There are few consolations at the end of a cricket season. A void left that seems impossible to fill, no scorecards to pour over, no table to look at no match reports to read. There has however, for the last 34 years of my life been one thing that has sustained me until the beginning of November.
The baseball regular season ends today. The play-offs that lead to the World Series begin on next week.
To explain. There are thirty Major League Baseball teams divided into two leagues, the American and the National and sub-divided into three divisions in each. The teams play an exhausting 162 game regular season to determine the 10 teams that advance to the play-offs. The winners of each division advance straight into the respective league’s division series, in effect the play off quarter finals. They are joined by the two teams outside of the division champions – with the best won-lost records – the wild cards – who play a winner takes all one-off game to decide the other two teams in the play-offs.
The division series is a best of five affair, the winners progress to the best of seven league championship series and the winners of that go on to the best of seven World Series where the American League Champions face the National League Champions.
I have been a Boston Red Sox fan since Channel 4 first got me into the sport in the mid-eighties. In the 1986 World Series the Red Sox lost in agonising fashion to prolong a fallow period that would eventually, ironically last 86 years.
Having won their first World Series in 2004 the Red Sox have since gone on to “win it all” three more times including last year’s demolition of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boston have been perennial play off contenders in that period. This year is different. Boston have only been able to finish third in their division some 20 wins off the pace.
The New York Yankees have made it through to the post season as the AL East Division winners but crucially they don’t have the best win-loss record which gives home field advantage in the play-offs. That belongs to the Houston Astros who closed the season with comfortably best record. They are joined in the American League by the Minnesota Twins as the other division winner with Oakland and Tampa Bay filling the Wild Card berths.
In the National League Los Angeles have the best record and are joined by the Atlanta Braves, St Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals. The last two are the wild cards.
So I have to find another team to root for in October. This year fortunately it is easy as I was lucky enough to see one of the teams in contention – the Astros – live in June. It is a happy coincidence that the Astros have the best record in baseball and are favourites to win it all but that would make no difference for me. There are many things to love about the Astros, there are a club that is well run and do things the right way, they play in a gorgeous stadium and they wear orange!
The Astros won the World Series for the first time in 2017. Last year they lost out in the ALCS to the Red Sox but they have bounced back and are probably stronger than two years ago. They say that pitching wins you post-season games and Houston have that in abundance, a one-two-three punch of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, the first two undoubtedly the best pitchers in baseball in 2019.
Of the rest there is one team I will be actively rooting against, and one who I really hope don’t make it very far. The New York Yankees and The LA Dodgers.
There is a standard answer among baseball fans when asked who they support, they say their team and add “and whoever is playing the Yankees”. The New York Yankees are you see the team everyone loves to hate. A financial juggernaut with all the inherent swagger that New Yorker’s possess, a team with more World Series wins than any other (27), by some margin. In the 86 years between Boston’s World Series wins New York won 26 titles fuelling a rivalry that is still to this day as bitter as in any sport.
The Dodgers are favourites to win the National League with a regular season record just one win behind the Astros but they have the monkey of losing in the world series in each of the last two years.
Of the rest the Twins are a nice story. Minnesota is a place I got to know well in the mid 2000s working there quite a lot. The people are great, the city is sports mad but rarely successful and the weather is brutal. It would be a nice story if they were to overcome the Yankees and advance especially as they have a brutal recent history of play-off losses to New York. I expect Houston to advance from the American League.
Who they face from the National League is more difficult to predict. I don’t expect LA to do so, I just think the scars of the last 2 years are too deep and will impact them. I discount the Braves because I think their lack post-season experience will count against them. I’m anticipating a straight fight between the Cardinals and the winner of the Wild Card game with me shading it toward the latter.
Whatever though I’ll be staving off the pangs of the end of the cricket season for another month and hopefully wearing orange all the way!