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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, September 25, 2022

National League home to the only exciting playoff races this fall

This happens to me every fall. I follow baseball religiously from the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training, through the entire summer and into September. But then the first NFL Sunday rolls around and my interest drops right off the table.

Now, this is more than likely a result of the fact that I'm a diehard Brewers fan and their September games rarely feature anything more significant than a sneak peak at the organization's top prospects.

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While the Brewers are sufficiently checked out again this fall, my lack of interest this time around is due to a severe lack of compelling postseason races, save one.  

The American League does not have an interesting division race to speak of. Sure, the Yankees and the Rays are only separated by a half game in the East, but whichever team happens to trail on a given day still leads the Wild Card by seven games.

Maybe if the Mets —resident choke artists  of Major League Baseball—were involved I could be convinced that this race still has the chance to be interesting, but not with these two teams locked in. Really, the most interesting thing about the AL East is that Jose Bautista has 46 home runs this year after never hitting more than 16 in six previous seasons in the big leagues, but those suspicions are best left for another day.

Elsewhere in the American League, neither the Central or the West are likely to be competitive down the stretch as the Twins and Rangers lead by six and eight games, respectively. Same goes for the National League Central, where the Cardinals, near unanimous pre-season favorites to win the division, managed to post an 11-15 record in August and hand the  division title to the Cincinnati Reds.

Thank goodness for the National League West.

Not only is there bona fide competition for the division crown, but three teams are involved, and there is a real chance only the winner will play in the postseason. It is possible that a second team from the West could claim the Wild Card, but Atlanta currently holds a game-and-a-half lead and will be difficult to overtake.

To make the race on the Left Coast even better, Los Angeles isn't a part of it. I don't have anything in particular against the Dodgers, but there is something refreshing about three non-perennial contenders duking it out down the stretch.

Now, just because the Padres, Rockies and Giants are not always locks for the playoffs doesn't mean they don't provide entertaining baseball. The Padres and Giants currently boast the best and third-best staff ERAs, respectively, in all of baseball. We all knew two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum was the real deal, but other youngsters like San Francisco's Matt Cain and San Diego's Mat Latos have used this race as a coming out party.

The Rockies have a pretty good starter of their own in Ubaldo Jiménez, whose video game-esque season places him squarely in the conversation for this year's NL Cy Young Award. Jiménez, who started the All Star Game for the senior circuit, is 18-5 with a 2.75 ERA and has racked up 186 strikeouts by featuring a devastating power sinker that regularly reaches into the upper 90's (MPH).

Besides Jiménez, the Rockies' pitching depth does not stack up against the Padres and Giants, but their offense never seems to run out of unbelievable late-season production— and this fall has been no different.

After struggling through most of the season, superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been on an absolute tear in September. In his last nine games entering Thursday, Tulowitzki has a whopping eight homeruns and 16 RBI. Add in the least likely MVP candidate of the year, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez—who is hitting at a .337 clip and with 101 RBI to go along with 37 homeruns—and the Rockies have the firepower to stay in games and win late.

All three teams play each of the other at least five more times before this season is up, and any night could be the deciding factor in who makes the playoffs and who stays home in October.

If I was a betting man, I would put my money on the Rockies to come out on top even though they currently sit 2.5 games back.

I hope, though, that the Giants pull it off. Their young pitching is exciting, but the real gem is closer Brian Wilson. If you missed the NL saves leader hanging out with Jim Rome on the ESPN host's show, you have to look it up online. If this column fails to pique your interest in the NL West, Wilson certainly will not.

Maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this race. Maybe I've only kept tabs on the NL West because my fantasy baseball team—which, by the way, just failed me in the semi-finals against my little brother —is loaded with West Coast players.

Undeniably, though, there is something fresh and enjoyable about a three-team race that doesn't include any of the recent baseball powers and features an abundance of young talent.

I just have to get all the enjoyment I can out of this race, because in six weeks I'll be watching NFL Network reruns while the Phillies and Yankees play in the World Series...again.

Would you rather see the Yankees and the Phillies cruise to another World Series rematch? E-mail Parker at pjgabriel@dailycardinal.com

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