Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: When the final day may not be the final day

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: When the final day may not be the final day

by Matt Smith

WHGB11The final day of the MLB regular season is always tinged with sadness.

It’s caused by the realisation that the daily delight of baseball that has been a constant for the last six months is about to reduce to a trickle of playoff games and then a long baseball-free winter.

The one thing you hope for on this day is that there is one last hurrah, a gripping pennant race to be decided that will have you flicking between games and getting caught up in the drama.

The high-water mark of recent times to judge any final day against came in 2011. Here’s how I summed it up at the time:

“It’s just gone seven a.m. and while I’m tired I know there is little chance that I will be able to fall asleep again any time soon.

My head is still spinning from the most incredible end to an MLB regular season you could imagine.  The lack of sleep isn’t helping with my futile attempt to take it all in, but even if I was wide awake, I would still be shaking my head with disbelief and wondering if this has really happened.

In the early hours of Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays somehow snatched the American League Wild Card from the Boston Red Sox

It was 5.07 a.m. in the UK.  That’s not a very sociable hour to be cheering or screaming in frustration, but anyone following the action would have found it impossible not to let their emotions get the better of them.

The Rays were one strike away from losing in the ninth inning of their game.  The Red Sox were one strike away from winning their game.  Somehow it is the Rays that have ended up winning the AL Wild Card.

I can’t summon the energy or concentration required to think much about the postseason right now.  All I know is that it has got a lot to live up to”.

I can’t imagine anything could top that final day – or very long night as it turned out to be for us in the U.K. – however the 2014 final day is set up to potentially come some way close to it.

After the games on Saturday there are still three key postseason matters to be decided:

  1. Who out of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will win the NL Central, with the ‘loser’ heading to the NL Wild Card game to face the San Francisco Giants
  2. Who out of the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals will win the AL Central, with the ‘loser’ heading to the AL Wild Card game
  3. Who out of the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners will win the second AL Wild Card spot, with the winner facing the loser of the Tigers-Royals race, whilst the loser of the A’s-Mariners race seeing their playoff hopes dashed at the last.

If the results go the right way – or the wrong way depending on who you support – any or all of the three races could be tied after the teams have completed their 162 schedule meaning that a single 163 game decider will be needed.

In all three cases both results need to go the way of the chaser: them to win and their opponent to lose. And just to add to the drama, the key games today are all starting at different times.

In the National League Central race, the Pittsburgh Pirates begin their game against the Cincinnati Reds at 18.10. BST needing to win to keep their division title hopes alive. If they lose then the St. Louis Cardinals will be able to play their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting at 21.10., with the freedom that they’ve avoided the Wild Card ‘play-in’ game. If the Pirates have won their game, all the pressure suddenly sits on St. Louis’s shoulders needing to win their game to clinch the division and knowing a loss will lead to a nervy game 163.

It’s a similar scenario in the American League Central, only in this case it’s the current division leaders, the Tigers, who get underway first. They start their game against the Minnesota Twins at 18.08, one hour ahead of the first pitch between the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.

As with the Cardinals’ scenario, if the Tigers win their game then the Royals’ result will be irrelevant and we would probably be in a situation (subject to the Tigers-Twins games going into extra innings) where the Tigers clinch the division while the Royals are still in mid-game. However if the Tigers miss their chance then it will be an anxious wait for them to see if the White Sox can do them a favour.

The same story could play out in the AL Wild Card race and that is the most tense of them all. At least in the other two races the ‘loser’ will have a Wild Card playoff place to soften the blow. There will be no such consolation prize for whoever misses out between the A’s and Mariners.

Oakland are in the ‘all we have to do is win’ spot and begin their game against the Texas Rangers at 20.05, with the Mariners starting their game against the LA Angels at 21.10. in the ‘we need the A’s to lose and for us to win’ spot.

The different start times mean that it’s possible all three cases will come to a calm conclusion as the evening progresses, with the first result in each deciding everything, yet you wouldn’t bet against the drama continuing right down to the wire.

It should be a great final day to the 2014 regular season, because there’s every chance that it will not be the final day of the regular season after all.

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1 comment

Jamie Crompton October 8, 2014 - 11:40 pm

Non-baseball people are often surprised when I tell them that the MLB season lasts 162 games, yet despite the hectic calendar, many of the issues often seem to be settled in the final few days. And as you mentioned, none later or more dramatically than in 2011. Ah yes, 2011. I remember it well. Here’s to Game 162, rain delays, Papelbon, Longoria, 2 hours of sleep and absolutely no work getting done the next day.


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