ST. LOUIS, MO - Reliever Jason Motte of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates a victory over the New York Mets at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Mets 6-5. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
After months of knowing exactly who was going to the playoffs, it seems like things aren't that simple anymore.
On September 5th, the St. Louis Cardinals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, pushing them 10-1/2 games back in the NL Central. There was still the Wild Card to think of, but they were 8-1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves.
It was September 5th, mind you. Long past the point when season-ticket holders are supposed to put a deposit down on postseason tickets. The Cardinals could safely turn their attention to the Albert Pujols Offseason Circus and Imaginarium.
On that same date, the Los Angeles Angels were 2-1/2 games back in the AL West. There was a chance! One that the Rangers would run away with. The Angels were 7-1/2 back in the Wild Card race, sure, but that didn't matter. It's not like the Red Sox were going to choke.
So, yeah, about that ...
The Angels are in the Wild Card race again, moving 2-1/2 back of the Red Sox with seven games to go. Tough, but not unheard of. The Cardinals are in the Wild Card race again, moving 1-1/2 back of the Braves with seven games to go.
After taking a series from the Phillies -- who, without checking, I'm guessing started Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Kendrick, and Kyle Kendrick, just because they could -- the Cardinals will finish their season against the Mets, Cubs, and Astros. Again, that's the Mets, Cubs, and Astros. The Braves close out with three against the Phillies, who I'm guessing will start Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee just to be jerks.
The Angels will have a little bit tougher of a time than the Cardinals, hosting Texas to close out the season. But, still, this was the season without a pennant race. This was the year that every team in the game was getting through September by taking a knee, getting fouled whenever they touched the ball, or doing whatever in the hell hockey teams do when they have a big lead. And the next thing we knew, the Rays were a story. Hey, Rays! Everyone loves those plucky, turf-addled youngsters.
And out of nowhere came the Cards and Angels. Two more teams that have absolutely no, no, no business being here. By internet law, I'm supposed to put links in here to what CoolStandings.com and Baseball Prospectus had two weeks ago. I could spend the two minutes looking that up, or I could give you my guess as to what they said: Nah. You'd click on a hyperlink that was conveniently titled "CARDINALS' AND ANGELS' PLAYOFF CHANCES!", and it would take you to a page that read, "Nah." Just a guess.
The reason that analysts and writers get so cocky with substantial September leads is that any miracle comeback would be a two-part process: a) the team in question would have to win, and b) the other team, which is probably a pretty good team, would have to lose an incredible amount of games in quick order. For example, the Giants have won nine games out of their last ten. That's swell! The Diamondbacks in that same stretch have gone .500, which cut their lead from 9-1/2 games to 5-1/2. By the Diamondbacks not messing the bed, they've maintained their death-grip.
The Braves and Red Sox? Oh, it's bad. There was newspaper laid out over every square inch of the kitchen, and it's still a disaster. They're still the favorites. They're still good teams. But there are other teams in the race that weren't there just a week ago. The year without a pennant race just got pretty danged interesting after all.