October 3, 2012
The regular season of Major League Baseball has wound down to its final day and with it comes plenty of excitement still to unfold. While all of the playoff teams have been cemented down after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ defeat last night which put the St. Louis Cardinals back in the postseason, there is plenty of room for juggling as far as seeding and potential matchups. The Cardinals at least will have the opportunity to attempt to defend their World Series championship.
Monday’s action led to the elimination of the Angels and Rays from postseason contention as the A’s sewed up at least a wild card spot. We now know that the teams in the playoffs are as follows: the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Rangers and A’s comprise the American League contingent, while the Nationals, Braves, Reds, Cardinals and Giants are the National League group. That doesn’t mean that everything is locked up and secure at this point.
Let’s take a look at some of the major storylines left to be looked at on the final day of the 2012 Major League Baseball regular season.
AL West Showdown: The Texas Rangers had been in first place in the American League West all season long and held a 13 game lead over the Oakland A’s in late June. Funny thing happened as the season went on though: the A’s kept winning with their collection of no-name talent and rookie pitchers, even after the loss of Bartolo Colon due to a suspension for PEDs and the skull fracture sustained by Brandon McCarthy.
The Rangers entered their final series of the season with Oakland with a magic number of 1. Unfortunately for the Rangers, two days later that number remains the same as the loose, freewheeling A’s took the first two games of the set and moved into a tie for the division lead with one game to go. The A’s continue to trot out young pitching, with rookie A.J. Griffin (7-1, 2.73 earned run average) set to go for Oakland against Texas’ Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64 earned run average since coming over from the Cubs at the trade deadline.)
The A’s have been the hottest team in baseball the second half of the season and look to use that momentum one more day to try and avoid the wild card elimination game. The torrid run by Oakland drove attendance up: A’s officials estimated 12,000 people walked up and bought tickets for yesterday’s game.
AL East Battle: Raise your hand if you figured that the American League East divisional race would come down to the final day of the season with no clear cut winner. Now keep your hand up if you accurately projected that the New York Yankees would be one of the teams in the mix. Still with us? Good. Now, keep your hand in the air if you projected the other team in the mix to be the Baltimore Orioles. That’s right, the Orioles. Put your hand down, because if you still have it up, the odds are either a) you’re lying or b) you’re a delusional homer that picked Baltimore for the playoffs the last 15 years too.
That’s where we stand heading into game 162: the Yankees hold a one game edge on the Orioles thanks to a come from behind, 4-3 win in 12 innings over the Boston Red Sox last night. The victory gave the Yankees their first win this season when they trailed in the ninth inning; they were the last team in the majors to accomplish that feat and are now 1-53 on the season. The Yankees have Hiroki Kuroda pitching in the finale against Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Meanwhile, the Orioles kept pace with a nail biting 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night. Baltimore managed just two hits off Rays pitcher James Shields and fanned 15 times but one of the two hits was Chris Davis’ 33rd home run of the season on a 1-1 pitch in the fourth inning. Tampa Bay managed just a pair of singles and Jim Johnson picked up his 51st save of the year for Baltimore, which pitches Chris Tillman against Jeremy Hellickson this evening.
Cabrera’s Chase: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers is chasing the Triple Crown, which would be the first in Major League Baseball since Carl Yastrzemski turned the trick in 1967 for the Boston Red Sox. Cabrera leads the league in all three Triple Crown categories, as he is hitting .331 with 44 home runs and 139 runs batted in. That gives him a seven point lead over the Angels’ Mike Trout, a one home run lead on Josh Hamilton and an eleven RBI lead on Hamilton.
Cabrera went 2 for 3 in limited action last night against the Royals. It’s unclear how much, if any, action he’ll see in a meaningless game tonight, as the Tigers have clinched the American League Central title and won’t have to worry about the one game playoff to move on to the divisional round.
Intrigue in Washington: The Nationals clinched their first playoff berth in decades, winning the National League East for the first time since they were the Montreal Expos back in the strike interrupted 1981 campaign. Washington had some major breakout seasons from players like pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who led the National League in victories with 21, rookie phenom Bryce Harper, who hit .270 with 22 home runs, 59 runs batted in and 18 stolen bases and Adam LaRoche, who led Washington with 33 home runs and 100 runs batted in, besting his career high of home runs by 1 and tying his career best RBI total.
The biggest storyline coming out of the nation’s capital, however, is the persistent buzz that Stephen Strasburg could reappear in the playoffs for the Nationals. Strasburg made his final appearance for the Nationals on September 7 against the Marlins and was shelved after 159.2 innings of work. It will be interesting if he shows up on the Nationals’ 25 man roster for the postseason. After all, you wouldn’t use a roster spot on a guy that isn’t expected to contribute right?
Either way, expect a major amount of media coverage when the rosters are submitted and Strasburg either is or isn’t on the roster for Washington. There will be second guessing of General Manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson either way, much as there was all season long.
Home Field Advantage Up For Grabs: The Nationals did their part in attempting to lock up home field for the National League, beating Philadelphia 5-1 Wednesday afternoon to finish the regular season 98-64. Since they won the season series over the Reds, Washington officially claimed home field, leaving the Reds as the second best team in the National League.
Four teams are alive for the home field in the American League. Depending on what course of events take place, the Rangers, Yankees, Orioles or A’s could have home field throughout the playoffs. We’ll know for sure by late this evening or early Thursday morning, weather permitting.
So Long, National League: The Houston Astros played their final game as a National League team this afternoon at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. The Astros were seeking their 4,000th regular season win in franchise history and were attempting to avoid setting a franchise record for defeats in a season.
As it turned out, things didn’t pan out for Houston in their swan song. Despite a three run rally in the eighth inning off Chicago reliever Shawn Camp, the Astros fell 5-4 to the Cubs. Bryan LaHair delivered a game winning RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Chicago a win in their season finale. The Cubs finish the year 61-101 while Houston finishes 55-107, the worst mark in franchise history.
Houston became the first team since the 1964 and 1965 Mets to post back to back seasons of at least 106 defeats. The matchups between the Cubs and Astros marked the first time that two 100 loss teams battled since the Cubs and Mets met at the end of the 1962 season, which was the inaugural season for the Amazin’ Mets franchise. Houston moves to the American League West next season, where they will be realigned with the Angels, Rangers, Mariners and A’s.
It’s been a long run through the regular season. It’s time to bring on the playoffs and the exciting run for the World Series champions. Who’s your pick to win it all in 2012?