Remember the last day of baseball’s regular season last year? That was crazy, right? Spectacular collapses, spectacular comebacks, walkoff wins, playoff spots clinched, baseball fans everywhere losing their minds that everything was happening at once? It was one of the most memorable days of baseball – especially regular season baseball – we’d ever seen. And now here we are – we’ve reached the last day of the 2012 regular season. Could something similarly historic be in store?
Well… no. 2011’s last day was a once-in-a-generation, if not once-in-a-lifetime, situation. This year, all playoff berths are clinched. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth following: in fact, there’s plenty. Below, a look at a few storylines to keep an eye on as we approach the playoffs:
The AL East could be decided tonight. Right now, the Yankees are a game up on the Orioles, a lead they maintained thanks to an extra-innings win over the Red Sox last night. They play the Sox again today, while the Orioles face the Rays, who were only recently eliminated from playoff contention themselves. If the Yankees win today, they clinch the division regardless of what the Orioles do. If the Yankees and Orioles both lose, the Yankees also clinch.
Where it gets interesting is if the Yankees lose and Orioles win. That would mean a one-game playoff in Baltimore tomorrow to decide things (the teams, fittingly enough, tied 9-9 for the season series, so the Orioles would get home field advantage for that game due to their superior overall record in games against AL East opponents). Again, both teams have clinched playoff spots, but the difference between a guaranteed Division Series spot and having to play a one-game play-in against the other wild card team just to get there is significant, so there’s plenty on the line.
The AL West will be decided tonight. This one’s more cut-and-dried: the A’s and Rangers are tied. In a fortuitous bit of scheduling, the A’s and Rangers are also playing tonight. So what we’re looking at is essentially a one-game playoff for the division title disguised as a regular season game. Whoever wins takes the division. Whoever doesn’t gets the wild card spot. Nice and easy.
We might have a Triple Crown winner. The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera leads the American league in batting average (.331, seven points ahead of the Angels’ Mike Trout), home runs (44, one ahead of the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton), and RBI (139, 11 ahead of Hamilton). No one’s pulled the Triple Crown off since 1967, when the Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski did it. Cabrera’s one day away.
So what happens now? The Tgers have already clinched a playoff berth. Tigers manager Jim Leyland could sit Cabrera to protect his batting average (Trout would need to have an absurd game to overtake him), and the RBI total is safe unless Hamilton has one of the greatest games in baseball history (not that he’s not capable). But… those home runs. Hamilton is more than capable of hitting one or even two out tonight and ruining Cabrera’s shot at history – then again, since the Rangers-A’s game takes place so much earlier than the Tigers’ contest, Leyland can wait to decide.
Beyond that, it’s mostly about potential playoff matchups and home-field advantage. This is where it gets extremely messy, and Jayson Stark’s already broken it down more thoroughly than I could. What it boils down to: the Yankees, Orioles, A’s and Rangers all have near-identical records in the AL, while the Nationals and Reds currently have the same record in the NL.
The NL top seed will be determined pretty easily even if the Nats and Reds tie (the Nats will get it due to head-to-head advantage), but if the Yankees, Orioles and whoever wins the Rangers-A’s game all finish with the same record, then top seeding in the AL will be determined by who winds up winning the AL East title, and their head-to-head record against whoever wins the AL West title. Again, the link in the above paragraph has a fuller breakdown.
We think you’ll agree: even if it doesn’t compare to what happened last season, that’s plenty to keep tabs on. And depending on how things shake out today, there could well be more madness on Thursday. For a season this long, with so many games – many of those many, many games utterly meaningless as far as final standings are concerned – to again have something riding on so many games on the last day of the regular season is pretty cool. Consider it your reward if you’ve been following all along.