The MLB 2009 Season, Part 1, is now at an end. What have we learned so far?
- Manny Ramirez cheated
- Alex Rodriguez cheated
- The Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians probably SHOULD cheat (at least they’ll need to if they want ANY chance of competing for the postseason)
We’ve also seen the Mets struggle with injuries, the Dodgers get off to their best start in 32 years (maybe Manny was doing them a favor by sitting out 50 games!), and we saw the AL dominate interleague play once again (perhaps a little World Series foreshadowing?).
So, which division race will be the most exciting to watch as we move into MLB Season, Part Deux? For me, it’s gotta be the AL Central. Hollywood writers couldn’t have created a more perfect set-up for the drama, excitement, and eventual payoff that will come from this race. No other division in baseball is going to offer as much as the battle between the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.
Let’s break it down:
This will be a three team race.
Out of all three teams at the front of the AL Central, none have emerged as a clear favorite. When you consider head-to-head standings between these three teams, the Tigers (the current AL Central leaders) are a combined 6-10 against the White Sox and Twins. At the same time, the White Sox are a combined 9-8, and the Twins (currently the farthest back from Detroit) are a combined 10-7 against each other.
While the Tigers have built an early 3.5 game lead in the Central, their inability to perform against their primary competition calls into question whether or not they will effectively hold onto that lead.
There is little to no potential for a consolation prize.
In the AL Central, more than any other division, the race will truly be for all the marbles, meaning that the losers of the AL Central race have the least likelihood of contending for a wild card spot, as the likely winner will either come from the AL East or AL West. It’s do-or-die, and do-or-die is high drama.
To put it another way: Which is more exciting to watch in a seven game postseason series, game one or game seven? Game seven is more exciting because it’s do-or-die. Sure, teams WANT to win game one, but losing game one doesn’t mean you go home. There is greater pressure to succeed when you are in a do-or-die situation, making the stakes much higher.
This race is timed to peak perfectly.
What is rule number one for any great story? Don’t climax too early (okay, so that’s a rule for more than just story-telling, but I digress…).
In any race, the most dramatic games are when the contending teams actually play each other. People would rather watch the drama unfold on the field than watch for scoreboard updates from across the league. When I look at the close of the season for the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers, I have to stand up and cheer!
Rather than close their schedules against teams like the Indians, the Royals, or the Orioles, all three of these teams are scheduled to close their respective seasons out in epic fashion by facing off against each other. It’s the equivalent of starting the playoffs two to three weeks early.
In the Detroit Tigers final five series, they play the Twins and Indians, and then they play the White Sox, the Twins AGAIN, and then the White Sox AGAIN! That means 13 of their final 16 games are played against the very teams trying to knock them off the top of the mountain. When you consider their previous performance against those teams (winning only six of their first 16 combined meetings), it seems like an uphill battle… and they’re currently in first place!
The White Sox, in similar fashion, finish by playing Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, and then Detroit again. That makes for nine of their final 12 games against the other contenders.
Last, the Twins wrap up against the Tigers, the White Sox, the Royals, then the Tigers and Royals one more time (10 of their final 16 games against the division’s top teams).
The AL Central race will not be decided until the final games of the season, and will be decided ON THE FIELD, where the champion will be crowned because they earned it in blood, sweat, and tears!