Two and a half weeks to go in baseball's regular season, and the Los Angeles Dodgers can still make the playoffs. Despite losing eight of their last eleven games, they are only one game out. I'm sure thank you notes are in the mail to commissioner Bud Selig, who was insistent on adding two playoff teams this year.
Let's break this down. During the last eleven games, which includes a split of the four-game series against St. Louis (the team the Dodgers are chasing for the second wild card), the Dodgers have scored 28 runs, or just over 2½ per game. They were shut out twice, they lost three consecutive games by scores of 1-0, 3-2, and 2-1, and only scored more than five runs in a game once (an 8-5 win vs. the Cardinals on Friday). Throw out that game, and the Dodgers have scored 20 runs in 10 games, and are still very much alive for a chance to get to the World Series. It also should be noted that the Dodgers could be without their best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) for the rest of the season because of hip problems. The Dodgers and their fans will learn more about that on Tuesday.
Let's play a what-if game. Suppose the Dodgers, even without Kershaw, win that second wild card spot. They would most likely be in Atlanta for a one-game playoff with the Braves. The winner of that game would go on to a best-of-five series in the next round (likely against the Washington Nationals), and the loser would be done. The Dodgers wouldn't be favored, but in baseball, anything can happen. So the question is, who would pitch? Your choices are Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, or Joe Blanton. You also have to look at it his way, and another what-if scenario. Suppose the Dodgers win that game? Now who do you pitch against Washington and Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez? The fact that these questions even are thought of has to make the commissioner smile.
Old school: The second wild-card has certainly added some drama, but maybe not as much as you would think. If this season were operating by last year's system, and only one wild card team per league, the American League would still be exciting. As of Monday morning, all three first place teams had leads in their division of three games or fewer. The Yankees lead the Orioles by just one game, but the AL East loser would still be in a battle with Oakland for the wild card, with the A's leading the race. Think about it, if Baltimore won the AL East, it would be likely that the Yankees would not make the playoffs! What a story that would be.
On the other hand, if there was only one wild card, there would be no drama in the National League at all. All three division leaders have big leads (11 games for Cincinnati, 7½ for San Francisco, and 5½ for Washington). The Atlanta Braves have a 7-game lead over St. Louis (and 8 over the Dodgers) for the Wild Card. The only storyline would be the Braves, and could they avoid choking two years in a row (the Cardinals came from way back and beat the Braves for the wild card last year). But now, not only are the Dodgers still in it, but so are Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and even Philadelphia. The Phillies have a losing record (73-74) and shouldn't even be listed, but they are only 4 games back. As the old cliché goes, there is still plenty of baseball left to play, and I'm sure that the weaker teams will weed themselves out, but the point is that one of these teams could still win the World Series, and be considered champions. Is that what we want? From a general perspective (and from the commissioner), it looks like the answer is yes.
Wait 'til next year!: Major League Baseball has released its 2013 schedule, and there have been some changes. With the Houston Astros moving from the National to the American League next season, they will open at home against the Texas Rangers—a team that will now in their division. The Dodgers open at home against the Giants April 1-4, and for the 700th consecutive year (really the fourth straight and fifth time in seven years), the A's will open against Seattle. Because there will be an odd number of teams in each league, there will always be at least one interleague matchup all the time. The first one has the Los Angeles Angels opening in Cincinnati, and while division and wild card teams are being decided in September, Detroit will finish their season at Miami. Each team will play 20 interleague games scattered throughout the season. The Dodgers will see all five teams in the AL East, including two games at home and two on the road against the New York Yankees. They will also play four games in four nights against the Angels—two at Dodger Stadium, and two in Anaheim. It also looks like there will be more four-game series next season, especially in August. Traditionalists will be happy that the season will start on Monday April 1 (with I'm sure a yet-to-be-announced ESPN Sunday night game), and end on a Sunday—something that hasn't happened the last three years.
Some (reluctant) props for Bud: The NHL has just locked out its players, the NBA season didn't start until Christmas Day last season because of a lockout, the NFL had a preseason lockout last year, and is working with replacement officials this season because of a collective bargaining disagreement. At least baseball has labor peace, and will for the foreseeable future. There hasn't even been the threat of a work stoppage since the devastating strike in 1994.
Programming note: Despite having the second-best record in the American League, and the fourth-best in all of Major League Baseball (yes, the fourth best), the Oakland A's (84-62) are making a couple of rare national television appearances. They are the first half of ESPN's Wednesday night doubleheader at Detroit (4pm PT). The game should be worth watching with Brett Anderson (4-1, 1.93 ERA) scheduled to pitch against reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. I'm not certain, but I believe it's the A's first ESPN appearance this season. They have been on Fox a couple of times, but those were regional and not national telecasts.The A's will also be the TBS Sunday game (10am PT) at the New York Yankees.
Presidential programming note: Nothing to do with sports, but President Barack Obama will be on The Late Show with David Letterman Tuesday night. I truly believe that Letterman could host Meet The Press if he wanted to. Even though he is a comedian, Letterman asks really could questions when he has political guests on the program. I know producers are trying to get Mitt Romney on a future show. Romney may not do it, but he did present a Top Ten list once.
I have to get this in: My fantasy football team, the Yuba County Yawhoos, is decimating the opposition this week. With a league average of about 68 points per team, mine is leading my opponent 109-51 going into the Monday night game, and that was without injured tight end Antonio Gates, and wide receiver Julio Jones hopefully adding more to the rout tonight. Looks like my group of quarterback Philip Rivers, RBs Arian Foster and C.J. Spiller, receiver Dwayne Bowe, W/R (wide receiver or running back) Jamal Charles (horrible week), and Green Bay's defense is pretty good.
Happy Birthday to my Dad. He would have been 81 today.