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Who's In The Hunt For Baseball Playoffs?


Three weeks remain in Major League Baseball's regular season. Can't promise that September will end as dramatically as last year, but things are looking pretty interesting. An expanded post-season will make this year's playoffs a little different, and NPR's Mike Pesca is with us for some analysis. Mike, good morning.


INSKEEP: OK, five teams from each league make it to the post-season this year. How does that change things?

PESCA: It changes it a lot because if you look at who's still in the race in the wildcard, the answer is everyone with a winning record. In fact, you can maybe make the case that a couple teams who just pulled to 500 - Philadelphia and the Milwaukee Brewers - they're only four games out of the wildcard spot. So I would say, you know, maybe there was a 5 to 10 percent chance those two teams make it. But basically, if you're mediocre or better, you're interested in September baseball. There's the new slogan.


INSKEEP: Is baseball on its way, then, to being a little bit like the NBA - you have to work hard to miss the playoffs?

PESCA: Yeah, except it's all the rhythm of baseball; and so there's no point in really taking off a bunch of games in the middle of the season to rest your starters, and that sort of thing. Baseball, you know, baseball flows like the tide. And it's one of those sports where you go away for a week vacation; you found out your team won five games in a row, and you're like, great. But this is the point of the season where every single game starts to feel like the other sports - right? - where a win or a loss starts to really help or hurt.

INSKEEP: OK. So let's talk about some teams that are definitely going to be in the playoffs this fall, first - not all of them, but at least some.

PESCA: I'd say the Nationals surely will be in - how about that? The Rangers - the Texas Rangers; the A's look to have a very good shot at the playoffs because they're leading by four games in the wildcard. And the Reds - the Cincinnati Reds; although their closer, Aroldis Chapman, who throws 105.1 miles per hour - and I know that because he has a tattoo of that number.


PESCA: He was recently - he's a little fatigued. And this caused "Old Hoss" Radbourn to tweet: Aroldis Chapman is fatigued after throwing 67 innings. I am hiring a Rubenesque Italian lass to sing a dirge, as manliness had died this day. Now, a little context: "Old Hoss" Radbourn is a tough guy, and he once won 59 games in a season, but he did die in 1897. So I don't think that was the real "Old Hoss" Radbourn tweeting.

INSKEEP: Maybe not, maybe not - although it sounded like - kind of - what he'd say.

PESCA: Yeah, that's how Old Hoss would talk right now.

INSKEEP: Sure, exactly. It's the way he is. It's the way he is. So the Yankees are doing pretty well - the little, small-market, low-budget team that could. But Baltimore - Baltimore is tied with the Yankees, if I'm not mistaken.

PESCA: They are. They pulled - they won last night, and the Yankees lost. And so, you know, if I had to analyze Baltimore's success, it's feel-good and it's grit, but you know what it is? It's a lot of luck. They actually have had more runs scored against them, than they've scored runs. And teams like that almost always lose.

Now, I hope that Baltimore fans are hearing me and saying: Stuff it, math guy. But I do have to point out that their record, their spectacular record in one-run games, seems mostly like luck. And that's OK; you could get lucky, and win in the post-season. But they're 25 and 7 in games decided by one run. Good luck - you know, great for them. I would say that maybe their success is more based on good fortune than great hitting.

INSKEEP: OK, Baltimore fans, if you want to vent your rage at Mike, he's on Twitter at PescaMi, M-I...

PESCA: "Old Hoss" Pesca, yes.


INSKEEP: Old Hess - Old Hoss. Old Hoss. That's fine. OK, we've just got a few seconds left here, but what teams do you think should deserve to feel disappointed at this point?

PESCA: You know, the Dodgers are - they could still make the playoffs' they're one game out of the wildcard. But they made that huge trade for Adrian Gonzalez - hit a home run in his first game of the Red Sox; he hasn't hit a home run since. The Dodgers were just a great team to begin the season, when Matt Kemp was hitting 355. He got injured, and they're a 500 team. The last three months, they actually lost. Actually, they're below 500; they lost 1-nothing yesterday. So I would say the Dodgers are disappointed. And the Astros will lose over a hundred games. They won't lose the most ever but what a sad, sad season for the Astros.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Pesca never disappoints. Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.