Super Sunday brings plenty of playoff possibilities
Take a bow, Major League Baseball. You’ve delivered a delightful amount of chaos for the final scheduled day of the regular season.
As of Sunday morning, we know the Los Angeles Dodgers will host the New York Mets in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. And that’s it. The pairings and/or locations for the other postseason matchups remain in doubt.
This is what the commissioner’s office had in mind when, for the first time, it instituted a universal start time of 3 p.m. ET for Game 162 this year.
Including a doubleheader between the Cardinals and Braves, there will be 16 games played on Sunday; seven have direct playoff implications. This is a day to muster every iPad in the neighborhood for a streaming extravaganza — the sort of national conversation (and media consumption) MLB hoped would materialize when the plan was hatched.
But there’s a competitive component, too, as the Texas Rangers are about to learn. After Saturday’s unfathomable loss to the Angels, in which Texas blew a four-run, ninth-inning lead in what should have been the division clincher, the Rangers will start ace Cole Hamels on Sunday afternoon, rather than rest him for the division series.
In another year, depending on start times, the Rangers might’ve been able to hold back Hamels while waiting for the second-place Houston Astros to play — just as the St. Louis Cardinals did with Adam Wainwright last year, preserving him for the postseason once the Pittsburgh Pirates lost on the final afternoon. Now there’s no more hedging. And by pitching Sunday, Hamels can’t start Game 1 of the AL Division Series on regular rest Thursday.
In other words, even if the Rangers clinch the AL West with a victory (or Houston loss) on Sunday, Saturday’s collapse already has compromised their chances of reaching the World Series — especially given the state of their bullpen. Setup man Sam Dyson and closer Shawn Tolleson have pitched on five straight days, meaning it’s almost unimaginable that either would pitch Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Astros have assured themselves of at least one game beyond Sunday. It could be a one-game playoff against the Rangers for the AL West. It could be a one-game playoff against the Angels for the second AL wild card. It could be a meeting with the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night.
Speaking of that possible Wild Card Game: It’s no longer certain that the Yankees will host it; their record is only one game better than Houston’s. If the Yankees lose while the Astros (and Rangers) win on Sunday, the Astros will host the Yankees on Tuesday because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A similar circumstance has unfolded in the National League, where the Chicago Cubs will earn the right to host the NL Wild Card Game if they win Sunday while the Pirates lose.
Are we headed for another historic day for the sport, like that final frenetic night of the 2011 season? That drama would be nearly impossible to replicate, but baseball planners and baseball players have created an environment conducive to the shaping of legends and building of memories. Now all we have to do is watch — seven games, coast to coast, at the exact same time — before filling out our brackets.