by Brady Campbell, Assistant Sports Editor
There is a chill in the air as the seasons change from summer to fall, and while the weather may be getting colder, in the baseball world, things are just beginning to heat up. This is the final week of the regular season, with games concluding for 18 teams on Sunday, Oct. 1. However, for the twelve other teams, a new season begins.
From the long marathon that is the Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season which spans from late March through the end of September, sprouts the dead sprint that is the postseason. There is absolutely no more room for error, as one game, inning or even pitch can change a season.
There is slightly more room for error, however, as the Wild Card round recently expanded from a one-game playoff to a three-game series, along with one extra playoff seed being added to each league.
Despite being in the final stretch of games this season, there is still so much up for grabs, with both divisional and wild card races coming down to the wire.
One thing that was never a competition was the winner of the National League (NL) Eastern Division. After a World Series victory in 2021, followed by an incredible run to a division title last season which ended in an early playoff exit, the Atlanta Braves were primed to dominate the league.
Sports Management alumni Andrew Scarpaci believes that the Braves and the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers are in a league of their own.
“The Braves and Dodgers are by far the most complete teams in baseball. The Dodgers are always a well-built team with little to no holes in the roster. For the Braves, all nine of their starters have an on-base plus slugging (OPS) above .750, which shows their incredible depth and team play up and down the lineup,” Scarpaci said.
While it appears that the Braves, Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers have things locked up in the NL East, West and Central respectively, the wild card race is still very much up for debate. After sweeping the Mets in a four-game series this past weekend, the Philadelphia Phillies seem to be in a comfortable position at the top wild-card spot.
However, four more teams are still fighting for the last two spots, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were leading the NL West for the first half of the season, as well as the Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds.
“I really like the Reds young talent but their injuries to starting pitching has really killed my belief,” broadcasting alumni Ryan Boettcher said. “The same goes for Miami who lost ace Sandy Alcantara to arm issues. So I guess by default the Cubs should make it with a great performance by Cy Young contender Justin Steele and Cody Bellinger who is having a great bounce-back season.”
While the National League is somewhat decided as far as the division leaders go, the American League (AL) still has a long way to go in determining their postseason representatives. The only division that has been decided is the AL Central, which was won by the Minnesota Twins. While the Twins are by far the worst division leader in the sport this season, the AL East comes down to the two best teams in the AL.
The Baltimore Orioles have had a rough last few seasons, as they were one of the worst teams in baseball from 2017-2021. However, this season looks a lot different, projecting to be a 100-win team and making their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have been extremely competitive the last few seasons and even started 13-0 to start this season. Ironically, the Rays have the 27th biggest payroll in baseball, while the Orioles come in as the 28th. In comparison, the Mets, Yankees and Padres, who are one, two and three respectively, will all miss the playoffs.
These two teams have been neck and neck the entire season, with the O’s maintaining a slight edge for most of the campaign. Digital art and design graduate Anthony Hines believes that both teams will be a difficult matchup for their opponent no matter where they end up.
“Both the Orioles and the Rays are dangerous in that they have great pitching staffs that don’t exactly have the ‘brand names’ but are guys that can get you out and make you look silly up at the plate,” Hines said. “Any team is going to hate having to play either of these teams in any round.”
The Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are all fighting for the AL West and it seems like while all three teams can get in, the possibility remains that one team could miss the postseason with the Toronto Blue Jays also fighting for a spot.
While the regular season is coming to an end, once the postseason begins, it’s anyone’s game. Teams can get hot or cold at any time, and if one can catch fire in the postseason, they can become a dangerous team very quickly. Momentum is everything in a three, five or seven-game series.
Scarpaci believes that the Cincinnati Reds could be that team if they could find a way into the postseason.
“They are a gritty team who have played their hearts out all season long and are on the cusp of making the playoffs in one of the most competitive wild card races we have ever seen in the NL,” he said. “They have practically four rookies who could be in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and Joey Votto is a veteran leader who deserves to have a chance to compete with the team he has been devoted to his whole career. Elias Diaz is also shaping up to be one of the best closers in baseball.”
Something that is rarely seen but could very well come into play this season is a tiebreaker to decide seeding for the playoffs. If there is a tie between teams with the same record, other statistics will come into play to decide which team gets in.
Hines sees the tiebreaker as a realistic possibility this season.
“I believe that there will be an NL wild card tie between Chicago and Miami. We have seen weirder things happen, such as three-way ties for a playoff spot. Anything can happen so it will be exciting to see as we get down to the nitty gritty part of the season.”
While all of this is happening, the aforementioned New York Mets and New York Yankees will be spending October on the couch watching the postseason. Both teams had very high expectations, as they were widely regarded to be among the favorites for a World Series appearance prior to Opening Day. Both teams failed to live up to the hype, as neither will reach 90 wins this season and may finish with a losing record.
Boettcher believes that there are steps both teams can take to be competitive again..
“The New York teams each need to focus on developing their prospects and letting them come into their own. You see teams around the league like the Orioles or Braves that trust their young players to develop and it’s brought along good success. That as well as finding good coaches and a solidified future plan will set the Mets and Yankees back on track,” Boettcher said.
If the postseason is anything like the regular season, then this could end up being one of the wildest and most unpredictable playoffs ever. That is the beauty of it though, as despite how good teams are throughout the summer, it all comes down to October baseball. The postseason begins on Tuesday, Oct. 3 with game one of the Wild Card Series, and plays out throughout the month with the fall classic commencing on Friday, Oct. 27.