Picking the baseball playoffs
September 30, 2004
As of Wednesday evening, none of the match-ups were set for the first round of playoffs in Major League Baseball. While some teams are waiting to learn who their opponents will be, for certain organizations the entire season will be on the line over the next few days. October is the month when even the most casual fan focuses a little on baseball, so it’s time to take a look at the contenders.
The closest division battle is taking place in the American League West. On Wednesday, Oakland lost its long-held grip on the lead to Anaheim. Oakland’s usually stellar starting pitching has faltered lately, and its relief corps is the worst of all the squads still alive. Anaheim is finishing the year strong and has shown the ability to produce more late-inning comebacks than the A’s.
What’s great is that Oakland and Anaheim have the opportunity to settle the division on the field in their three-game series starting today. But if both clubs want to make things really interesting, they could finish in a tie. Instead of relying on tie-breakers to decide a champion, baseball has a good rule in requiring a one-game playoff on Monday to determine the winner. Sooner or later, that division victor should be Anaheim.
The only other position in question for the American League is the winner of the East division between the New York Yankees and Boston. With the Yanks holding a comfortable lead and playing last-place Toronto this weekend, this one should be a done deal. Either way, Boston has already reached the postseason by at least clinching the wild card.
Central division winner Minnesota waits in the wings.
In the National League, division champions St. Louis and Atlanta have been coasting along, while five other teams have been duking it out for the final two spots. Barring a total collapse, though, Los Angeles will capture the NL West.
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The real dogfight is for the wild card. Although San Francisco could still beat out Los Angeles, that would be difficult against an LA club that, other than winning a World Series, would like nothing more than to eliminate its hated rival Giants. Joining SF in the wild card hunt are the Chicago Cubs, who are inconsistent, and the San Diego Padres, who have a pulse but need help from other teams. The Roger Clemens-led Houston Astros are the pick with a recent 33-10 record, including 15 straight at home. A one-game playoff could decide the winner here, and as of this writing, a five-way playoff was still mathematically possible.
World Series – One thing we’ve seen the last few seasons is that home field means nothing in the playoffs, except for do-or-die series-clinching games. Wild cards have won the last two World Series, proving that every team has a chance. That bodes well for the match-up that the most people want to see, cursed Chicago against longer-cursed Boston.
Prediction: Although it is risky to choose a team that hasn’t even made the playoffs yet, the pick is streaking Houston over Boston.
• It should be mentioned that the Women’s National Basketball Association playoffs began last week, and are bettable. I can’t say I know anyone who wagers on or even follows the WNBA, so there will be no predictions here. But I commend the league for its quick-moving postseason. Both the first and second best-of-three rounds will be completed in five days each. It took the NBA a ridiculous 17 days to finish its seven-game first round last spring.
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