So, the Red Sox are sunk. This happened the other day, as I was following along, quietly hoping for a win but knowing strictly based on intuition that this wasn’t the kind of series for it. The Sox were the kind of team they always were; tough, gutsy, full of players you love to love. Just not, it would seem, a team meant for playoff greatness. Even when they seemed good, in hindsight it was always clear, at some subconscious level, that they weren’t good enough.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have lost in three straight, as seemed inevitable for that kind of team. What do the Diamondbacks have going for them? Sure, they’ve got Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez (my candidate for N.L. MVP!) anchoring the lineup and Zach Greinke and Robbie Ray and all kinds of successful roll players you tend to find on teams with 93 wins. But are they really a winning team? Were they the kind of team to go on a magical, improbable run, dethroning the presumptive pennant-winning Dodgers in the process? The answers are maybe, and certainly not. The Diamondbacks were good, but they weren’t special — and good doesn’t always cut it. Certainly not when the Dodgers rotation is involved, at any rate.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and the Nationals continue to jockey for a spot in the championship series; the Nationals having never won a playoff series, game five later today takes on a special emotional significance to those who can recall Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout; that is to say, Mets fans. The Cubs on their own are an easy enough team to root for: their World Series win last season brought joy to a city that had been lacking for far too long, and their cohort of young, seemingly-affable talent, with elder statesmen thrown in every now and again to provide the balance that playoff teams so often display in abundance. The Cubs are a likable team; that much is hard to doubt. But they’re certainly not the team they were last year, as their trouble in dispatching the Nationals demonstrates: even against an ailing Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs mustered nothing. Whether that augurs well for game five, I couldn’t tell you. That’s baseball.
Likable as they are, though, the Cubs affability can’t help but diminish in the face of their tepid play: they’ve allowed the eternally loathsome and veritably mediocre Nationals to hang around in a series that should be long gone. The Nationals are like the Sox without the heart: they’ve got the talent, but there’s nothing special there: the nothing is emphatic. There’s no heart down in Washington, no zing, no fire: the Nationals are nothing more than a group of highly talented baseball players doing well because they’re good. I’ve been to two of their games in person; jostling for position on the train ride home was more exciting, and maybe louder. If the Nationals should win the series, and send the Cubs to an early and surely painful offseason (nobody likes an early exit after a big year; just ask Mets fans about that), I will momentarily reflect on the sad truth that they will no longer have never won a playoff series, and a prime line of mockery against their scant fanbase will be moot. Then I will look forward, and contentedly anticipate their demolition, a process I expect will be nothing more or less than absolute and systematic destruction, at the hands of the Dodgers. The bums, no longer in Brooklyn and far less special for it, aren’t exactly a Cinderella team themselves, but they’re good enough to win anyway. They’ve got the character of the Diamondbacks, and far more than that of the Nationals, and what’s more, they’re simply eons more talented.
And of course, having beaten the Red Sox, the Astros wait in Houston to start their championship series against the Yankees, who I worry can’t possibly lose even as I reassure myself can’t possibly win. The Yankees have all kinds of series, and can announce which type they’ll play at any time, in any manner: just as it is eminently possible that the Bums (used pejoratively) from the Bronx storm out to a lead in game one and never look back — in fact, I often lie awake late into the night, contemplating this fearful possibility — I can only too easily remember the 2012 ALCS, when the Yankees stormed in after a rollicking Division Series and lost to the Tigers in spectacularly unimpressive fashion. The Yankees teams were different, and the opponents even more so, but the fact remains: any and all possibilities remain in play.
That’s what happens in playoff baseball, when great hitters lose their touch, aces’ fingers betray their minds, and slick fielders develop a drag to their glove hand. Baseball in October brings out the best in some, the worst in others, and nothing in particular in most: where each of these will come from depends almost entirely on which particular October it is. In October 2017, there’s still half a month and change remaining: what happens, and which names will be remembered, and how, is entirely up to the players on the field, and the skippers in the dugout. That’s the magic of October, even when your team has gone home for an early winter break: it’s nothing more than a 30 day blitz, a high-speed hodge podge of news and development and analysis and “wow, you think so?” Because that’s baseball for you: anything can happen, and often, it does.
So, onward we go, on to tense nights and tired eyes and glasses half full, left forgotten on the window sill as the game continues into its fourth hour and it feels wrong to get up and fill your water. It’s the National pastime in October, showcased at its finest: it’s playoff baseball. Buckle up and let the best team win. Just let the Yankees lose first.