Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Incredible End to the MLB Season

Has this ever happened before?

With only Game 162 of the scheduled regular season remaining in Major League Baseball, we're sitting here with not one, not two, not three but four different teams, all of whom straight-up control their own destiny as far as nabbing the final two post-season spots, one in each league. I certainly cannot recall such an exciting finish to a baseball regular season in my recent memory, and while I know we've had some close calls before and certainly we've had several examples of one-game playoffs to determine who rolls on to the post-season and who heads home for the winter, I'm not sure it's ever happened quite like this. The fact that we're ending so excitingly in both the AL and the NL stands in stark contrast to what most of September shaped up to be in MLB -- the most boring September in years. With all six division races nicely tied up within just a week or two into the month, and with near double-digit leads for both the Braves in the NL and the Red Sox in the AL for their respective wildcard spots heading into the month, it seemed as though there would be little of interest to keep baseball fans glued to their tvs until the playoffs came around.

But then cue not just one but two concurrent historic collapses.

First, the Braves. Entering this month, the Braves were 80-55, well behind the Phillies in the division but way out in front in National League wildcard race, leading the Cardinals by 8.5 games in that category. But in September, the Braves' offense has all but disappeared, averaging just a hair over 3 runs per game in losing 17 out of 26 games, while the Cardinals have turned it on, winning 17 out of 25. Superstar Albert Pujols has put the Cardinals on his back this month, hitting .366 with 20 RBIs in 25 games, and star pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia have recovered to go a combined 7-0 with an ERA in the 2.4's over the past four weeks. Meanwhile, the Braves' perfect foil has been pitcher Derek Lowe, who went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in September of 2010, joining Tom Seaver in 1969 and Randy Johnson in 2002 as the only National League pitchers to pitch in at least five September games and win them all with an ERA that low, but who now in September 2011 has gone 0-5 with an ERA of 8.75, making him the first National League pitcher ever to pitch in at least five September games and lose them all with an ERA that high. And the Braves' slump has come over 26 games in September, 18 of which were against the non-playoff-bound Nationals, Marlins and Mets, so it's not like the schedule has been particularly cruel to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the story in Boston is pretty much even worse. On September 3, the Red Sox were sitting at 84-54, a couple of games behind the Yankees in the AL East but holding an even more comfortable 9-game lead even later in the season than the Braves. Since then, the team has stunk out loud, going 7-19 overall in the month of September, while the Rays have simultaneously gone on a tear, rolling off a 16-10 record and giving up four or fewer runs in 8 of their last 12 games. The Red Sox's 19 losses in September (and counting) are the most by the team in this month in 59 years, since the Sox went 7-20 in 1952, a mark they could tie with a loss tonight to end the regularly scheduled regular season in Baltimore. And, like the Braves in the NL, the Red Sox do not have the schedule to blame, as September has seen them face off for six contest with out-of-it Toronto, and a total of seven games against the hopelessly horrible Orioles, in which so far the Sox have gone 4-8, with one final game against the O's tonight at Camden Yards for all the marbles.

With both leagues' wildcard races now tied with just one game remaining, the very real possibility exists of two one-game tiebreaker games on Thursday, which again I doubt has ever actually happened before. As far as those tiebreaker games go, MLB has announced this week that any one-game playoffs would be played on Thursday. First pitch for the American League tiebreaker between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. ET, if needed. The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves would start at 8:07 p.m. CT on Thursday night in St. Louis.

With both underdog teams having won the season series with their opponents, each of the Sox and the Braves have their work cut out for them tonight, which will be I think for both teams their last best chance to salvage a post-season run out of the 2011 regular season campaigns before having to go on the road to win a one-game playoff against a much hotter team rich in the belief that destiny is on their side. And the odds seem stacked in favor of us having a second team to the 1964 Cardinals as the only team ever to have overcome a deficit of at least 8.5 games in in September to reach the postseason in Major League Baseball.

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Blogger Josie said...


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