During the frantic final days of the regular season, the Colorado Rockies blasted past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West and the Milwaukee Brewers moved onto the bumper of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
That knocked the Dodgers down into the second wild card slot, for the moment, and forced the Cardinals into catch-up mode this weekend at Wrigley Field.
They face a Cubs team desperate to hold off the Brewers, clinch another division title and avoid the play-in game.
What a crazy close to this season.
“It’s great for baseball,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told the Milwaukee Sentinel. “It makes for a fun last weekend for a bunch of cities and baseball fans everywhere. I’m not surprised by it. I think it’s what you hope for. You hope for a baseball season to go down to the end. We’ve got one this year.
“It doesn’t happen every year. It’s a great thing about our sport. We play a ridiculous number of games but we can still find a way to make the last week of the season as interesting as any sport out there.”
The Brewers and Rockies were the big stories this week, with Milwaukee sweeping the Cardinals at Busch Stadium and the Rockies running their timely winning streak to seven games.
“It’s nice to be the underdog,” Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez told the Denver Post. “People are not going to believe in you. Then when you do win, you shock everybody. And, right now, we’re shocking everybody.”
The Rockies’ streak began after the they suffered a three-game sweep against the Dodgers Sept. 17-19.
“There really wasn’t a thought that we were in trouble,” Rockies shortstop Trevor Story told reporters after his team swept the reeling Philadelphia Phillies in four games. “It was obviously not the best showing. It’s not like we were pumped about losing three games. But we knew there was still ball left to play. We’re a very tough team. I’ve said that a lot this year. Getting swept was real tough. How we responded was huge, and we’re still doing it.”
Give a world of credit to manager Bud Black, who landed in the Mile High City after the Washington Nationals low-balled him on a contract offer. These days the industry is turning more and more to low-cost, first-time managers and keeping more power in the general manager’s office.
Black reaffirms the value of established big league leadership. What he did with the Rockies this season was remarkable.
Naturally, he deflects the credit back to his players. “This time of year, there’s a really heightened focus,” Black said. “Our guys, our baseball aptitude, our baseball IQ shows every day. That’s a big part of our success.”
Milwaukee is one game back of the Cubs in the standings. The Brewers close out their season with three home games against the horrendous Detroit Tigers, who are 26-51 on the road this season.
Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich and Co. must handle that business and get some help from the Cardinals in order to topple the Cubs, who won their last two games heading into the weekend.
“We want another celebration this weekend,” Counsell said. “We have a big weekend ahead of us, a huge weekend ahead of us. We’ve got work to do still.”
Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:
Gabe Lacques, USA Today: “A dramatic finish to the Major League Baseball season – with five National League teams vying for three playoff positions – can’t reverse a season-long trend of attendance loss, with baseball poised to see its first significant decrease in a decade. With 15 clubs’ home seasons completed, and 11 of 15 weekend series lacking significant playoff implications, MLB attendance is down 4.2%. Seventeen of 30 teams will see a dip in attendance – eight of them reporting losses of 12% or higher. The average crowd of 28,774 is down from the 2017 mark of 30,042, ending a decade of attendance stability across the game. The 2008-2009 seasons saw a 7% drop, from 32,528 to 30,351, largely attributable to the Yankees and Mets bidding farewell to their old stadiums one year and moving into smaller-capacity venues the next. In the nine seasons that followed, average attendance landed in the 30,000 range, until this year.”
Sam Miller, ESPN.com: “The division between The Six Or Seven Superteams and The Dozen Or So Tanking Teams had been identified well before the season began, and if the National League subverted our expectations — the Nationals won’t make the playoffs, and it’s still even possible the Dodgers won’t, either — the American League didn’t. As it stands now, the league is on pace to have one team (the Angels) finish between 75 and 89 wins, while as many as four could win at least 99.”
Chris Almeida, The Ringer: “Like many 20-somethings, (Bryce) Harper is being forced to think about what he wants to do with his life. He’s lived and worked in the same city since he was 18, and has to decide if now, at 25, it’s perhaps time for a change. When he becomes a free agent after this season, he will have other opportunities, in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or elsewhere. It might be worth giving one a shot, so long as the money is right. The free-agent price tag that has orbited Harper, for more than a year, is a figure that could make even the richest MLB teams balk, despite Harper having an MVP and nearly 200 home runs under his belt. The Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton is the current owner of the richest contract in baseball, in the fourth season of a 13-year, $325 million deal. Harper could reportedly land the first $400 million contract in baseball history, a deal that would double as a lifetime commitment to the Nationals or any franchise willing to put it on the table.”
Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports: “Is this winter going to be as brutal for players as last offseason? Probably not. The Yankees and Dodgers won’t be trying to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. Lower-spending teams are feeling pressure from MLB to bump their payrolls. Nobody really wants a labor war, even if the relations between the league and union are pointing in that direction. The supply issue is a problem. There are going to be a significant number of players without jobs once spring training begins – players who will say the union is not doing its job. Part of it is a shift toward younger (and cheaper) players. Keeping a major league job isn’t as easy as it used to be.”
“I think we’ve done a good job of being able to turn the page, to move on, to focus on the task at hand, the next day’s game, recognizing that you can’t ever go back and change those losses. We just move forward and continue to play good, and ultimately it’s our depth. There are a lot of guys who have contributed to our success.”
Ryan Braun, on the Brewers’ resilience.