x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

MLB play-off race needs drama in troubled times

An anti-climactic season is panning out as bad news for fans waiting for some cheer amid recession fears and an unsolved labour deal.

Even before the arrival of Labour Day, the traditional start of the home stretch of the baseball season, the drama has been sucked out of many of the play-off races.

In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the game and a comfortable lead in the National League East. Their closest competitors in the standings, the Atlanta Braves, were too far out of first to bother the Phillies, but were themselves firmly in charge of the wild-card race.

The NL Central race was all but over, too, a second-half surge by Milwaukee sending them off and hiding from St Louis. The only race of consequence in the league, in fact, was in the West, where the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks were three games in front of the defending world series champions, San Francisco Giants.

Realistically, the only race over the final five weeks in the National League was for the West crown.

Things were not much more interesting in the American League.

As the weekend began, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, owners of the two best records in the league, were virtually guaranteed places in the play-offs, with only seeding (and AL East bragging rights) at stake.

Despite smart acquisitions in the last month, the Cleveland Indians seemed to be running out of momentum in the Central as the Detroit Tigers built a six-game lead.

As in the National League, the West divisional race was the only contest offering the potential for meaningful games in September.

The Rangers thought they had dispatched the Angels when they won the first three games of a four-game showdown series in Anaheim the prior week.

But the Angels won the fourth head-to-head meeting with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, and then ripped off five more wins while the Rangers slumped, going 1-6. In a week, the Angels had slashed a seven-game deficit down to a far more manageable two-game difference.

Of course, that is not much to count on. With six of the eight play-off spots spoken for, September may be highly anti-climactic.

That is bad news for baseball, which has to compete each autumn with the start of college football and the NFL. If fans are not drawn to compelling finishes to the regular season, re-igniting interest in the play-offs and World Series might prove more difficult than usual.

In a recovering economy and a labour deal still waiting to be negotiated, a drama-free September was the last thing Major League Baseball wanted or needed.

sports@thenational.ae


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