September won't be one to remember
ARLINGTON, Texas - How many pennant races do we have? One, the National League West? Two, throw in the American League West? That’s not good, since we still have five weeks of baseball before we swing into the playoffs.
Teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox are safe and secure. They have priorities that would make the also-rans laugh. The concerns are things like who will pitch Game 2 for the Yankees and who will pitch Game 3 for the Red Sox. Then you have a team like the Brewers, who are in the process of trashing the competition in the NL Central, and whose only concern might be who pitches Game 4.
These are problems that teams such as the Diamondbacks, Giants, Rays, Indians, and Angels would love to have. But they’re a bit preoccupied with trying to survive.
I haven’t mentioned the Phillies because their situation is borderline ridiculous. Assuming good health, their manager’s big concern will be explaining to rookie Vance Worley, who has dazzling numbers (9-1, 2.65, WHIP of 1.12), that he’d better prepare himself for a long-relief role in the playoffs because he’s not getting a start ahead of people named Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt.
A final team with no worries happens to be the Atlanta Braves. Nope, there’s no wild-card race in the NL, either. The Braves have a record that puts them right there with the Yankees and Red Sox. They’re not going to catch the Phillies, but there’s also no one to worry about in the rearview mirror. They’re as big a wild-card lock as the Red Sox-Yankees loser.
I’m going to anoint the Rangers as the champs of the AL West. The lead isn’t that big over the Angels, but they’re just better; that’s all. They are the defending AL champions for a reason, and they will do what they have to do. Sorry, Orange County folk. Maybe next year. Settle for having the AL Rookie of the Year in Mark Trumbo.
So late August/September won’t be what it should be, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Even the Red Sox-Yankees games will lose that certain je ne sais quoi when we all know they’re both getting into the playoffs and the matter of home field is laughably inconsequential.
Oh, we do have the matter of the whopping season-series edge currently enjoyed by the Red Sox, but does anyone seriously believe that would matter in October? There are clear examples that regular-season dominance doesn’t portend anything. Check out the 1988 Mets-Dodgers and get back to me. But even if we didn’t have that rather prominent Exhibit A, we are talking about the Yankees. No Red Sox pitcher is going to be thrilled pitching to that lineup.
It won’t matter if those games are played in Fenway Park, at Yankee Stadium, on Boston Common, or at the New York Botanical Garden. The team that plays better - excuse me, pitches better - will win. It’s really that simple.
That’s if there is a Red Sox-Yankees series, which brings us to what is sure to be a dominant conversational topic during September. Remember how the big deal last year was how no one wanted to face Cliff Lee twice in a five-game series? We will have this line of reasoning all over again, although this time the pitcher in question isn’t Cliff Lee. It’s Justin Verlander.
Don’t dismiss the Tigers. Verlander is very scary, and Max Scherzer can beat you, too. No pitcher in possession of his faculties wishes to see Miguel Cabrera come to the plate. The manager kinda knows what he’s doing. Worse teams than the 2011 Detroit Tigers have won a World Series. We could start with the 2010 San Francisco Giants.
Since the wild card was instituted in 1995, we’ve generally had a great deal of competition for those spots, sometimes down to the final day. Purists such as myself have been worn down. The wild card is here to stay, so much so that there is now talk of adding a second wild card.
The timing is right, isn’t it? This year we have next to no suspense, the best pennant race taking place between teams who will be lucky to win 87 or 88 games. Both wild-card situations are settled with five weeks to go, and I don’t remember that happening before.
If we had a second wild card available in the AL, the Rays and Angels could be going to the final day. In the NL, St. Louis would be battling with the San Francisco-Arizona loser. I’m not saying there’s anything great in all this, but it would make September interesting for more teams.
October could be great. All eyes will be on the Phillies, but they could face legitimate challenges from Milwaukee and Atlanta. And you know that all four teams in the AL, the Tigers included, will enter the playoffs with a swagger that says, “Hey, we can beat anybody.’’ The AL playoffs could be epic.
But all that is almost six weeks away. We’re in for a looooong month.