I’ve heard the metaphor of the baseball season as a marathon many times before. And perhaps it’s not a coincidence a marathon is 26.2 miles and a baseball season is 26 weeks long. By that scale, we’re entering the final mile of the race.
Ten of baseball’s teams will advance to the postseason after the finish line arrives Sunday. But for every team that gets to play beyond the MLB regular season, two more will have to put away its bats, balls and gloves. The ushers and parking attendants will have to find something else to do in the winter months. The bars and restaurants near the ballparks will have to cut back staff, or hope the crowds for football, hockey and basketball can make up the difference (but they can’t).
October will keep the game in focus for another month, reminding us once again what makes this game so great. But it likely won’t include Derek Jeter, and that alone will dim its luster for some fans. The Boston Red Sox won’t be involved, either, nor will the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and other teams that have been playoff fixtures in recent years.
And the playoff races, by and large, have been settled, at least in the National League. The Washington Nationals have clinched the East, the St.Louis Cardinals look safe in the Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have almost wrapped up the West. The San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates can almost make their plans to meet in San Francisco for the NL wild-card game, too. The Milwaukee Brewers still have a faint hope of sneaking into the picture. Still, there is a lot to enjoy in the final week of the MLB regular season.
In the American League, there is a bit more uncertainty. The Los Angeles Angels have clinched the West, the Baltimore Orioles have won the East, and the Detroit Tigers are hanging onto a slim lead over the Kansas City Royals in the Central. The Oakland A’s are clinging to a wild-card spot, but KC and the Seattle Mariners also are right there, and the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees have no better than a very long shot. The Royals could win their division, claim a wild-card spot or miss the playoffs. Every game counts for them this week.
Every team has a role to play in the final week, whether it’s trying to make the playoffs, playing the spoiler or just finishing out the string. The Houston Astros have nothing to play for in the final week, and all of their games will be on the road. The Toronto Blue Jays, on the other hand, won’t make the postseason, but have a seven-game homestand against teams with something to play for.
By this time next week, the game will have winnowed itself down in scope and increased its magnitude for those that remain. Let’s all enjoy the final sprint of the MLB regular season, before the shift to playoff baseball begins.