Playoff Fever

By Jeff Dickson, Director of Food & Beverage

The Texas Rangers, major league affiliate of the Hickory Crawdads and back to back American League Champions, will be making another appearance in the MLB postseason. After a loss last night to go along with an Oakland Athletics win, the two teams are tied for first in the American League West but both are guaranteed at least one of the two wild card spots. They would each surely like to win the division, as that would place them directly in the divisional round of the playoffs rather than in the wild card match up, a one game playoff between the two wild card teams with the winner moving on.

That addition of the second wild card spot in each league has added some intrigue, if not the drama to match the end of the 2011 regular season. As it currently stands, in the American League the Baltimore Orioles would face either the Rangers or A’s in a one game playoff of the two wild card teams, with the winner to face the top seeded division winner. As of today that would be the New York Yankees, who currently hold the best record in the league.  

The other American League spot has been secured by the Detroit Tigers, who have won the Central Division and will be the third seed. They are in line to play whoever wins the West.

In the National League the division races are all wrapped up. The Washington Nationals have won East, the Cincinnati Reds the Central and the San Francisco Giants the West. The wild card winners are the Atlanta Braves and the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

This new change to the playoff system had two main goals: to add drama to the end of the regular season, and to better reward teams for winning their divisions. Has it worked? Well, first of all, there was no way this season could match the end of the 2011 regular season which concluded with one of the most exciting and dramatic days of regular season baseball history. That being said, this new format hasn’t yielded enough drama to warrant an additional playoff spot.

 Yes, the National League playoff spots would have been secured days ago had it not been for the second Wild Card, but save for a little hope for a few extra teams there really hasn’t been what I would consider any drama. The two closest and most dramatic playoff races are actually in the chase for division titles in the AL East and West. If anything the extra Wild Card may be taking some drama away in these cases, as both second place teams are in the playoffs even if they do not win the division, albeit for only one game for one of those teams.

All of that aside, there are some very interesting storylines heading into the postseason. Not only have the Washington Nationals unseated the Philadelphia Phillies from their perch atop the NL East, but they are tied with Cincinnati for the best record in the majors. If winning the division after years at the bottom of the league wasn’t enough of a story, they will be heading into the playoffs with perhaps their best and most important player, all-star pitching Stephen Strasburg. The righty went 15-6 with a 3.16 era on the year but was shut down by the team for reaching their self imposed innings limit, in place to keep Strasburg, who missed almost all of the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery, from reinjuring his throwing arm. If the Nationals don’t win the World Series you can bet that there will be loads and loads of stories that bring this back to attention. Actually, it will probably be a story all the way through until they either win it all or get knocked out.

And just down the road, in Baltimore, the Orioles are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997. And you want drama? The O’s have done this with by far the lowest run differential of all the teams in or near the playoffs, thanks in large part to an incredible 16-2 record in extra innings.

Then look out west. The A’s came out of nowhere to claim a spot in the postseason (and sport an 11-5 extra innings record) when most people thought they would be near the bottom of the division along with the Mariners.

Oh, and back the Reds. While they came into the year with higher expectations than these other surprise teams, I doubt there were many who thought they would have the best record in the sport this late in the year. Especially with star first baseman Joey Votto having played in only 110 games.

And the superstars. Even with a handful of surprises, there will still be plenty of names you’ll know and players to follow. Atlanta Braves and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones is back in the playoffs in his final season. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will try to lead the Giants to another title. Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder will carry the Tigers into the postseason. You may have heard of a few guys on that Yankees team. And of course, back to the parent squad of the Crawdads, the Rangers are led by Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre. 

The Orioles and A’s are bit younger and may not have the big names, but that makes their stories even more compelling.  Then there are the Cardinals, the one team that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest. No more Pujols. No more LaRussa. Not full of rookies, but not led by a bunch of superstars, they slip into the playoffs a little under the radar. Actually, quite a bit under the radar considering that they are the defending champions. But I’d imagine that is just how they’d like it.

Jeff is entering his third season with the ‘Dads and second as the Director of Food & Beverage.  The Oneonta, NY native joined the Crawdads in 2011 as a concessions assistant, and has previously worked with the Oneonta Outlaws as a sports marketing intern.  Jeff is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and North Carolina Tar Heels.

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