Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 4, 2015

Drama Aplenty On The Final Day

Even the longest season must come to an end. So it was that Sunday Game 162 on the schedule of every big league franchise was finally played. In a bit of scheduling genius, Major League Baseball announced months ago that all games on the season’s final day would start at the same time. The idea was the brainchild of MLB Chief Operating Office Tony Petitti, whose background in television production gave him an appreciation for the drama that having every remaining playoff or position race being decided at the same time would create.

Rain on Saturday meant St. Louis and Atlanta had to play a double-header on Sunday, necessitating a different schedule for those two teams; but their games had no impact on the standings. Across the rest of the country players from eight teams took the field at seven different stadiums just after 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. From Camden Yards down to the Trop on the East Coast, from PNC Park to Miller Park to Target Field across the Ohio Valley and into the Upper Midwest, and from Globe Life Park in Arlington to Chase Field in Phoenix, the final day of the regular season built to a final crescendo as results poured in and ESPN switched from game to game.

At stake on this last day was the AL West crown, as well as the second Wild Card position in the American League. Also up for grabs was home field for both the AL and NL Wild Card games, to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as the best record in the American League, guaranteeing its owner home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Of the eight teams involved, five or perhaps more accurately four and one-half could achieve their goal by winning Game 162. A victory by Kansas City meant the Royals had the best record in the junior circuit. A win by Texas made the Rangers AL West champions. The Pirates winning at home ensured they would remain there for the NL Wild Card game against the Cubs. Similarly the Yankees winning in Baltimore meant the AL Wild Card contest would be played in the Bronx.

The Astros were the “one-half” team, since they secured the second AL Wild Card by beating Arizona. But Houston still had hopes of catching Texas atop the division. To do that they needed to win and have the Angels upend the Rangers. Similarly Los Angeles needed a victory and help from Arizona in order to steal the last Wild Card spot away from Houston. And the Blue Jays and Cubs both needed to win their games in Tampa and Milwaukee and hope for losses by the Royals and Pirates in order to secure home field; for the playoffs in the case of Toronto and for the NL Wild Card tilt for Chicago.

The most consequential contests, deciding not just where teams would play but whether they would play at all, were the two involving the three NL West contenders. The Angels had kept their flickering postseason hopes alive by beating the Rangers 2-1 on Friday and 11-10 on Saturday; the latter an improbable comeback victory. L.A. trailed 10-6 in the top of the 9th and 10-9 with two outs and two strikes on catcher Carlos Perez. But Perez hit a game-tieing single and the Angels plated two more runs before the inning was over.

Sunday afternoon’s game was a tense affair until the bottom of the 7th. That’s when the Rangers sent ten men to the plate against five L.A. relievers, scoring six runs and turning a 3-2 lead into a 9-2 rout. When Cole Hamels completed his complete game 3-hitter a few minutes before 6:00 p.m. in the East, the Rangers were the AL West champs and the Angels were eliminated from the playoffs.

Shortly before the Rangers finished up their win, the Chicago Cubs ended regular season play with a 3-1 victory in Milwaukee. But scarcely fifteen minutes later the Pirates concluded their own 4-0 shutout of the Reds, meaning Chicago must travel to Pittsburgh for Wednesday’s Wild Card game.

The battle for American League supremacy was decidedly one-sided. At almost the same time that the Royals were finishing off an easy 6-1 win over the Twins, the Rays were wrapping up their 12-3 pounding of the Blue Jays. Kansas City scored three in the 2nd and two more in the 3rd before coasting home; and Tampa Bay jumped all over Toronto starter Mark Buehrle, scoring nine first inning runs.

The last two games to finish provided the regular season’s final bit of drama. The Yankees have all but collapsed down the stretch, losing six of their last seven. That included Sunday’s contest in Baltimore, in which they never led while falling 9-4 to the Orioles. That loss gave Houston the chance to force New York to travel to Texas for Tuesday’s Wild Card game. In Arizona the Astros tied their game against the Diamondbacks at 3-3 in the top of the 7th when Carlos Correa raced home on a wild pitch by Daniel Hudson. But in the bottom of the frame Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt hammered a long home run down the left field line with A. J. Pollock on base, putting the home team back on top and on the way to victory.

Eight teams in seven contests, all finalized within the space of an hour, and so the Great Game’s postseason picture is now set. But before the playoffs begin with Tuesday night’s elimination game at The Stadium, members of the BBWAA will cast their votes for the major individual awards given out each year. So here are some quick thoughts on who should win the hardware, as one fan sees it.

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, NL, and Josh Donaldson, AL. At age 22 Harper has matured dramatically as a player. This is likely to be the most lopsided of all the awards contests. Mike Trout will get considerable and deserved support in the AL, but Donaldson spurred the Blue Jays remarkable second half run with his passion and intensity, and has put up numbers that are right there with Trout.

Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, NL, and Carlos Correa, AL. Bryant the Spring Training phenom was as good as advertised once called up to the big club in May, setting a team record for home runs by a rookie. One season does not a career make, but Correa has pundits muttering about the second coming of Derek Jeter.

Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, NL, and Jeff Banister, AL. Maddon moved from Tampa to Chicago and did everything he was asked to do, smoothing the way into the majors for a group of talented young players. The Rangers, Astros and Twins all went from 90-loss seasons to playoff contenders with new managers. But Banister’s club won the AL West despite losing their ace, Yu Darvish, in Spring Training.

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, NL, and David Price, AL. The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta is the favorite for this award, and in truth he, Kershaw and Zack Greinke are all deserving. But Kershaw’s 301 strikeouts, four complete games and three shutouts set him apart. Most telling, he has the best Fielding Independent Pitching rating, a modern metric that evaluates pitchers based solely on their performance and not what happens behind them, since they can’t control that. Similarly, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is favored in the AL. But as perfect as he was at home his record on the road was pedestrian. Price was a standout, first for the Tigers and then for the Blue Jays after his deadline deal trade.

One fan’s opinion, which is worth, well, exactly that. The longest season has come to an end. The Great Game moves from its unique daily grind to the month when any club fortunate enough to still be playing can get hot and run the table. On to October!

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Responses

  1. Lots of surprises this season. I didn’t see the Rangers winning their division (let alone the Mets winning theirs.) Nats were, by far, the biggest surprise disappointment (at least to Nats fans) of the year. I also didn’t think the Yanks making the playoffs, but you can never count out the Yanks.
    I’d take Greinke, personally, for NL Cy Young, but like you, any of the top three candidates would make an excellent choice. I know that wins are often about luck, but Greinke lost just 3 of 32 starts all year, led the league in WHIP, ERA and ERA+ (with an astonishing 225!)
    I’d go with Donaldson, Price and Harper for the other Major awards, as you have.
    Looking forward to the playoffs!
    -Bill


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