As I write this, there are three teams still vying for the final two National League playoff spots. A Dodgers loss to the Giants sees the Giants and Cardinals in and the Dodgers out, whereas a Dodgers win takes us to the final day of the regular season with everything still to play for.
It’s now the bottom of the ninth and the Dodgers are three outs from elimination. The first $2bn Major League franchise and its headline-grabbing splash of trades at the deadline where they seemed just to be looking for salary to take on…are three outs from being out.
First to the plate: Andre Ethier – a homegrown talent with a lovely swing and a fat new contract…singles to centre. Hope is alive.
Then AJ Ellis strikes out and Bobby Abreu (long-time Phillie and Angel, recently called up from the minors)…flies out to centre and is unable to advance the runner.
One out remaining…three strikes between the free-falling Dodgers and three months of golf…and their man at the plate is Mark Ellis, toting his .260 average and negligible power.
Pinch-runner Dee Gordon steals second base…so there’s now a runner in scoring position with two out…
Strike one on the outside corner.
Strike two on a foul…down to the last strike…
Foul…everyone in Dodger blue has clenched everything…
And a slider on the outside corner does the job as Ellis lines out softly to centre field.
So the National League is set: the Atlanta Braves will host the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card game on Friday to determine who joins division winners Cincinnati, Washington and the newly-crowned, heavily champagne-doused Giants (matchups still to be determined).
In the American League the participants are set but the matchups are likewise undecided as the Orioles and Yankees compete for the AL East title and the Athletics and Rangers face off against each other tomorrow with the West division at stake, while only the Detroit Tigers coast into tomorrow’s regular season finale with the goal of resting up before the postseason starts.
Within a week we’ll be starting to kiss goodbye to the first of the postseason losers so while we have the chance let’s wave goodbye – with a wince of almost-sympathy – to the fans of the following franchises who even a few weeks ago had every reason to think they’d be playing postseason baseball:
Chicago White Sox
They led most of the season but when it mattered most they couldn’t put it together, and were eliminated after defeat on Monday. They’ll try to get some perspective on a season of progress, but mainly they will be kicking themselves for a lost opportunity.
The Phillies spent most of the season looking fairly horrible and hardly daring to dream of a .500 record, never mind a shot at the playoffs. But after they’d traded their All Star outfielders they went on a tear and put themselves within three games of the second Wild Card spot with 17 to play. Confident talk of a playoff run disappeared when they lost three of four to the worst team in baseball – the Houston Astros, and they never recovered.
They never really had it. They hovered close – but not really close – to contention all season long and simply continued that ho-hum form right to the end. They missed Prince Fielder badly and don’t look like they have either the hitting or the pitching to be serious contenders in the near future. Consider their window of opportunity closed.
Los Angeles Angels
How does a team with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout fall to third in its own division? Well, mainly by not bringing up Trout from the minor leagues until May and with Pujols not starting to produce until well into May. By the time this team woke up, they just had too much to do, even though they were in the playoff picture as recently as last week.
As much as these teams may be crying now, two more will join them on Friday after the Wild Card games, until by early November, 29 of the 30 teams will be looking back on the season with little more than regret and disappointment. Some of them had hopes, some of them didn’t, but all 29 failed to achieve the only legitimate goal they had.