MLB's decision to expand the playoff field has created a mad dash to the finish in the final weeks of the season.
After a dramatic 3-2, 14-inning victory on Thursday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Baltimore how goals have changed for his team.
"It's like watching other teams for years and saying, 'We want to do what they're doing,'" he said. "We'd like to get a chair at the dance."
Thanks to Major League Baseball's efforts, there are plenty of chairs -- more than ever, actually.
An expanded playoff format -- with one extra wild-card spot in each league -- has kept hope alive. Through Thursday, 18 of 30 teams were within 4 1/2 games of a postseason spot. Yes, teams near .500, such asthe Phillies and Diamondbacks, will have to play exceptionally well to qualify for October baseball, but Philadelphia has played better than .600 ball since the All-Star break.
There are more meaningful games in September, more intrigue, more second-guessing and playoff tickets being printed almost everywhere.
The postseason format was received with mostly favorable reviews, but with three weeks left in the regular season there's scoreboard watching like never before. If the league wanted more excitement in more cities this month, it got it.
Philadelphia and Milwaukee have had to lower the white flags they waved a couple of months ago. Remember when they were sellers at the July 31 trade deadline?
The Phillies traded Hunter Pence, Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino. The Brewers dealt Zack Greinke. But each team has played better since. The Phillies' Kevin Frandsen wasn't even in the league last season but is batting well over .300 since getting a chance on July 29. And Jimmy Rollins has reached the 20-homer mark.
The Brewers' Ryan Braun is an MVP candidate, and Yovani Gallardo has led Milwaukee's starting rotation.
The AL East has become a big scrum between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. The Orioles won't go away; they just went 5-2 in back-to-back series against the Yankees and Rays. Their starting pitching has been reliable, and 20-year old rookie third baseman Manny Machado has made a big impact.
And you might want to put on a helmet to make sure your brain doesn't explode from this one: If two teams are tied for the division and wild-card lead at the end of the season, it leads to a mind-bending chain of events.
They would have to play a Game No. 163 on Oct. 4 to determine the winner of the division. The loser would move on to the wild-card playoff game on Oct. 5. The winner of that game begins the AL Division Series on Oct. 6. If I have this figured out correctly, the Orioles, for example, could play four different teams in four days, counting the regular-season finale.
What a way to reach the playoffs.
|Minnesota - LP: V. Worley||3||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: P. Maholm||8|
|Cincinnati||4||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Los Angeles||7||Top 7th Inning|
|Oakland||1||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Arizona||0||Bottom 1st Inning|
|Washington - G. Gonzalez||2:45 PM|
|San Francisco - M. Bumgarner|
|Tampa Bay - J. Hellickson||3:37 PM|
|Toronto - M. Buehrle|
|Chicago Cubs - J. Samardzija||6:05 PM|
|Pittsburgh - F. Liriano|
|Detroit - J. Verlander||6:05 PM|
|Cleveland - U. Jimenez|
|NY Yankees - H. Kuroda||6:05 PM|
|Baltimore - J. Hammel|
|Seattle - B. Maurer||6:05 PM|
|LA Angels - C. Wilson|
|Philadelphia - C. Lee||6:10 PM|
|Miami - K. Slowey|
|Boston - C. Buchholz||7:10 PM|
|Chicago WSox - H. Santiago|
|Kansas City - J. Shields||7:10 PM|
|Houston - J. Lyles|
|St. Louis - T. Lyons||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - B. Smith|