Last weekend cleared up most, but not all, of the uncertainty about the remaining baseball post-season qualifiers. Detroit should clinch its division tonight, or soon enough, and Oakland and St.Louis are in position to lock up their playoff spots in each league. The identity of the 10 teams making it into the post-season would then be finalized.
The past few days have been very hard on my preseason picks, with the Brewers, Phillies, and D'backs all eliminated over the weekend and the Rays and Angels set up to be eliminated. These were all worthy teams in terms of talent that came on strong (especially Tampa Bay), but too late. That will leave me with only five correct postseason teams out of the ten: the Yanks, Reds, Braves, Tigers, and Rangers.
One battle with the outcome not yet indicated is for the AL East division chmpion, vs. the other AL wild card, between Baltimore and New York. This is clearly an important outcome--the winner of what is generally considered the best division in baseball must be considered a top contender for the pennant, while the loser of the contest will have an uphill struggle to make it to the championship series.
Or so it has been designed, anyway: One big piece of the plan was that the play-in game between the two wild cards, which will deplete the winning team of its best starter (one would expect each team should be able to schedule it so its ace goes in the single game, unless the race for the slot goes down to the final days) ; then, the survivor gets the team with the best record, which will have a day of rest and home-field advantage.
The problem is that the battle for the last spots is intense, and the survivor will be a hot, if tired, opponent for the team with the best record. That is why I'm half-hoping that the Reds end up with the second-best record, instead of first. I think I would rather they face the Giants (with home-field advantage) than the survivor of the Braves-Cards (or Braves-Dodgers, if somehow LA makes it). That goes against the intended wisdom; we shall see in the next couple of years how it plays out, but recent history advises to be wary of the wild cards.
The seedings in the AL are not at all finalized--besides NY-Baltimore, Texas and Oakland are playing a series which could cause them to flip positions, as well. The one team in the AL postseason which knows its spot--Detroit, as the #3 seeded division winner--would be my pick for the league championship (they were my preseason pick for the world championship), I like their combination of starters, hiters, and bullpen.
In the NL, I have to pick the Reds for personal reasons, and I think they have as good a shot as any. If the Braves win their one-game matchup, though, they would be the team I would fear most. I have to think that the Nationals, like the Orioles in the AL, are likely to underperform in the postseason due to their relative youth and lack of postseason experience. The Giants and the Cards both have recent World Championships, but I feel that they used up their supply of good luck in those victories. So, I'll go with Reds-Tigers in the World Series; we'll reassess in a couple of weeks if that doesn't happen and predict the winner if it does.
Ryder Cup Epic Fail
Yielding to my proven ineptness, I gave up golf a few years ago, but I have had enough experience with the game to have some sense of the mind-numbing, tremor-inducing pressure the Ryder Cup players experienced on Sunday. So, I won't criticize the American team's play or its tactics; I will point out that actually Europe has a greater population to draw upon than the US (though maybe less golf-playing men), because I can't think of any other excuses.
I will say that, while golf is normally the second most boring sport ever shown on TV (just ahead of bowling, and poker is not a sport), this was compelling TV viewing. The number of different close matches being played simultaneously was unique, from my limited golf-watching experience, and there was a lot at stake (in golf terms). And what a beautiful course, and a beautiful day for it!
The Scabs Were not the Refs
The fourth weekend of NFL play held an escalating tide of missed calls and erroneous rule interpretations, all dutifully revealed by the TV networks' in-house rule geeks. This was capped by a howler on Monday night, when the two refs ruled differently on a game-ending Hail Mary pass that was either a win-clinching interception by the Packer defensive back or a winning touchdown catch by the Seattle wide receiver. The referee whose ruling prevailed had the worst angle and got it wrong (somehow, this scoring play was not reviewable); the Packers left the field rather than allowing the point after to be played.
That fiasco sent the owners into a hurried re-think; rather than gaining mastery over the complex NFL rules, the new referees were becoming a story with major negatives for the league (to be fair, the broadcasters did not shy from criticism). So, within 48 hours, there were concessions that couldn't be made in the previous 48 days, and the referees' union was offered a satisfactory contract for its employees. The replacement referees were put back on the street, or refereeing high school games, or whatever.
I think this lockout of the regular referees was clearly a bad tactic by the NFL; the complexity of the rules to be enforced has increased dramatically, driven by intention to protect the quarterbacks and receivers, bearers of the exciting game that attracts viewership, and to facilitate instant replay (adds a few commercial breaks to each telecast). It's challenging enough to expect full-time professionals to understand all the subtleties, and too much for short-timers to pick up.
Speaking of scab owners, the NHL seems not to have learned from its previous near-death experience and has once again locked out its players.