Let’s face it the first couple of weeks of October are torture for all cricket fans. The memories of the season just ended are still close enough to be fresh and for us to realise what we are missing while the new season is so far distant as to be practically invisible.
But, for a month at least, there is a form of solace available. While baseball may be a distant cousin of our beloved summer game but there is so much in it to enjoy and stave off, for at least a few more weeks, those autumn blues.
The TMS scorer and statistician, Andrew Samson, tweeted on recently in reference to a statistical quirk of the just-completed regular season, an Oakland Athletics batter (I know, sorry) who has recorded the identical batting average (measured to three decimal places) for 4 consecutive seasons. And that reference prompted me to suggest that more cricket fans should have a dabble in “America’s Game”.
So here is a brief and hopefully easy to understand introduction to baseball for the uninitiated. Don’t panic, I won’t get into too much detail so the intricacies of Earned Run Averages, Bunts, Sacrifice Flies and On Base Percentage won’t take up any time here although to nerds like myself the depth of statistical analysis that baseball produces is part of the fun.
We are now well into the post-season having reached at the end of September the conclusion of the “regular season”, a 162 game marathon which starts in early April and runs with only occasional off days and the brief mid-season hiatus for the All-Star Game for 6 months. During the regular season the 30 Major League teams play in 2 leagues, the American and the National. Each league is sub-divided into three 5 team divisions respectively the West, Central and East.
Ironically the regular season is characterised by one certain fact, each teams fixture list (its schedule) is anything but regular. Games are weighted heavily in favour of playing the teams in your own league and within that your own division. The end result of this year’s six-month schedule was to produce 6 division winners and four runners-up with the best win-loss record who earn the right to play in October. The other 20 teams are left to “wait til next year.”
The four runners-up, the wild cards play off in a sudden death one-off game which determines the final eight. The teams are seeded at this point with the team with the best won-loss record from the regular season playing the wild card winner and having the advantage of starting and end each series at home.
The American and National League play- offs operate as separate entities for the first two rounds of the post-season (The Divisional and Championship Series) which are respectively the best of 5 and 7 games. At the conclusion of these two rounds we end up with Champions of the American and National Leagues who then play in the World Series evocatively known as “The Fall Classic”.
This season the American League produced the strongest four-team line-up in years with three teams; Boston, Houston and New York having passed the mythical 100 win mark for the regular season while the fourth Cleveland won their division at a canter. The National League contenders were LA, Milwaulke, Atlanta and Colorado.
As I write this we are down to a final 4 with last season’s winners (Houston Astros) one game away from being eliminated by the Boston Red Sox after 4 games while the LA Dodgers lead the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2.
This is the point at which I need to declare an interest for those of you who don’t know. I’ve been a Red Sox fan since the mid-80s. Inspired by their Somerset like ability to come second and endure decades without a championship. The fact that the Red Sox dealt summarily with the hated Yankees in the ALDS was, for me, both satisfying and mission accomplished for despite the Boston 9 having the best record off all 30 teams in the regular season they were widely regarded as the fourth “seed” in the American League and, in terms of chances of winning it all 7th out of the final 8.
Why? Because not only did Boston have to go through New York, tipped by many to be Champions in waiting but they then had to face an Astros team looking to, and widely expected to be, building a dynasty with back to back championships. Add in major doubts for different reasons about Boston’s 1 & 2 starting pitchers and you could see the logic in this lowly ranking.
I’ve been bitten far too many times in my 30+ years as a distant member of Red Sox Nation to be taking anything for granted but the delight of back to back wins in the last two days in Houston has started the days this week very well.
There is a saying in baseball that you support your team and whoever is playing the Yankees. It is pretty much true from my years of following baseball in America partly because the New Yorkers are the “winningest” team in the history of the sport, partly because their wealth allows them to hoover up talent and partly because of their arrogance. But after going to Dodger Stadium earlier this year I’ve now got another team that I root against.
A shame really because the Dodgers, when they were based in Brooklyn were a loveable bunch who punched above their weight but fell just short. Moved to California in the Fifities they have become the west coast equivalent to the Yankees. Just imagine how much you would dislike a Surrey team full of Tom Currans and Jade Dernbachs and you get the idea.
So whoever prevails in the American League I really hope they go on to beat the Dodgers in World Series for what would be Los Angeles second straight defeat in the series.
So, all-in-all October 2018 has, so far, eased the pain of the end of the cricket season. Whether come the end of the month Boston (who incidentally were once know as the Boston Somersets) are able to go one better than their erstwhile namesakes remains to be seen but at least it has got me through the first month of the cricket off-season.
See, you’re hooked now! You will tut every time you see someone wearing a Yankees hat in the street and check the scores every morning to see if the good guys have done it!