For those of you who hibernate in baseball’s dog-days of summer, it is time to wake from your slumber: postseason baseball is here.
Over 2,400 games have been contested after Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper dinged home runs in his first two at-bats on Opening Day. The American League (AL) has witnessed one of the closest races since the Wild Card’s inception in 1994, which allows two teams in each league to progress to the playoffs despite failing to win their division. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers in last night’s tiebreaker after both finished the season 91-71 (W-L). The Florida team go on to play the Cleveland Indians in Wednesday’s AL Wild Card Game.
The Tribe stormed to a 10-game win streak in its hunt for October as the first AL Wild Card. Finally giving the city of Cleveland something to cheer about in the sports world, the appointment of Terry Francona as skipper has been key to this remarkable turnaround. With an efficient pitching staff, a talented youth and hardened MLB veterans (yes, Jason Giambi is still playing playoff baseball), the Indians are the hottest team coming into the games that really matter.
With the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers cruising to their respective division titles, two more surprises surfaced at the regular season’s conclusion, most notably familiar to those who have read or seen Moneyball. The New York Yankees, embarrassed by Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, did not make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. This is at the expense of Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s, whose team payroll is a measly third of the Bronx Bombers’ – a testament to the genius of Brad Pitt’s Beane’s general management. Ignoring baseball’s conservative traditions of contact and speed, his inspiration from Bill James’s sabermetric approach that valued on-base and slugging percentage allowed him to construct a competitive team cheaply. To quote the film: “There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game.”
Predictably, the Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers controlled their divisions in the National League with ease. Although a similar shock occurred with the underwhelming San Francisco Giants failing to defend their title and the perennially-pooh-poohed Pittsburgh Pirates pillaging their first winning record since 1992. Thanks to the equalising draft system in America, where the worst team one year gets first dibs on the best college and high school prospects the next, the Bucs have profited over the last two decades from the best of young picks like Andew McCutchen, Pedro Álvarez and Gerrit Cole. Hold on to them and keep output high, a golden future lies ahead under Captain Clint Hurdle.
World Series Prediction: Boston Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves in six games.
Highlights of the 2013 regular season include Michael Cuddyer’s 27-game hit streak for the Colorado Rockies, representing this season’s best effort to beat Joe DiMaggio’s chimerical 56 set in 1941. Chris Davis, first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, produced big numbers at the plate, hitting league-highs of 53 home runs and 138 runs batted in (RBI). Mike Trout became the youngest ever player to hit for the cycle (single, double, triple and home run in one game). 22-year-old Cuban defector Yasiel Puig was an immediate Hollywood hit when he debuted for the Los Angeles Dodgers halfway through the year, collecting a Rookie of the Month award and almost making the All-Star Game already along the way. The pitchers who started the Midsummer Classic, Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, consistently showcased strong arms. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw shushed opposing bats with the league’s lowest earned run average (ERA) of 1.83. A rare ‘perfect game’ eluded us once more this year, however Homer Bailey (Cincinnati Reds), Tim ‘Freaky Franchise’ Lincecum (Giants) and Henderson Álvarez (Miami Marlins) gave us no-hitters.
With the end of the regular season comes also the end of an era. At 43, the last player to wear 42 (after the number was retired league-wide in 1997 to commemorate the MLB’s first African-American player Jackie Robinson) called time on his career. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is retiring after a record 652 saves and lowest postseason ERA of .70. Also hanging his glove up is Colorado Rockies talisman and five-time All-Star Todd Helton. From being University of Tennessee quarterback ahead of Peyton Manning in his college years, the ‘Toddfather’ collected his 2,500th career hit earlier this month and leaves as tenth in MLB history in on-base percentage with .430. These two players have become the teams they grew old with. A final tip of the cap to you, gentlemen. The Big Leagues will not be the same without you.