No sport could use some playoff excitement more than Major League Baseball, whose postseason begins this week. Baseball is setting a lot of records, but many are viewed as there will be four 100 win and four 100 loss teams. The AL Central has two 100 loss teams in its ranks (Kansas City, Detroit).
It’s hard to believe any team could be worse than the Baltimore Orioles, set to lose 100 games once again, but the Tigers have surpassed them. There was a time during the era of Frank and Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Jim Palmer, with Earl Weaver at the managerial helm, that the Orioles epitomized baseball’s best. Now they’re close to being its worse. Similarly the Tigers were so dreary it seemed they were eliminated from playoff contention by June.
None of the 100 loss clubs have the kind of wacky, funny aura that made such losing squads as the ‘62 New York Mets at least entertaining. Today’s perennial losers are just boring. It also didn’t help matters that two of MLB’s most popular teams, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, had disappointing seasons.
The Red Sox were coming off a world championship season, but got off to a slow start and never recovered. By the end of the year they’d fired their general manager, and they face a turbulent off-season. Ownership has publicly proclaimed they want to get under the luxury tax, and last year’s MVP Mookie Betts, about to enter the final year of his current contract, may find himself traded to another club. In Chicago, once extremely popular manager Joe Maddon, the man under whose reign baseball’s longest streak without a World Series title ended, will soon be history. The Cubs are also planning wholesale roster changes, disheartened by a nine-game losing streak at the end of September that doomed their postseason chances.
Though no one will say it, MLB leadership would dearly love a Yankees/Dodgers World Series. Each enters the postseason coming off 100-win seasons. The Yankees survived a slew of injuries to regain the Eastern Division crown, while the Dodgers again dominated the National League West. A Yankees/Dodgers World Series might even bring back former fans disenchanted with baseball’s current direction and style of play.
Even the presence of the St. Louis Cardinals or Atlanta Braves would be welcome. St. Louis is one city where baseball remains the top attraction, and the Cardinals have a lengthy postseason legacy of tradition and excellence. The Braves have arguably the sport’s most exciting young player in outfielder Ronald Acuna. His quest to join baseball’s small list of 40/40 members fell short, but he still had a fabulous season. There’s also outstanding second baseman Ozzie Albies, another great young player. Those two should form the core of dynamic Braves squads for many years to come.
However the Houston Astros are the overwhelming title favorites, with a dominating pitching staff and a top MVP candidate in Alex Bregman. The X factors are the Minnesota Twins, with a homer heavy lineup of players few know outside the Twin Cities, as well as the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics. For the die-hard baseball fan, this is the best time of the year. But the folks running the sport hope enough spectacular things occur to also hook the casual watcher who’s mostly ignored baseball, and gets them to again pay attention to it.