MLB Playoffs on September 10

The playoff drama of September is now focused on the American League where Cleveland and Baltimore are 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay and New York and Kansas CIty are 3 and 4 games back. This drama is created by the new format that adds a one game playoff between the two top non-division winners for what has been the lone wild card position. I wrote hereearlier that the schedule favors the Yankees, but they have faltered and have only gained a half game since August 23.  Kansas City finishes with seven games against Chicago and Seattle, but may be a game or two too far back to close the gap. Baltimore plays three against the Yankees this week and then Boston six times and the resurgent Blue Jays (8-2 over the last ten) six times with three against Tampa Bay. There is no easy road there.

The lesson here is that although it is possible to close a gap in a few weeks, the gap was caused by the way a team played for 135 games, and it is unlikely to change very much in the last 27. So, too, is the lead a team has earned. A team must collapse to lose a long developed lead. I still think the Yankees can make it to the wild card due to the schedule, but they must dominate the lesser teams and they lost 3 of 4 to the Red Sox where a split was necessary, but they swept three against the White Sox. Playing the top teams even and dominating those below is the secret here. The reason the schedule favors the Yankees is that when they finish with Baltimore and Boston next Sunday, they play last place teams twelve straight to end the season. If they are 4-2 or 3-3 with Baltimore and Boston, they can be 9-3, or 8-4 with the lesser teams. It will still be close.

Cleveland has a similar chore, and plays thirteen times against sub .500 teams to end the season, with five more with KC whom they beat yesterday, as well. Cleveland may, in fact, have a slight edge over the Yankees in this race to the wild card.

Of course, all is pure conjecture if Tampa Bay plays well as wild card pretenders trail this team in the standings. TB plays six of twenty against sub .500 teams. If they split with Boston, Baltimore and NYY, and dominate 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 against Minnesota and Toronto, they will win. It will be interestng and that is why our interest remains.

The real race is to avoid ignominy by finishing last. In the NL Central, San DIego, San Francisco, and Colorado are one game apart for last. All of these teams have tough teams to play going forward with the final series of San Diego at San Fransico likely determining the loser.

“It ain’t over ’til its over,” said Yogi Berra, the sage of baseball lore. So true. It will come down to who throws and fields the best, as it has for the first 140 games of the season.

Fall Baseball is War

A baseball season starts in the Spring with teams playing with a relaxed tone that indicates players understanding that there is the long season ahead and any early deficit can be overcome. This leads to the mid-season, from June through August, where the play intensifies as they are in great shape and have an understanding of how good or bad the team is.  With this understanding comes a developing urge to win, if the team is good, or just survive and avoid the ignominy of the cellar.Ignominy-and-the-MLB-Cellar-Dweller”

Then it is September. This is the month where every pitch has meaning. The glory of the pennant is there, as is the drive to preserve some pride by beating a contender and finishing as well as possible. This is September 3. There are about 25 games left, not the mass of 100+  that faced teams in June. Here a game won or lost can make all the difference. Just one game here or there. Players play September game as if it were war.

In the AL West, Oakland and Texas have identical records, 79-58, at the top. On those teams, as is true of all teams in the pennant race, memories of games lost in April and May due to an error, missed cut off man, misjudged flyball, and all of the ways a game can be lost are remembered, vaguely, and the fact that can’t happen now dominates players’ thinking. As said earlier, some teams play with their hands on their throats. Texas lost to Minnesota to a late homerun recently.  Oakland has won four in a row and beat Texas yesterday, and they play each other five more times this month.

In the AL East, Boston is 5.5 games ahead and shows no sign of losing. The Orioles and Yankees are battling for the wild card position, 1/2 game apart. They play each other four times next week.

In the NL Central, three teams, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati have post season possibilities. The Pirates are ahead by one game over St. Louis and play each other this weekend. In that division, the Cubs and Brewers are tied for last, and that is a real race, as well, as the drive to avoid being last is as strong in September as is the race to win. They will play each other seven more times in what will be vigorously contested games.

In the NL West, the race is between San Diego and San Francisco to avoid the cellar. They are tied at 61-76. They are playing a three game series now, San DIego won yesterday and will finish the season with a three game series in San Francisco. Just thinking of the importance to those two teams of avoiding the ignominy of the cellar means that series will be ferocious.

The long season is 162 games long. It is like life itself where daily events have long term impacts. For the baseball fan, it’s never over ’til it’s over and for all the teams mentioned above, it won’t be over until the season is over. The only time in baseball where time is a factor and for baseball people, in September, time seems to stand still.