The playoffs are here, and there’s no better way to start than by throwing out the first ball Tuesday in Minnesota with the cheating Astros and their 29-31 record.
It’s entirely possible, if not terribly likely, that the Astros could suddenly discover a way to start hitting the ball and make the World Series once again. Once there, it’s also possible they could go up against the fearsome Milwaukee Brewers, a team that hasn’t cracked the .500 mark all year.
That, of course, would mean the best team in baseball would be gone before Clayton Kershaw even had a chance to properly warm up. It would also mean the Twins spent two months scraping and clawing their way to the top of the AL Central only to be sent home for losing two — count them, two — games.
Welcome to the playoffs, 2020 pandemic style. Don’t get too comfortable, because by the end of the week you could be gone.
Like unpredictability? How does every division winner potentially getting knocked out before the weekend sound?
Enjoy seeing underdogs get their shot? Then you probably don’t live in Southern California.
About the best thing that can be said about the first week of the postseason is this: You’ll be able to watch a lot of games on TV.
Sixteen teams. One knockout round. And they played a 60-game regular season for what?
Not much, it turns out. The best teams do get home-field advantage for opening week, though without fans it hardly matters. The cardboard cutouts at Dodger Stadium make the same amount of noise that they do at Miller Park, even if there’s no statue of Bob Uecker for them to crowd around.
Other than that, it’s win two and move on or lose two and be done. That’s true whether your regular season record was 29-31 in Milwaukee or 43-17 in Los Angeles.
No, the regular season wasn’t entirely meaningless. It did, after all, somehow eliminate 14 teams, though for some reason the Brewers weren’t one of them.
“We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it,’’ Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.’’
Actually, in Milwaukee’s case there might be a reason to say you’re sorry. The Brewers not only lost more games than they won, but couldn’t even win when it mattered most on the final day of the season and had to have help from the Padres just to get in.
Odds are they won’t beat the loaded Dodgers, either. If they had been in the same division, the Brewers would have finished a whopping 14 games behind in just a two-month season.
But strange things can happen during what could be just 18 innings of baseball at Dodger Stadium. And that could make the rest of the playoffs a farce, something Rob Manfred and company likely feared most when planning a postseason that prioritized TV revenue over everything.
To be sure, this might be the best baseball can do in the midst of a pandemic. For a long time it looked like there would be no season at all as players and management fought and then COVID-19 had its say.
Somehow we got two months of play that, if you weren’t looking too close, seemed a lot like baseball as usual. Even the purists had some good things to say about seven-inning doubleheaders and putting a runner on second base to start extra innings.
But these playoffs were not only hastily conceived, but artificially inflated. Worse yet, they give baseball cover to make expanded playoffs permanent in the future, something Manfred said earlier this month was in the works.
Still, even if the first week of the playoffs is badly flawed, it gets better as it goes on. No days off in the division and league championship series means the World Series will be here before we know it — and be finished before the kids put on their costumes to go out and trick or treat.
That there will be a World Series is perhaps the most important thing now at a time where nothing is really certain. That it will happen in October is an unexpected bonus.
In the end, a lot of things had to go right for baseball to even get in a season. Now it will get a champion, too.
Who knows, there may even be a parade in Milwaukee to celebrate when it’s all over.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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