If I was a baseball think tank I would be declaring bankruptcy after going into the tank. The Baltimore Orioles in the American League playoffs? Doesn’t make any sense. The Oakland A’s winning the American League West Division over the Texas Rangers? Lordy, Lordy, what’s next?
Actually, what’s next is the beginning of Major League baseball playoffs that I don’t have a clue who will win. Is there a favorite at all in either league? I mean a solid, clearcut favorite to capture either pennant. Not really. It all begins with what should be wild wild-card playoffs Friday, two games of Russian roulette baseball.
The Rangers will play the Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals will play the Atlanta Braves. One game of winner-take-all ball. The victor moves on to the division series and the loser goes home for the winter, after all these months of struggle being permitted three hours on the national stage to make its case. Who’s gonna win? Who knows? Nobody will be shocked if the Orioles best the Rangers. Nobody will be shocked if the Cardinals eliminate the Braves. Why should they be?
The biggest surprise in the final days of the regular season that ended Wednesday is that the A’s somehow caught the Rangers from behind. But they both still made the playoffs. Texas with its household-name players, the A’s despite starting pitcher Bartolo Colon being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs and pitcher Brandon McCarthy being sidelined by a line drive to the head. The A’s just kept plugging in rookies like Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone.
Getting in the door is the first assignment of any team. This new wild card deal more resembles the NCAA basketball playoffs than it does Major League baseball series of the past and as we know, anything can happen in a single-game playoff. Would the Rangers rather have had a first-round bye? Certainly. Can the Rangers end the Orioles dream season and march through the American League into their third straight World Series? Absolutely. But just about as likely is a scenario that has the Rangers picking shards of glass out of their hair come Friday night after being blown out by Baltimore.
Baltimore. Now there’s a head-scratcher. The Orioles have one starting pitcher with double-figure wins, no .300 hitters, no 100 RBI men, haven’t even had a healthy regular lineup, yet were in the hunt for the AL East Division crown until the last day of the regular season. How? Who knows?
Ten teams are still alive. Ten teams can still dream of winning the World Series. In this playoff group there are no dominant teams and there really are no teams that will make a sure-fire early exit. If these teams were stacked together in one division only 10 games would separate all of them. The winningest team in baseball this summer was the Washington Nationals with 98 wins. Cincinnati won 97 games. The Yankees won 95. The Braves won 94. So did Oakland and the Giants. Baltimore and Texas each won 93. The Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals each won 88.
In theory, the neutral observer might say that the Cardinals and Tigers are long-shots based on their comparatively puny win totals. However, last year the Cardinals didn’t even squeeze into the playoffs until the last day of the regular season and then they brushed aside teams with more wins left and right and captured the World Series.
If the Cardinals repeat, or if the Tigers make the big run this time, that would be surprising. Shocking? Not this season. Any one of these teams can win it all, but any one of these teams could lose anywhere along the way. Looks like a suspenseful October shaping up.