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O’Connell: MLB postseason could make history

| Friday, September 25, 2015

It isn’t often that history is made in modern professional sports — particularly when a sport has a past as storied and lengthy as baseball does. But if all holds true to course for the next few weeks or so, the latest MLB season will also mark a first in the history of the professional league.

Barring an aggressively successful close to the season for the likes of the Toronto Blue Jays, or a major slump on the parts of the Chicago Cubs or Pittsburgh Pirates, the National League Central division will host the three best records in all of baseball heading into the postseason.

The MLB is more than a hundred years old, and the teams in question do not exactly have a history of stellar play (at least, two of the three — the “Cardinal Way” has, to be fair, become synonymous with winning baseball for what seems like an eternity now). And yet, here we are with three teams from the same division sharing the top three spots in baseball’s combined standings while the regular season rapidly comes to a close.

To make matters even more entertaining, two of those three teams won’t even win the right to play in the divisional round without first enduring a one-game wild card playoff — against each other. Think of it: two of the best teams in baseball failing to qualify for anything more than the wild card, while a team like the New York Mets manages to step comfortably into the divisional round despite being a solid seven to ten wins short of the Cubs and Pirates at the end of the season.

There’s a poetic irony to it all, particularly for the Pirates, who find themselves as the only team since the inception of the wild card to ever enter the playoffs in that position more than once. This season will mark their third trip to the wild card game in four years.

And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Primarily because I am a Cubs fan and am thrilled to see the beleaguered team from the North side having a mere whiff of October action, but also because a matchup like this is good for the sport of baseball. Attendance numbers and television ratings have been flagging in recent years, with cries of ‘the season is too long’ and ‘the games are too boring’ echoing and eliciting some change from the powers that be. But a wild card matchup between two hugely popular teams like these will go a long way to breaking up the monotony of the Cards-Giants-Yankees-Dodgers baseball oligarchy and infusing a newfound excitement into October.

Heck, the Cubs are perhaps the most beloved team in baseball — say what you will about the Yankees, but the Cubs brand has remarkable staying power.

It’s difficult to say how exactly this final playoff picture will shape up. And while the standings are definitely historic, it may be a bit too early to be calling this particular NL Central the best division in the history of baseball. But I think it’s safe to say that fans from across the baseball world are keeping a keen eye on this particular playoff race.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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