It was just a few weeks ago that I had a question for you. It went like this:
Is the American League wild card race appalling or beautiful?
Every team in it was hovering around .500. They all had warts. None of them would be contending in a different season. None of them would be contending if not for the second wild card. But I made my decision.
However, after much soul-searching, I’ve come to this conclusion: The AL wild card race is the best race we’ll see for years … It’s so dumb and so pure. I want it to last forever.
It did not last forever. It did not even last a couple more weeks, just to humor us. The second wild card race in the American League has been a procession of different teams getting their lips stuck in the escalator, and it’s been unfathomably ugly. The Orioles wasted a surprising surge and stopped winning. The Rays could never harness the talent on their roster, even if they were probably one of the best wild card contenders in terms of a balanced, talented roster. The Royals have lost three in a row to fall comfortably under .500, and the Mariners have lost four in a row to do the same. The Rangers are somehow the second-closest team to the wild card … except they’re just as close to the Blue Jays, who gave up on their season months ago.
No, it’s just the Twins and Angels, both of which are excellent stories compared to preseason expectations. I saw the Angels coming, but only after waffling a whole bunch, and I gave the Twins about a -1.348-percent chance of finishing over .500, much less making the postseason. That both of them are chasing each other is an amazing, fun thing.
If it’s the most fun that September has to offer, though, that probably says a little bit about September. Here, I’ll explain while ranking the races we’ll get to watch over the next week-and-a-half. What is left that could possibly give us a dire case of pennant fever?
The Cubs should be better. Jon Lester has been a touch confusing, Jose Quintana has been solid, but not great, and the whole roster has been riddled with injuries and disappointments. But they should be better. They should have clinched this division already.
They have not. And that’s giving the Brewers a teeny, tiny opening. Here, Rian Watt did the work so I didn’t have to, and because he agreed to Twitter’s terms and conditions, I can just embed his work and save time.
For the Brewers to even tie the Cubs, they’ll have to get extraordinarily hot, and the Cubs will have to play like total nincompoops over their final games. That’s not to say it can’t happen. It can! We regularly see teams play like nincompoops at the worst possible time and give away everything. The 2011 Red Sox are the best example, but you can use whichever one appeals to you.
Still, while the Cubs have underwhelmed, they’re an impressive collection of baseball players. They’re probably not going to go 4-8 over their final 12 games, and the Brewers probably aren’t going to go 8-3 over their final 11.
This one gets an A-, though, because the two teams play each other four times this weekend. That seems like it’ll be fun.
2. Yankees vs. Red Sox for AL East
Some of you rolled your eyes. Don’t roll your eyes! It’s rude. But the absolute best thing about the second wild card is that it makes teams care about winning their division. It was the worst when there would be a situation like this in the past, where the worst possible outcome for the losing team is that they lost a potential home game in the Division Series.
No, the stakes are much higher now. If the Yankees win the first wild card, they’ll still have to take their chances in a single-game playoff against the Twins. Who knows what will happen, really?
The Twins will be eliminated by the Yankees again, reminding them that man is never happy for the present, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.
Ah, yes, well, that’s one way to look at it. But I could also see Ervin Santana flummoxing the Yankees for six innings, with the Twins’ underrated lineup pouncing on whoever starts against them. The Yankees fear this outcome, too.
And they happen to be chasing their mortal enemies. This is one of the best Yankees/Red Sox chases in years.
The Yankees are three games back, though. So if I’m grading this, it gets a B+, but that’s just based on the teams and the stakes.
The Rockies have held one postseason spot or another since April 14, using their surprising pitching to bolster their surprisingly lackluster offensive attack (behind Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, it’s not pretty). It’s been a long time since they were worried about making the playoff to get to the playoffs, but they’re worried now. They might even have to play a playoff to get to the playoff to get to the playoffs. Considering the season they’ve had and the quality of baseball they’ve played, they probably deserve better.
The Brewers are an underrated Cinderella story, a team that was caught between rebuilding and reloading, so they rebuiltloaded and advanced their younger players and hoped for the best. I’m not sure if this is the best, but it’s close enough.
These are two quality teams, but I can’t give this chase more than a B because it’s a) a second wild card and b) the teams have absolutely nothing to do with each other usually. For the first time in baseball history, Brewers fans are concerned with the Rockies, and vice versa, and that makes it feel just a touch artificial. Plus, the Brewers still care about the Cubs right now, which is far more organic.
4. Twins v. Angels for AL Wild Card
I don’t want to be rude, so I’m going to phrase this as delicately as I can. Since becoming a full-time baseball writer, the Twins and Angels have played 51 games against each other. At no point did I ever stop what I was doing and turn a Twins-Angels game on. The thought never crossed my mind. When I turned on a full menu of baseball games on MLB.tv, my eyes were never drawn to Twins-Angels. The lure of Mike Trout was never enough.
That’s the Twins-Angels rivalry in short. There is no rivalry. There are just a couple teams that don’t make sense together.
I’ll watch plenty of both teams over the next 11 days, and I’m satisfied with that. Mike Trout! Miguel Sano! Byron Buxton! Mike Trout! But I’m also keenly aware that a Frankenstein’s monster of a five-man rotation built from both rosters would probably be a pretty uninspiring rotation. These teams are contending because of the second wild card, but they’re also contending because of the weird sub-parity in the American League right now, and I’m not ready to pretend like they’re truly excellent teams in a truly excellent steel cage match.
Give me a B- on this one. I’d either want the teams to play head-to-head, have some history against each other, or have both teams playing like teams that deserve to win their respective divisions.
Alright, so using the standard grading system, we give the A- a 3.7, the B+ a 3.3, the B a … looks like this pennant race gets a 3.18 GPA. Not bad! Except there are still some grades to hand out:
The NL West race gets an F.
The NL East race gets an F.
The AL West race gets an F.
The AL Central race gets an F.
That’ll screw with a GPA, alright. As someone who was too lazy in college to walk to school and drop the classes I meant to drop, I can confirm this.
There are only two divisional races in baseball, and both of them have statistically likely outcomes already. The second wild card in one league is a fine chase, but it’s something of a slap fight in the other. I don’t want to sound surly because baseball is going to be gone soon, and I’ll miss it so. But when the best part of the pennant race is to look up every night and think, “Say, I guess the Yankees are inching closer after all,” it’s probably not a great race.
This just means the postseason will be extra thrilling, of course. But I was hoping for a seven-way tie for the second wild card race, and all we got are a couple of division races that might effectively be over in two days. It’s fine, it’s fine, I’m fine, really, can’t complain.
But, well, I’m just going to watch this a few times before I get out of bed. It’s fine.