THE post-season of 2023 is unlikely to have the type of upsets that were so galvanizing in 2022 (at least in Philadelphia). The likely Wild Card teams in the National League are noticeably weaker this year, while the American League will have a strong Wild Card team from the Eastern Division who should have an easier time advancing due to a weak Central Division winner.
Fans in Houston, Dallas, Seattle and Toronto may well sweat things out as the season's final days wind down, but their teams' chances against the Rays and the Orioles look to be slimmer than usual. And rooters for the Phillies, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Reds will be thrilled if their teams make the post-season, but none of these teams project to get far against the Braves and Dodgers.
And if mediocrity manages to give itself a hot foot, you have the ungainly prospect of a flawed team goose-stepping around in glass slippers.
SO what to do in light of this looming torpor? Well, of course, there's only one sensible thing available: you need to hunker down and focus on the one truly compelling race going on in baseball at this point.
The A's and the Royals have been locked in a see-saw battle for much of the season, and as we await the Ides of September tomorrow, the two teams are separated by a mere half-game:
OAK 46-100, KCR 46-101
Frankly, the specter of two seriously flawed teams lumbering down the final weeks of the season in what some ways might call "a literal dead heat" is a rare enough occurrence that it should get national coverage along with all the mediocre teams stumbling their way toward the playoffs.
The A's have some intriguing young players (Zack Gelof, Esteury Ruiz, Mason Miller, Tyler Soderstrom) who could form a solid core, but they'll be treading water for a couple more seasons. The Royals continue to be a team that can't draw a walk even if the count on the batter started at 1-0 in every at-bat; their mid-level breakout player Bobby Witt Jr. is another one of these. Whereas the A's have passable pitchers who could form a portion of an acceptable starting rotation behind Miller in Paul Blackburn and J. P. Sears, the Royals' only hope for a bankable starter is lefty Cole Ragans, acquired from the Rangers at the trade deadline.
Oddly, both of these teams managed seven-game winning streaks during the season: the A's spurt in June caught them up with the Royals, who regained a solid lead over the A's in August with their own streak. Since then, however, the gap has closed, with the A's actually taking the lead again just a few days ago.
What do the remaining dates on the two teams' schedule look like? Glad we asked for you...
ROYALS: Home games vs. HOU (3), CLE (3), NYY (3); Away games vs. HOU (3), DET (4)
A's: Home games vs. SDP (3), SEA (3), DET (4); Away games vs. MIN (3), LAA (3)
The A's would appear to have the slightly easier schedule down the stretch.
WE don't usually have a rooting interest in pennant race matters, as you may recall--there have been exceptions over the years, when certain improbable teams have emerged from obscurity to captivate us in just the right way. Here, however, we're clearly on the side of the A's, for having been one of the early models of "outside the box" thinking in baseball, and for their sustained success in doing so. While we sympathize with Royals players as they endure yet another miserable season, the franchise's stubbornly retrograde approach and their maddeningly flukish success in 2014-15 have always been sore points for us (and, surprisingly, we are not alone in such a perspective, which is a notable rarity when it comes to such matters).
So we'll just say it once: Go A's.
You should keep an eye on this yourself, just in case the wonky media decides to ignore it all. But, hey, this is a race that could go down to the very final day! (Stay tuned...)
[UPDATE 9/20: Or...not. The A's are trying out more young starting pitchers, and the results have not been good--a five-game losing streak at home (Padres, valiantly trying to sneak into the wild card race, followed by the Mariners, trying to stay afloat in the choppy waters of the AL West and the AL wild card race) and seven overall. Meanwhile, the Royals shocked the staggering Astros by outhitting them and winning two of three, and have caught the floundering Guardians with their offense in the tank.
So what we appear to be left with are two fumbling Wild Card races that will likely go down to the wire, but somehow manage to seem as though they are occurring in extremely slow motion...]