Mid-to-late September. A glorious time for baseball.
Teams in the heat of a scorching, red-hot pennant race … and some teams already mathematically eliminated until 2014.
What has caused the excitement in the collective fan bases? It’s not just about my local Cincinnati Reds for which I share this fervor. This is about the MLB pennant races! Baseball’s Wild Card races are far from decided, in BOTH leagues. Interestingly, the National League’s race takes on a different flavor because only TWO (2) games separate third place from first (Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds, in that order) in the Central Division, while the other two divisions (the West, already clinched by the Dodgers, and the East, soon to be clinched by the Braves) are anti-climactic events. Unless the late-surging Washington Nationals pull off nothing short of a minor miracle, the Central will have its own division winner and both of the Wild Card entrants this year. Which teams will occupy which spots is far from decided with single-digit games remaining. For comparison, the American League division races are almost all but finished (Red Sox, Tigers, and Athletics all securely in front), BUT the Wild Card race there is nothing short of chaos. The Rangers, Rays, Indians, and Orioles all separated by only two games with the lingering Royals (yes, KC is still there) and Yankees within 3 to 3.5 games, respectively. The Indians, Ohio’s “other” team (no disrespect to the Tribe whatsoever), were left for dead after fading a couple months back only to start a remarkable resurgence to just a 1/2 game out of a Wild Card spot entering Friday’s play.
I could wax poetic about all of the teams still in contention, but, since this is a Reds blog (meaning you, the respected reader, are more than likely seeking REDS news), let’s focus in on what stands in the way of just NINE games left this season.
First off … NINE GAMES?!? That’s it?? The season ends a week from Sunday, with just three more road games starting tonight followed by only six more scheduled home dates starting Monday night … and only TWO opponents in those THREE series. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know the singular bookend opponent couldn’t be more fitting: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes, those Pirates. The ones who took off like lightning from early in the season, FINALLY broke their 20-year losing streak, and are poised to see the post-season for the first time since 1992. At this point, the more epic collapse would be for this team to have achieved so much … but be bounced in possibly just ONE Wild Card game. For that matter, most ANY team doing well this season could argue the same thing about a one-and-done WC deal … but that’s a discussion for another day.
Based on play of late, what should Reds OR Pirates fans hope to expect? Split the six games down the middle? Give a slight edge to one team or the other (i.e. say 4 of 6) in the remaining games? Ultimately, this will matter greatly for the possibility that these two teams BOTH may fail to catch the leading Cardinals. These two series could have 100% impact of home-field advantage in a play-in game depending on a .500 outcome (Pirates edge) OR a better than .500 outcome (Reds edge). If you knew these six games were going to matter THIS MUCH when the schedules were published a year ago (and, really, who did?), you’d have made Nostradamus proud.
For what’s it worth, the path left for the Cardinals doesn’t seem all that daunting … three against the lowly Brewers away and three others against the lowly Cubs at home (both teams against whom the Reds, shockingly, struggled most recently); however, the three in between against the toughened Nationals AT HOME could be key. The Cardinals are full of young talent, and, if they’re going to falter, it almost has to happen in the next six days of play. If St. Louis goes into play a week from today with a lead against either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati greater than a game, it will feel insurmountable.
You want the most NL Central chaos for the buck? Hope for the dreaded three-way-tie and tiebreaker scenario. No matter how you cut it, only ONE team gets to still win the division.
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