Welcome to the madness of Game 162
Welcome to the chaos that Bud built, and I mean that as an absolute compliment.
The glorious mess we are about to witness will make Wednesday unique in baseball history.
It’s the final day of the regular season, and only one postseason matchup is decided — the National League wild-card game between the Braves and Cardinals.
The commissioner, Bud Selig, is getting exactly what he wanted with the additions of second wild cards in each league — crazy postseason-type drama before the postseason even begins.
He’s getting a winner-take-all game for the AL West title. He still could get a tiebreaker for the AL East title. And all of those doomsday travel scenarios that people have been talking about for weeks because baseball crammed its new playoff format into its old schedule?
Not going to happen.
The only possible tiebreaker would require the Yankees to make a relatively short trip to Baltimore on Thursday. And such a game only could take place if the sad-sack Red Sox beat the Yankees behind right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, which seems about as likely as Bobby Valentine becoming the next mayor of Boston.
Then again, a Baltimore victory and New York loss to force Game No. 163 would be entirely fitting, enabling Orioles manager Buck Showalter to perform one final act of Black Magic — er, Buck Magic — on his former team.
Here’s an even more bizarre scenario: If the Yankees and Orioles both lose and the Athletics win, your No. 1 seed in the American League will be none other than the team with the league’s lowest payroll, those wacky A’s.
First, however, we will see five Game No. 162s — five! — with postseason implications.
Let’s start in the National League, the more orderly of the two.
We know the No. 3 seed in the NL — that would be the Giants. We now even know the pitching probables for the wild-card game on Friday: Braves right-hander Kris Medlen and Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse.
What we don’t know is the identity of the No. 1 seed.
The Nationals and Reds enter the final day tied with 97 wins. The Nats hold the tiebreaker, by virtue of their superior head-to-head record.
So, if the teams finish with the same record, the Nats would be the No. 1 seed. They then would open the playoffs in the home park of the wild-card winner. (For this year only, the lower-seeded teams will open at home in the best-of-five Division Series as a way of removing an off-day and compressing the schedule. Next year, the format will revert back to 2-2-1.)
Anyway, the Nats would appear to be in a commanding position, except for two things: Their opponent Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET is Philadelphia left-hander Cliff Lee, who has a 1.07 ERA in his last seven starts. And the Cardinals suddenly have little incentive to beat the Reds.
No, the Cards clinched the second wild card shortly before 2 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, when the Giants eliminated the Dodgers. Cards rookie right-hander Shelby Miller now will start in place of righty Adam Wainwright, while Reds righty Homer Bailey, coming off his no-hitter, has been brilliant on the road all season.
Securing the top seed is important for two reasons — to gain an immediate edge in the DS, and to gain potential home-field advantage in the best-of-seven LCS.
The No. 2 seed will open the DS in San Francisco against Giants right-hander Matt Cain and possibly lefty Madison Bumgarner, both of whom starred in the 2010 World Series.
The No. 1 also will avoid the Braves’ Medlen or Cardinals’ Lohse until at least Game 3 of the DS, though the drop-off in both rotations, the Cardinals’ in particular, is not all that dramatic.
Now onto the AL, as in Actual Lunacy.
We know that the Tigers are AL Central champs and the No. 3 seed. And I’m sure manager Jim Leyland slept well Tuesday night, knowing that his team could face any of the four other qualifiers, depending upon the outcomes of Wednesday’s games, and maybe a Thursday game, too.
The biggest drama is in the West, where the Rangers held sole possession of the division lead for 176 days, starting on April 9, until falling into a first-place tie with the Athletics on Tuesday night.
The Athletics were a season-high 13 games back at the close of play on June 30. They still trailed by five games with nine to play. But suddenly, the two-time defending AL champion Rangers could end up in the wild-card game, and possibly on the road.
Right-hander A.J. Griffin, one of the Athletics’ five rookie starters, will oppose Rangers veteran righty Ryan Dempster at 3:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Momentum, as the old baseball adage goes, is the next day’s starting pitcher. But the Athletics have beaten the Rangers four times in the last eight days. And the home crowd at O.Co Coliseum might cause an earthquake doing the “Bernie” dance.
Back east, the Yankees will host the Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. ET, with right-hander Hiroki Kuroda facing Matsuzaka and another Red Sox lineup consisting of hobbling veterans and Triple-A call-ups. The Orioles, meanwhile, will play at Tampa Bay at 7:10, with right-hander Chris Tillman opposing righty Jeremy Hellickson.
If the Yankees win, they will finish with the league’s best record and open the Division Series at the wild-card winner on Sunday, with left-hander CC Sabathia pitching on an extra day’s rest.
If the Yankees and Orioles both win, the Orioles would host the wild-card game on Friday, earning the home game by finishing with a better record than the AL West runner-up.
If the Yankees and Orioles both lose, the Yankees still would be AL East champs, but not necessarily the No. 1 seed. They would finish with the same record as the AL West champion, but hold the tiebreaker only over the Rangers, not over the Athletics.
And if a tiebreaker for the AL East title is necessary on Thursday?
Left-hander Andy Pettitte would start for the Yankees. Rookie Steve Johnson, who injured his left knee and right foot when he was hit by a comebacker last Saturday, is in line to pitch for the Orioles, but Showalter almost certainly would lean heavily on his bullpen.
The loser of the Thursday tiebreaker would drop into the next day’s wild-card game. If the Orioles won the tiebreaker, Sabathia could come back to pitch the wild-card game on short rest for New York. In the event of a Yankees win, Baltimore left-hander Joe Saunders likely would start Friday.
The wild-card opponent? Well, that would depend on the outcome of the AL West. The site? Ditto.
Welcome to the chaos that Bud built.
The commissioner will be propping his feet up on Wednesday, grinning like a fool and watching the madness unfold.