Last night was a momentous night for pennant races, as the Rays, Yankees, and Reds clinched postseason berths. But those were all foregone conclusions. The real news happened when the Padres lost a game to the Cubs on the field and a devastating game in both the NL West and Wild Card standings.
San Diego now needs to pick up a game tonight, take two of three from the Giants in San Francisco this weekend, and win a 1-game playoff the next day. If they can’t gain a game tonight, they need an unlikely road sweep over the weekend. It’s even less likely that they’ll catch the Braves, who finish the string against Florida and Philadelphia teams without much to play for.
For the Friars, it’s been a wild run. Nobody saw them playing meaningful baseball games in the last weekend of the season. It’s practically a miracle that Adrian Gonzalez is even on the team this long after a trade deadline that could have restocked the farm system to make seasons like this one possible in the not-so-distant future. Mat Latos briefly emerged as a Cy Young candidate and Heath Bell proved that he may be the best closer in the National League without even being the best reliever on his own team.
Depending on your view (and on your favorite team), the 162-game season may be the best or worst thing about baseball. Over a month of baseball, strange things can happen. Troy Tulowitzki can post an OPS over 1.500. Carlos Zambrano can go 7-0 after five miserable months. The Orioles can have the best record in the AL East. The problem for teams expecting the unexpected is that, over 162 games, the best teams find their way to the top.
The Padres could have been a great October story. Still, it’s good to know that, barring one more surprising surge, eight of the ten or eleven best teams in the league will be competing for a World Series this fall.