wild Card, though that started in 2012(a year late for the Braves who collapsed on the final day in 2011), there is a significant penalty for not winning your division: the one-game playoff. Plus in essence, it would be a 2 game playoff as if they tie they would play tomorrow to determine WHO would play the one-game playoff.
For now – I still love the one-game playoff, though I could concede and make it 3 games, but please not longer. THAT would then become a penalty to division winners who would get rusty in the layoff. This season’s scenario is EXACTLY what it was designed for. The New York Yankees won over 100 games – and before the wild card, they might have been left out of the dance. Now – they still make it and have to play those plucky Oakland A’s who provided the best one game WC playoff game in my opinion in their game against the Royals in 2014, the last time the A’s made the playoffs.
When the season began – it was assumed the NL would go this way: Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers. The Dodgers were considered the second best team in baseball with 9-2 odds to win the World Series. Today: they fight just to win the NL West. The bullpen has question marks – especially the 9th inning – and the team seems unable generally to get the big hit. That said – the team is incredibly talented and should scare anyone they play.
The Rockies all year battled the “Well they look good, but playing in Coors Field…” stereotype. Unlike the Mariners – the Rockies persevered. Homegrown Kyle Freeland provided the best ERA in Rockies history while Arenado, Trevor Story and veteran Carlos Gonzalez kept doing their thing. The recent 8 game win streak evokes their 2007 run where they won 21 of 22 games including a one-game playoff against the San Diego Padres – where now again Rockie Matt Holliday bruised his chin sliding home and was called safe (and consequently ushered in instant replay). They have never won the NL West and in fact, this is the farthest along in their history they have been in first place.
The Cubs, on the other hand, saw their biggest FA signing Yu Darvish – crash and burn miserably, as well as Tyler Chatwood who couldn’t seem to find the plate very often at all. They were saved by trade deadline acquisition Cole Hamels who was great in the second half for the Cubs. Javy Baez is having an MVP caliber season, swinging and hitting everything as well as playing incredible defense. His energy is contagious for this team and he will be fun to watch on the big stage once again. Kris Bryant is ailing, though hit a monster homer the other day and as the theme goes – it just takes one big home run in October to make people forget about the last 6 months. Bryant’s injury did lead to one of the most memorable walk-off home runs of the entire season.
Then we come to the Milwaukee Brewers. They made big moves in the off-season signing Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich and were trendy picks to win the division. Super reliever Josh Hader brought it this summer, setting the reliever strikeout record in seemingly just a handful of innings, and worked through the surfacing of offensive tweets from years ago. The Brewers have the best bullpen of the playoff teams, which as history has shown is dangerous when used appropriately and with enough offense to use it.
They also have Christian Yelich – who has been absolutely incredible this second half to catapult himself into the top spot for NL MVP ala Chipper Jones in 1999. He hit for the cycle TWICE this season – both times against the Reds. Yesterday he casually hit two home runs to give his team a win in a must-win game. With those home runs, he is now tied for the NL lead in home runs, has the batting title wrapped up – and is just 2 RBI away from tying Javy Baez for the NL RBI lead. The Marlins traded him I remind you for a few prospects including Lewis Brinson, who hit .198 this season. Yelich drew 5 walks in Wednesday’s game against St. Louis. He scored both times and the Brewers won the game 2-1.
So here we are. None of these teams play head-to-head, so we have 4 meaningful games to watch on day One Hundred and Sixty Two. As a Braves fan – I’m personally hoping at least the Rockies and Dodgers to need Game One Hundred and Sixty Three, to wear them out a bit before Thursday’s Division Series.
Baseball. At times, it can be boring…and then – it isn’t.