Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first teams to clinch their divisions in 2013. It seems oddly fitting since these two teams intertwined their destinies last season with a gigantic trade that at one fell swoop cleared the salary decks in Beantown while stocking an undermanned team in Chavez Ravine. If they go on to face each other in the World Series the storylines will be many and compelling
It was a true blockbuster that saw the Red Sox shed hundreds of millions in salary obligations to Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (and Nick Punto, as well) while taking on short-termer James Loney and four prospects. It enabled the Red Sox to go into the free agent market to acquire productive veterans such as Johnny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster and trade for workhorse starter Jake Peavy. For the Dodgers, it was part of a spending spree totalling over $300 million in contracts only possible thanks to new ownership committed to filling Dodger Stadium on a nightly basis. If you could ever say that a trade helped both teams, this one is it.
Meanwhile as the games remaining dwindle to single digits and the air (in the East, at least) begins to exhibit the nip of autumn, most of the divisions are shaking out while the Wild Card races remain hot and heavy. Certainly the addition of the second Wild Card last year has accomplished its objective of keeping fans in more cities engaged. In the National League the Washington Nationals, heavily favored to win the East, struggled and swooned before finding their footing, but alas it seems too late. The Nats are on life-support and their odds are long. Meanwhile, the NL Central has been home to the best divisional race of 2013, with the perennial St. Louis Cardinals finally eking out a bit of breathing room from their furious pursuers the Cincinnati Reds and the revived Pittsburgh Pirates. For the fans of the Steel City, it has been over twenty years since a winning team inhabited their environs and that long since October baseball has been staged.
In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays were in good shape to claim a playoff spot until their inability to score runs began seriously hampering them. Now they are locked in a mortal struggle with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians with the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals still alive. For long-suffering fans in Cleveland and especially Kansas City, contention deep into September is gratifying and their are to be congratulated whether or not their teams make the playoffs this season; I will give the Indians a better chance at this point. For fans of the Bronx Bombers, it promises to be a winter of discontent with manager Joe Girardi heading for free agency, Yankee immortals Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte heading for retirement, and The Captain, Derek Jeter, heading for an uncertain rehabilitation.