Well so much for the unmatchable drama of baseball’s do-or-die wild-card game. The New York Yankees just sucked the life out of it last night as if it were a giant gobstopper.
Thanks for the warm-up act, guys.
At least now we can get to the real baseball playoffs in the National League.
Really, is there any doubt? The AL and NL playoffs just don’t compare this year, folks. The NL has all the firepower, beginning with tonight’s potentially epic one-game playoff between the division rival Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates featuring Jake Arrieta against Gerrit Cole, who went a combined 41-14. And there is this: against the Pirates (11-8) and St. Louis Cardinals (8-11) the Cubs were exactly 19-19 this season. The Cardinals (100 wins), Pirates (98) and Cubs (97) had the three best records in baseball this year.
One of them will be eliminated tonight.
Another will then be eliminated in the division series.
And then one of them will run into the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, who are paired in the National League’s other division series. It’s easy to look at LA-NY as some sort or old New York neighborhood war … or some bicoastal confrontation … or some fantasy of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred because it features two of the nation’s biggest media markets. But the real reason to watch is because the Dodgers and Mets have two of the more interesting teams in baseball this postseason, albeit for far, far different reasons.
The Dodgers, after all, are in the postseason for a third straight season with the most expensive roster in baseball, though they have yet to even reach the World Series, let alone win it. As such, is there an easier team to root against in all of baseball? Los Angeles ran away with the National League West, but they’ve had this small problem with … choking. Dodgers ace and three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw is 1-5 with a 7.12 ERA in his postseason career, last year failing to hold a 6-1 lead — repeat, a 6-1 lead — against the St. Louis Cardinals.
If you root for the Dodgers, well, you’re as empty as the plastic bodies of southern California. Seriously. There’s a lot of glitz in those Dodgers, but seemingly little substance. No real heart. No guts. No soul.
The Mets, of course, are entirely the opposite, a relatively overachieving band of young, talented arms fortified in midseason by a handful of trade acquisitions, most notably Yoenis Cespedes. Maybe you like the Mets, maybe you don’t. But New York played with as much grit this season as any team in baseball, and New York won the NL East because they were up against the Dodgers of the East — the Washington Nationals. And you know what happened to the Nationals in the end? They self-destructed. They demonstrated, yet again, a lack of composure, competitiveness or professionalism, becoming the worst thing any professional sports team can be.
Am I rooting for the Mets? No. (I’m going with the Cubs, for now, but ask me again tomorrow.) But I do respect the New Yorkers of the National League, and you should, too.
Interestingly, based on recent odds out of Las Vegas, the favorite to win the World Series actually comes from the inferior American League, where the Toronto Blue Jays trucked the competition after the trading deadline. Beginning August 2, Toronto went a preposterous 39-13 over a 52-game stretch during which the Jays cemented the American League East. (That’s .750 baseball for you numbers guys, a 122-win pace over a 162-game schedule.) Toronto is by far the most compelling team in the American League, in large because their ace (David Price) has precisely the same postseason record as Kershaw.
That would be 1-5, with a 4.50 ERA that is nearly double Price’s number from this season (2.30).
Now there’s a scenario to root for: Game 7 of the World Series, Dodgers and Jays, Kershaw vs. Price. Two chokers looking to change their labels. Play ball.
But before we close, back to the Cubs, who might be the most fascinating team in baseball, at least to those of us based in Boston. Chicago’s general manager is Theo Epstein, who might very well become baseball’s all-time greatest ghostbuster by ending championship droughts in Boston (2004) and Chicago (2015?). As much as Arrieta dominated the second half of the baseball season, Jon Lester is the Cubs’ projected starter for Game 1 of the Division Series. He’s the anti-Kershaw and anti-Price, who went 10-11 during the regular season, but who is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in his World Series career. The Cubs are beatnik Joe Maddon. The Cubs are the otherworldly Kris Bryant. The Cubs are young and fun and wildly different, splattered with storylines well beyond their wretched history.
Thank goodness the Yankees are out.
The baseball playoffs start for real tonight.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.