Game #162: for twenty teams and their fans it is the end of another long, hard-fought and ultimately unsuccessful campaign. Yes it is true that there will be teams that played better than was expected, and their supporters will be infused with optimism during the off-season. Then there will be the disappointments, and their fans will fret and fume and anxiously watch for redeeming signs. Like it or not, the regular season is over and Playoff Baseball, aka Tournament Baseball, will take effect starting Tuesday (or maybe Monday!). The rules are different in October, the pace quickens, it is no longer a marathon, it is a sprint to 11 (or 12 or maybe even 13) victories. We can guess at which team will be left standing at the end, but ultimately it is always a bit of a surprise these days, which is good.
The situation in the National League is resolved, except for which team holds the home field advantage: the woebegone Philadelphia Phillies upended the Atlanta Braves in game #161, and now the St. Louis Cardinals are in the catbird seat. That could change by close of business today, but if the Cardinals win out, things will be set: after the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates settle the Wild Card, that team will progress to St. Louis, while the Los Angeles Dodgers will begin their quest to prove that championships can indeed be bought by travelling to Atlanta. The leaves are starting to fall, and soon the wannabes will be falling. I’ll pick the home team Pirates, fresh off their first winning season in 20 years, to dispatch the Reds, who won’t have their best pitcher, Mat Latos, available due to a tired arm; they will take their chances with an iffy Johnny Cueto, while the Pirates will start pitching bargain of the year (at $1 million) Francisco Liriano. The fans in the Golden Triangle will have something to cheer about (other than their Steelers and Penguins and this year the Steelers are giving them nothing but heartburn).
The Atlanta Braves parlayed a smoking hot start and a final burst to win their first National League East title since 2005. The Braves feature home runs, strikeouts, sometimes shaky defense and a shut-down bullpen. The Dodgers, after a slow start, brought in Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig and never looked back. With Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw, for Cy Young Awardee Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco in their rotation, the Braves will strike out more and hit fewer, many fewer home runs. They would prefer to face the Wild Card winner, but that is no longer under their control.
St. Louis does control its destiny, and while they will miss stalwart Allen Craig, they are just too deep and too experienced and they will win their Division Series.
The American League still has an unresolved Wild Card situation, where three teams could finish tied by the end of Sunday; but the Tampa Bay Rays have a tough sell in Toronto, so I am going with Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians, and the Indians will prevail. They will then travel to Fenway Park to face the resurgent Boston Red Sox. The return of former BoSox skipper Terry Francona in his new role as Admiral of the Enemy Fleet will provide plenty of drama.
The Detroit Tigers and my beloved Oakland Athletics will provide the undercard, and it will be a great series but, alas, I fear the Tigers have too much pitching and will still the A’s valiant hearts.