This week in Baseball

Andy Zides

The nearly averted baseball strike was ugly and boring and behind us, so let’s never think of it again.
There was no strike, not even for a minute, and no games were lost. So do not hate the players, do not hate the owners and especially, do not hate the game. Let’s move on and concentrate on another exciting race to the post season.
Of the eight playoff spots, only three teams are locks to make it. The Yankees are 7 1/2 games up on Boston and will win the AL East. The Twins are 11 1/2 ahead of the White Sox and will win the very weak AL Central Division. The Braves are a whopping 18 games on top of the second place Phillies and will easily take the NL East.
This leaves five playoff spots still up for the taking in the closing weeks of the season.
Everyone’s favorite race is for the AL West. The A’s, following in the footsteps of the 1978 Yankees and 1951 Giants, have become the hottest team in baseball, winning 19 straight as of Sept. 3 and putting themselves in first place in the West. The 1978 AL East was the Red Sox for the taking, and went up by 14 games on Aug. 1 over the Yankees.
The Yankees would go on to catch Boston and win the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
The 1951 New York Giants won 37 of their last 44 games to force a three game playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Ironically, both the Red Sox and Dodgers’ seasons came to an end in the form of dramatic late inning homeruns by Bucky Dent and Bobby Thomson. The Giants would go on to lose the 1951 World Series to the Yankees, also in six games.
For all the A’s heroics, they still are just 3 1/2 games ahead of the Angels and six behind the Mariners in the West. The AL Wild Card has the Angels in front of the Mariners by just 2 1/2 games, with the Red Sox barely holding on, behind by 5 1/2 games.
The Angels, have had a long, tragic history of blowing leads at the tail end of the year.
In 1995, behind one of baseball’s best slugging outfields of Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Garrett Anderson, the Angels fell apart in the last week of the season, forcing a one game playoff with the Mariners for the AL West. The Mariners won handily behind an overpowering Randy Johnson.
Then, in 1986, the Angels were up three games to one over the Red Sox in the AL Pennant. After Dave Henderson’s dramatic homerun off Angel relief pitcher Donnie Moore, the Red Sox powerful lineup, including Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs and Tony Armas, fought back to win the AL. They would lose in seven games to the Mets in the World Series.
If history repeats itself, watch for the collapse of the Angels. Barring a late season, the A’s will surge, the Red Sox will continue playing .500 ball, which they have done since the All Star break, and the Mariners will take the Wild Card, with the A’s winning the West.
In the NL Central, the Cardinals are four games ahead of the Astros and in the NL West, the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks are four games up on the Dodgers and six ahead of the Giants.
The Cardinals are baseball’s sentimental favorite in the NL playoff race. Their tragic loss of legendary broadcaster Jack Buck, former All Star and starting pitcher Darryl Kile and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, has made 2002 the worst season for any Major League club since the Indian’s tragic spring training deaths of Tim Crews and Steve Olin in 1993.
The NL Wild Card has the Dodgers 2 1/2 games on top of the Giants with the Astros eight games back. The Astros have a better chance of catching the Cardinals for the NL Central than winning the Wild Card.
With five playoff spots still open and nine teams in the hunt, the closing weeks of the season will be very exciting.
Imagine if all good baseball went to waste in another strike. Then again, you could check with bitter Mets and Red Sox fans who would say, “So what if they went out on strike, at least the Yankees wouldn’t win the World Series again.”