The Atlanta Braves return home this week could be described as little...
Let The Games Begin: Time To Tune In As Wild Card Battles Heat Up
If you’re still in school, you may be spending the last few weeks of summer on Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean, or relaxing in Barcelona before your semester abroad. Maybe you’ve been spending way too much time watching CNN, getting your fix of the latest instalment of “Liberals and Conservatives Debate the Same Old Crap.” Who knows, you might even be watching the seventh week of ESPN’s premature NFL coverage. No matter what you’ve been doing, the 2012 MLB playoff races have been heating up and it is definitely time for you to start paying attention.
Nearly 11 months ago, I remember thinking to myself that I had just watched the most exciting night of baseball ever. For those of you that don’t remember, on September 28,2011, in a span of 89 minutes, the Braves and Red Sox capped off their collapses in dramatic, walk-off fashion, giving way to the Cardinals and Rays, respectively.
The Red Sox, who began the month with a nine game lead in the AL Wild Card, went a historic 7-20 in September, and headed to Camden Yards for the last game of the season, needing only a win or a Tampa Bay loss to limp into the Division Series. When the heavens opened up in before the seventh inning, the Sox were up 3-2 while in Tampa, the Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0.
During the hour and 26 minute delay, the Rays tied the score 7-7, sending the game to extras. After the rain abated, the Orioles walked off on Jonathan Papelbon, scoring two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Three minutes later, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run in the 12th, eliminating Boston (and starting a Sox snowball that has still not seemed to slow down).
It was the kind of excitement baseball was made for. It seemed like fiction; a storyline ripped from a Disney movie. The Rays were the Little Engines That Could. Joe Maddon, not known for hyperbole, explained the night saying, “what happened out there goes beyond imagination.”
And all of that drama was just in the American League.
For the Braves, as it was for the the Red Sox, September 28th was the culmination of a disastrous month. After blowing an 8.5 game lead in NL Wild Card, they took a 13 inning loss to the Phillies, paving the way for the Cardinals to get the last playoff spot and a trip to the NLDS.
Last year’s playoff races weren’t nearly as close as 2012′s, and there was only one measly Wild Card spot in each league. This year with one month left in the regular season, there are eight teams within one game of the Wild Card lead in both leagues. Five out of those eight were not 2011 contenders, and two have not seen the playoffs in over 15 years (Orioles and Pirates).
There are three teams in the Wild Card hunt that baseball insiders (Off the Bench included) did not even think would have a winning record in 2012 (Pirates, A’s, Orioles). All three teams are riding young talent, and that young talent is about to be tested when it matters most. Trial by fire.
The playoff races fraught with new faces and surprises, and in the battle for the Wild Card thanks in part to that addition of a second slot. For the first time in baseball’s history five teams from each league will make the playoffs. Baseball fans are almost guaranteed excitement and drama (which is, in effect, why The Budfather advocated the new rule).
If things stay this tight, is it possible that we will see a tie for the second wild card spot? I hope so. We’d get to witness something unprecedented: a one game playoff to see who gets into the one game playoff to see who gets into the postseason. But don’t worry if this happens, just know both leagues will be resolved in a tidy 48 hours.
If that Wild Card scenario still isn’t grabbing your attention, maybe the chance that two boys not yet old enough to drink alcohol may appear in the postseason will get you to watch. One’s a 19 year old Mormon and the other is a 20 year old fish. If you haven’t heard anything about these two kids, well, quite frankly I’m surprised you got this far in the article.
Forget being the future of baseball, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are the present of baseball. If the Angels can find a way to get back in it, both of these players will be in the spotlight come October, and I want the whole baseball world watching when Harper extends an infield single into a double when it counts.
This is the Perfect Storm of playoff baseball: New faces, young faces, unpredictable teams, more teams, old managers, new managers, and electric players making electric plays. All playing for the right to fight on in October, and all are playing right now. There has never been a better time to watch baseball.
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