The thin silver lining to the cloud of baseball futility is that the MLB play-offs can be taken or left without expectation or nervous anticipation.
With our A’s narrowly missing out on snatching the final Wild Card place by a mere 26 games, I thought I would take a look at the Wild Card round match-ups to see where our rooting interests may reside if we wanted to have some small investment in the outcomes.
But first …
UK baseball Twitter has been in a justifiable meltdown today with fears, now confirmed, that MLB has done the dirty on loyal paying customers and quietly removed play-off baseball games from the international MLBTV subscription just a day before they start.
It’s a shameful act for a miniscule reward; however, such shithousery should come as no surprise. As I lamented on Twitter, the only reason international fans haven’t been screwed over much previously is because we’ve not been worth the effort.
Now that the sport is increasing its profile internationally we represent what new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss would giddily describe as ‘a growth opportunity’. For those of us who don’t stare vacantly into the middle distance like we’ve just been subject to a back-alley lobotomy, à la Little Miss Pork Markets, we of course recognise this instead as being ripe for ruthless exploitation so that the rich can get even richer at our expense.
The predictable amount of ill feeling this has generated would make you all the more baffled as to why MLB has done this if you weren’t already aware that they couldn’t care less.
At least it appears that UK TV rights-holder BT Sport will be showing the vast majority of games throughout the post-season. That gives us an option to watch the games, even if that involves an extra £25 for a one-month online subscription if you don’t already get the channels, in a way that may not be available in every country.
Wild Card Round Revised
Justified moan over …
If any fanbase in baseball should be glad to see the one-game Wild Card consigned to the pit of Bad Manfred Ideas, it’s us. It was difficult to even feel like you’d really made the play-offs at the end of a 162-game campaign when you could – and, sadly for us, did – get dumped out by losing one game.
The new Wild Card round is now a best-of-three series, with all three games held at the home of the team with the best record out of the respective pairing. That still makes for a short series, but it improves on the previous ‘one-and-done’ without unfairly disadvantaging the other teams by creating a big gap – for teams used to playing virtually every day – between the regular season ending and their play-offs beginning.
American League Wild Card Round
The new Wild Card round pits the division winner with the lowest W-L record against the third-placed Wild Card, and the remaining two Wild Card teams against each other. The other two division winners will await the victors as part of the new play-off format expanded from 10 to 12 teams.
Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Guardians
This series brings together two underdog teams that A’s fans can readily identify with. The Rays have once again defied the odds by claiming a play-off spot from the AL East division despite working with the 6th-lowest Opening Day payroll in the Majors. As for the Guardians, whilst it’s fair to note that the under-performing Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins helped their cause, winning the AL Central division despite having the 4th-lowest payroll ($68.2M on Opening Day) was a monumental achievement.
Neither team has a strong former-A’s presence, although Christian Bethancourt turned a nice start to the season with Oakland into a spot on a play-off contender so he could be the difference-maker if you want to pick a team to support.
The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the New York Yankees.
Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays
The Mariners have finally made it back to the play-offs for the first time since 2001, breaking an unwanted leading current streak across North American sports and putting a dent into Dom’s description of them being “perennially shite”! Their reward is to head to Canada for a best-of-three series against the Blue Jays.
Toronto’s offense has been one of the very best across MLB this season and that’s come thanks to a group of hitters performing well, rather than just relying on one or two stars. That group has included Matt Chapman who has been the Chappy that we’ve come to know: outstanding defense at third base and a good contribution with the bat despite some streakiness and a modest batting average.
Chappy was never one of the more beloved A’s due to the impression, fairly or not, that he always saw himself moving onto bigger things; however he provides the only real A’s presence in the series if that is what will sway you towards a team. If not, it comes down to whether you have an AL West loyalty towards the Mariners or the rivalry sets you squarely against them.
The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the Houston Astros, so picking a team there will be as easy as deciding whether you want to be punched in the face.
National League Wild Card Round
The National League has also resulted in three teams from the East Division qualifying for the post-season, with the Atlanta Braves joining the LA Dodgers as division winners receiving a bye in the Wild Card round, and the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies joining the Central-winning St Louis Cardinals and the Wild Card from the West in the San Diego Padres.
Philadelphia Phillies at St Louis Cardinals
It’s taken a while for the Phillies to get back to the play-offs after their excellent five-year run between 2007 and 2011. They’re back now and although they made hard work of it at times over the past month, they have enough top-line talent (starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, plus Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Kyle ‘home-run or bust’ Schwarber) potentially to make them more dangerous in the short series format than their regular season record might suggest.
The Cardinals are the storybook team in many ways, with the veteran trio of Adam Wainwright, Yadi Molina and Albert Pujols trying to win another ring together before the latter heads into retirement. They’ve definitely got a fair chance when pairing their play-off experience with the elite double-headed monster of Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the batting line-up.
We don’t have much to go on for a former A’s player link here, so maybe the franchise’s history in Philadelphia tips the balance for you?
The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
San Diego Padres at the New York Mets
Finally we go from a series without A’s player links to one overflowing with them.
Bob Melvin’s Padres, including Sean Manaea and Jurickson Profar, will head to Citi Field to take on Chris Bassitt, Mark Canha and Starling Marte of the Mets (although it looks like Marte may miss the entire series whilst recovering from a broken finger).
The Mets’ main task may be in getting themselves into the right mindset for this short series. They were the dominant team in the NL East early on, and still ended up on 101 wins; however they lost the division crown on a tie-breaker after the Braves went on a late charge. Buck Showalter’s team hardly cracked under the pressure down the stretch, still going a very respectable 18-13 from September 1st, but they still need to shake the feeling that they missed out.
In contrast, the Padres will be feeling good about themselves despite having a season that was below their high expectations. Their off-season splurge, a totally foreign experience for BoMel after years trapped within the John Fisher Experiment In Billionaire Cheapness, was added to in extravagant style at the trade deadline by trading for Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals.
The regular season reward for this huge investment was to finish 22 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West.
The post-season reward is that they still won a Wild Card place and fall in the non-division winner part of the bracket, exactly as they would have done if they had finished much closer to the Dodgers in the standings (albeit, a better win-loss record might have secured home-field advantage). They can forget the NL West gap and concentrate on causing an upset or two in the play-offs.
The A’s choice here is difficult to call so maybe flip a coin (I just did and it landed Heads for Mets, for what it’s worth). The winner of this series will go on to face the Dodgers.