Even though most everyone has gotten themselves wrapped up in college and professional football (and there’s something going on called the WNBA playoffs, but I haven’t seen signs of life for that yet, as well as preseason action in the National Hockey League), Major League Baseball’s regular season is coming to a close this week. What began back at the beginning of April will, over the next week, determine their six division champions and four Wild Card teams that will make up their postseason schedule. It will all wrap up in ANOTHER month with the conclusion of the World Series…in November, if the Series goes seven games.
I’ve heard all the arguments about the game of baseball…”How can you like something that goes so SLLLOOOWWW?” “They’re all on ‘roids!” “I’d rather watch paint dry than watch a baseball game.” The folks that haven’t realized the comforting blanket that the game of baseball is are missing out on one of the rare treats we still have in the world today. I could attempt to explain it, but it sounds so much better when it comes from the mouth of James Earl Jones, who could probably read a grocery list and make it sound like grand prose:
Just to further emphasize the point, the final paragraph from Jones’ Terrence Mann (his character in Field of Dreams) drives the ideas home. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
I’d add in there that baseball is perhaps more embedded in our country’s (and our citizens’) DNA than many think. There is no clock, indicating that the game (and the country) could potentially last forever. The boundaries are strictly drawn, but through creativity and athleticism you can reach beyond those boundaries for greatness. Finally, anyone can play the game and excel if they are willing to work hard at improving.
OK, getting a bit sappy here. Let’s just move on…
With the postseason getting ready to begin, who has the best shot at winning the World Series? There are 10 teams that will contest for baseball’s World Championship and 30% of those teams come from one division. That’s where you’re going to see the next World Series champion come from. (And this comes from a person who is a die-hard Yankees fan, in full disclosure.)
As of right now, there are only two teams – the AL Central champion (and defending American League Champion) Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays – that have been able to lock down playoff spots. These two teams are also tied for the best record in the AL, which means they’ll spend the next week fighting it out over home-field advantage. Either one would make for a difficult opponent in a seven game series, but I am going to give the edge to Toronto due to the fact they are still trying to win the East Division over the New York Yankees while Kansas City relaxes with the division title firmly in their pocket.
In the AL West, the Texas Rangers and the surprising Houston Astros are battling down to the wire for the division title. Houston, whom many thought was still a year away from making moves in the AL, has been atop or in second place in the West throughout the entire season. I don’t see them making up the 2½ games that the Rangers lead by, however, but I do see the Astros making the Wild Card playoff game against the Yankees. In that one-game playoff in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will prevail and get on a plane to play the Royals in Kansas City the next day.
Toronto is going to be tough to stop in the postseason. They made a flurry of moves around the trading deadline, bringing in SS Troy Tulowitzki and P David Price to shore up their defense and pitching. They should be able to get by the Rangers and head on to face…the Yankees, who I believe will get out of the Wild Card game and stun the Royals. In the end, however, I see the Blue Jays earning the AL pennant on the back of some dominant pitching and head to the World Series for the first time since 1993.
The real story of the National League has been the performance of the NL Central. Long the doormat of the league (the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 barely were a .500 team (83-78) before winning the World Series), the NL Central is guaranteed to send three competitors to the postseason. The Cardinals are vying with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the division title, with the team that fails to take it down earning the right to host the Wild Card elimination game against the Chicago Cubs (yes, get your provisions in order for the coming Apocalypse if the Cubs go to the World Series). I’m going to take the Cardinals in this battle and, in a surprise, the Cubs will shock the Pirates to set up a Cards/Cubs playoff series for the first time since 1886.
The New York Mets have been the surprise team – and the darlings – of baseball fans over the course of the season. Rising up with young pitching leading the way, the Mets were able to vanquish the pre-season favorite Washington Nationals to win the division. I don’t think they’ll get any farther than that, however, as they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers and their buzz saw pitching twosome of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.
The Dodgers will head to Busch Stadium after the Cardinals dispatch of a pesky Cubs squad that takes them to the brink of elimination. In what will be probably the defining series of the 2015 postseason, the Cardinals will emerge as the champions of the National League for the third time in the past five years (in 2011 they won the World Series, in 2013 they lost to the Boston Red Sox).
2015 World Series
Honed by the season-long battle in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals should beat the Toronto Blue Jays in six games. If Toronto is able to push the Series to a seventh game, they would have the home field advantage at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, at which point all bets are off the table as anyone can take a Game 7.
You may not be watching when baseball drives towards its World Champion, but the drama is always worth a look. If you’ve never given baseball a chance – or if you’re someone who has drifted away from the game – the postseason is always a stage where its greatest moments occur.