Last night, in a city all but fully focused now on its suddenly explosive football team, the Chicago White Sox virtually guaranteed that we'll have a new World Series champion to crown come the end of October by virtue of a 6-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Join the club.
Of the last five one-and-done champs we've enjoyed in baseball, exactly zero will be headed to this year's postseason.
The Red Sox (2004)? Nope.
The Marlins (2003)? Good story, but not likely.
The Angels (2002)? Not without a miracle.
The Diamondbacks (2001)? Forget it.
In fact, the last World Series champ that will still be playing next month is the same one that has last enjoyed titles in consecutive seasons. And once everything is all sorted out in about a fortnight, it will be the overwhelming favorite to win it again in 2006.
It's not that the Yankees aren't a team without holes. The bullpen could be better, sure, and Alex Rodriguez might not have to face the overwhelming postseason doubt that will accompany him into October. It's just that compared to the rest of the field, the Yankees are not just better; they are head and shoulders superior.
The Tigers have been the story of the year, but their late season struggles have put a damper on what has otherwise been a resurgent season of baseball in Detroit. The Twins may be the game's most electric team, but how they can fare in a five- or seven-game series without Francisco Liriano is yet to be seen. The A's…well, it depends on how Billy Beane's luck is running.
Of all the possible playoff teams that we had on the docket, perhaps the White Sox possessed the greatest potential of knocking off the Yankees. But their presence in the playoffs was all but muted last night, as they fell six games in back of Detroit in the Central, and 4˝ behind the wild card-leading (for now) Minnesota Twins, who arrive at Fenway tonight for the start of a three-game series.
The Twins are going to win the Central. That's not a guarantee, but an inevitability. Johan Santana is having another Pedro-like season, and is just one of three Twins (along with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau) who will garner MVP consideration. Minnesota is just 1˝ games behind Detroit, and will enjoy its final seven games of the regular season at the Metrodome, where the Twins enjoy the best home record (50-24) in baseball.
The Red Sox helped out the likes of the Twins and Tigers over the weekend by delivering the Yankees a trio of losses. Detroit is just a game in back of New York for the AL's best record (the Twins 2˝) and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And this week, in beating the Twins, the Sox might indirectly aid their division rivals. That's an avenue of advantage the Yankees hardly need. In fact, the home-field possibility in the Homerdome might be the only aspect that would level the field somewhat, giving the Twins a fighting chance against the Yankees down the road.
The Red Sox are looking to play spoiler against Minnesota starting tonight. Just keep in mind that part of that process might help the Yankees toward their ultimate goal.
So, it comes to this: Would you rather the Red Sox pile up a few meaningless wins, or the Twins vie for the home-field advantage?
In essence, how much "fan" do you have left in you? This is your true test.
And yet still, the Twins are not nearly as complete as the Yankees, who are on the verge of clinching the AL East title that the Red Sox denied them for at least the moment by taking three of four over the weekend. With numerous pitching issues over the past half-decade, Chien-Ming Wang, Randy Johnson, and Mike Mussina suddenly form a formidable 1-2-3 playoff rotation, and though he is a bit banged up, Mariano Rivera is still Mariano Rivera in October against anyone other than the now-too-familiar-with-him Red Sox.
As fun as it is to say Boof Bonser, he is nowhere near the No. 2 threat a healthy Liriano might have posed in a short series.
And not that anyone wants to hear it, but the Yankees are about to get -- no lie -- better, when Gary Sheffield returns to complete what will be a beyond devastating lineup by playing first base.
1. Johnny Damon
2. Derek Jeter
3. Bobby Abreu
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Jason Giambi
6. Gary Sheffield
7. Jorge Posada
8. Hideki Matsui
9. Robinson Cano
Yikes. I can already smell the New York Post's "Poof" Bonser headline.
The health of Rivera will, of course, go a long way toward just how dominant the Yankees might be come next month. New York was forced to use four pitchers in the ninth last night in order to survive a late rally by Toronto in its 7-6 win. Out since Aug. 31 with an elbow muscle strain, Rivera is expected back by the end of the week, perhaps the final piece of the Yankees' postseason puzzle.
Beyond Rivera, there is little question in New York, while it hovers over every other American League entrant like a cloud of doubt. It turns out Abreu was this team's Orlando Cabrera, a reviving presence that made the Yankees a better team, and further proof that you just don't bury or shovel praise on anyone when the baseball season is in the youthful days of spring. Guilty as charged.
And starting tonight, they'll be rooting for the Red Sox to help them out.
Like they need it.