October is considered by many to be the best sports month of the year. With college and pro football in full gear and basketball and hockey just around the corner, there is plenty that October has to offer.
But the baseball playoffs are what really make October a sports fan’s paradise. So who are the teams to watch for coming down the stretch and who will be playing in the World Series?
Nothing is for certain in baseball, but if this postseason is any like the last two, it will definitely be one worth watching
Let us start in the National League, where the last three World Series trophies have gone (Giants, Cardinals, and Giants again). The East is already set with the Atlanta Braves running away against what many thought to be the best division at the beginning of the year.
Without a doubt, the best race to watch will be the N.L. Central with the Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds, all with a real chance to win it (and the other two secure a Wild Card berth).
The West has been won by the L.A. Dodgers, and for the first time in a long time, baseball is again king in Los Angeles.
Over in the American League, the Tigers have all but secured the Central and looked poised for another World Series run. Despite all the heavy media coverage of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees are aging and fading fast in a very competitive East division with every team except the disappointing Blue Jays still in the mix.
Just like last season, the AL West is again a two team race between the A’s and the Rangers. With five total playoff spots available, it looks like right now the Red Sox, Rays, A’s, and Rangers will join the Tigers for a chance to go to the World Series.
Although it is impossible to predict how the Wild Card races will play out, you can be sure of a few things in the National League.
First, the Braves and Dodgers will win their divisions. And barring a strong charge by the Diamondbacks or Nationals and the fading of a N.L. Central contender, the Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates will all find their way into the postseason.
With their last 19 games against opponents barely above or under .500, it is hard to bet against the Cardinals taking the division crown.
And when you consider that the Pirates and Reds play each other six of the last nine games, it would appear that the greatest franchise in the National League is set for another deep postseason run if they can stay healthy and if their rotation pitches to its potential.
Although currently the best team in the National League, the Braves have a real tendency to disappoint in October. But with the division well in hand, they will be able to set their postseason rotation up in advance to beat the wild-card Pirates/Reds and finally return to the NLCS that has eluded them in years past.
The Cardinals and Dodgers in the divisional round could end up being just as exciting as the Cardinals dramatic come from beyond win against the Nationals last year. But the Dodgers appear to have the magic this year and should be able to ride their excellent starting pitching and hot lineup all the way to the World Series.
I like the Tigers in the American League, and with the last two MVPs in Cabrera and Verlander and the virtually unbeatable Max Scherzer, I just do not see any team getting in their way of returning to the World Series and taking care of unfinished business.
If any team can stop them it would be the Red Sox, but, in the end, the Tigers will defeat the Dodgers in six games with slightly superior starting pitching and the best hitter in the game.
Part of me still believes the Cardinals will find a way to go farther than critics expect, just as they have the last two seasons. And with one of the deepest lineups in the game, they are never out of a game until it is over.
The “Moneyball” A’s have been surprising fans and critics for years now, and a Cinderella run to the Fall Classic would be a great story and not out of the realm of possibility with their final 13 games against opponents under .500.
History is important in all sports but none more than baseball. Players are remembered for their postseason heroics (David Freese and Pablo Sandoval most recently) and their unforgiveable mistakes (just ask Bill Buckner).
A season of mediocrity and anonymity can be undone with one swing of the bat, just as a postseason slump overrules a fantastic regular season.
Whoever you are pulling for this year, be sure to sit back and enjoy the month that never fails to deliver some of the best moments in the history of sports.
– Stephen Wade, Contributing Writer