Major League Baseball knew just how good the end of last year was, with postseason berths changing seemingly by the minute as teams fought for the playoffs on the final day of the season.
Starting this year, two wild card spots are available, with the goal being to have the end of every year full of just as much excitement as last season.
So far, 2012 appears to be ready to do the trick.
In the American League, eight teams will use their final four games of the season (or, for two teams in the AL West, five remaining games) to winnow the playoff field down to five teams. Each day, teams that have fought all year for the postseason could see their hopes end — or their chances could be prolonged by the frontrunners falling short.
The tightest battle is in the American League East, which has three teams fighting for the division crown and wild card consolation prizes.
The Baltimore Orioles (91-67), who have been nipping at the heels of the New York Yankees (91-67) since the beginning of August, surged into another tie with the AL East leaders Saturday. Manny Machado‘s home run led the Birds, sending them past the Red Sox to set up a four-game runoff with the Yankees, who have struggled with poor pitching and lackluster hitting over recent weeks as they’ve failed to distance themselves from the competition. (See Machado go deep in the video below.)
New York has the edge on paper going into the final four games, with a Sunday afternoon contest against Toronto and then three games at home against Boston this week. But the Yankees have had the edge on paper all year, and the Orioles, who play Boston on Sunday afternoon then head to Tampa Bay to face the postseason-hopeful Rays, will have a whole season of magic to draw from as they make their final push for the division.
The O’s have had help from every part of their roster and seem impervious this year to the slumps and bad losses that have marked their seasons for the past decade. Better yet, they’ve gone 28-9 in one-run games this season and are 72-0 when they have the lead after seven innings. They have a chance to not only knock the Yankees out of the division-leader seat but also stall the Rays (87-71), who will be bounced from playoff contention with either a loss or a win by one of the teams ahead of them in the wild card race.
Tampa Bay stayed alive Saturday thanks to a 10-4 win over the Chicago White Sox (83-75), who need to edge the Detroit Tigers (85-73) for the American League Central crown to make the playoffs, with a wild card out of reach. (These Rays have always been resourceful, but you can’t beat how Ben Zobrist plays a grounder off his head in Tampa Bay’s win on Saturday. See it in the video below.)
The Tigers play Minnesota on Sunday before a three-game set in Kansas City this week while the White Sox head to Cleveland after their game against Tampa Bay, meaning the AL Central may be decided by whichever team boots it the least against lower-level competition.
The AL West, though, is as tight as they come, with three teams vying for the division crown and hoping to edge the AL East contenders for a wild card. The AL West teams also play each other over the final few games, meaning each can determine their own fate against their inter-division challengers.
Texas (92-65) and the Los Angeles Angels (87-70) play each other twice Sunday, and the Angels have no losses to give if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. Texas then heads to Oakland (90-68), where the three games may very well decide the division title.
The National League is a calmer group, with four playoff spots established and the Cardinals (85-73), Dodgers (83-75) and Brewers (81-77) fighting for last wild card.
Across Major League Baseball, though, it appears that Bud Selig and Co. have set up just what they hoped for: a wild, four-day playoff tournament before the actual playoffs, where every game holds major implications for a dozen teams’ postseason hopes.
Well, that’s one way to try to get Europe going in the Ryder Cup.
“[Kevin Garnett] doesn’t need to be talking to our team anyway, so it’s all good.”
— Heat guard Dwyane Wade, on Garnett saying he doesn’t have former teammate Ray Allen’s phone number anymore
Keegan Bradley, doing New England — and the U.S.A. — proud.
— Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) September 29, 2012
This is Washington’s Michael Morse hitting the ball, rounding first, sliding back to first, getting tagged out at first, saying his ball cleared the wall, taking second, waiting for the umpires to make a decision, trying to take third after the umpires make a decision, retreating to second while the umpires hold everyone on base while they explain their decision, backtracking to second and then to first and then home plate, recreating his swing without a bat, pretending to hit the ball, then rounding the bases with what was finally ruled a grand slam.
A good time was had by all.