Everett: Baseball is back, so enjoy the ride
Joe Everett | Friday, September 22, 2017
This weekend, baseball enters back into the national spotlight.
That’s right folks. Although college and professional football certainly claim an enormous amount of viewership and prestige, it’s around this time of year America’s national pastime finally lives up to its namesake.
People often complain that baseball isn’t fun or exciting enough of a sport to watch. And while that argument may hold weight throughout the dog days of the regular season, come late September and throughout October, it’s hard to find a sport more captivating and unpredictable than baseball.
This season promises more of the same. Whether it’s the race for the pennant, division or wild-card, teams now have approximately 10 games left to compete for 10 uber-coveted postseason spots.
And once a team makes the postseason, anything can happen.
The chase starts this weekend. It’s almost win-or-go-home at this point. As of Thursday afternoon, five teams were within four games of the Minnesota Twins — who currently hold the second wild-card spot — in the American League wild-card race. Whether you’re the Los Angeles Angels (two games back), the Texas Rangers (2 1/2 games), the Kansas City Royals (3 1/2 games) or the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays (both four games back), every game from now on can be considered a must-win game, which automatically increases the tension and worth of every game, every inning, every pitch.
The National League wild-card race is even tighter, and it may likely have a crazy finish. As of Thursday, the Colorado Rockies held a one-game lead for the second-wild card spot, while the Milwaukee Brewers are just one game behind and the St. Louis Cardinals only 2 1/2 games back. With Colorado’s lead slowly dwindling over the past few weeks, it’s safe to say that this race will likely come down to the wire, and that the three-game series between Milwaukee and St. Louis next weekend in Busch Stadium — the final series of the regular season for both teams — could very well determine which one of those teams gets a shot at winning the World Series in October.
However, it’s not just the wild-card races that cause intrigue and excitement as the regular season winds down. Every team currently in position for a postseason berth is jockeying for the best seeding possible to increase their chances of reaching the World Series. Cleveland and Houston will battle for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AL over their last 10 games, while Boston will aim to stave off a surging New York club (three games back of Boston) to earn the American East divisional crown. There are races everywhere.
As such, these final three series of the regular season will pit rivals against rivals and contenders against contenders. And now that the chips are down, the contenders will separate themselves from the pretenders. It starts this weekend, and the NL Central race is a perfect microcosm of this reality. Currently, the Chicago Cubs are 3 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee and five games ahead of St. Louis. Starting this Thursday, Chicago and Milwaukee will square off in a pivotal four-game series at the Brewers’ Miller Park — a situation which could end in a Milwaukee sweep and a takeover of first place in the Central, or a series win for the Cubs to almost guarantee themselves a division crown. However, if the Brewers take three of four, and the Cardinals win their series against the Pirates, then it suddenly becomes a three-horse race entering the final week, where the Cardinals have the advantage of hosting both the Cubs (four-game series) and the Brewers (three-game series) to end the season.
Suddenly, a team five games back entering the weekend appears a legitimate threat to seize the divisional crown. Crazier things have happened — and that’s the point. Time and time again, we’ve seen teams get hot at the right time and ride that wave all the way to a postseason title. Baseball isn’t like the NBA, where you know the Warriors are going to make the Finals, or even the NFL, where you can pretty much count on Tom Brady and the Patriots to be there in the end. The field is wide open, and the championship is anybody’s for the taking.
So embrace baseball this time of year. As we saw last year with the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years, postseason baseball is magical, mysterious and plain unpredictable fun.
The fun starts this weekend. So go ahead, enjoy the ride. Baseball is back.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.