Major League Baseball’s postseason begins on Tuesday with the first of two winner-take-all wild-card games . ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian joined Bill Littlefield for a preview.
BL: The rational for expanding the postseason last year was that in doing so they would get greater interest in more cities deeper into the season. Has that been the case in the National League cities this year?
TK: I think it has been. I think this way works. What it does is it keeps more teams interested, more teams involved, and it adds greater integrity to the regular season. I mean, if the Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs after 20 years, play one wild-card game on the road, and lose, suddenly this great season doesn’t have a whole lot to it. That’s why you have to win your division, and that’s why this wild-card Game 7 type atmosphere on October 1st really works — at least it did last year.
BL: Well it’s interesting that you brought up the Pirates to create that example because wouldn’t it be a fine thing for baseball in general if the Pirates lasted more than one game into the playoffs?
TK: Yeah, I think we’re all kind of privately rooting for that. In the end Bill, I’m only rooting for the story and the Pirates making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, finishing over .500 for the first time in over 20 straight years — keep in mind the Yankees have only 22 sub .500 seasons in their history. The Pirates had 20 in a row! I think it would be great if the Pirates made it deep into the playoffs because people would then understand the history of that team a little bit, the beauty of that ballpark, and it would just give all other small-market teams hope that you can make the playoffs and then do something in October.
BL: Alright Tim, here’s the flip side to what we were talking about before. In the American League over the last few weeks, Cleveland and Tampa Bay have been among the contenders for a wild-card slot. Both teams have enjoyed recent winning streaks, but attendance in both cities has been less than spectacular. Why?
TK: I’m really surprised by Cleveland to begin with because they had a new manager who had won two World Series, Terry Francona, and you would think the interest there would be up, and instead it’s taken until very, very late in the season for anyone to notice that the Indians are not only pretty good, but they are really fun to watch. I cannot explain that one.
Tampa Bay, I can explain that. They’re in a terrible ballpark in a terrible location and it’s a very interesting thing there. Their TV ratings for the Rays — very good. People there are interested in the local team. They just don’t got to the ballpark. An open-air beautiful ballpark somewhere else in that area would certainly work a lot better than this.
BL: Alright Tim lets give credit to the teams who have secured the division titles: The Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Braves, the A’s, the Tigers, and the Red Sox. Which of those six looks best prepared to win it all?
TK: I really like the Red Sox at this point, Bill. With the understanding that I don’t think there’s a great team out there. I don’t think there’s a team out there that you say, ‘For certain, I think they’re gonna win.’ But I think the Red Sox are best equipped. They have a great mojo going there with John Farrell. They are the leading run scorers in the American League. Their pitching is now well above average now that they’ve stabilized their starting rotation with Clay Buchholz, and Koji Uehara their closer has been unhittable for about two and a half months. So, I think they are really primed to be a really good team in the postseason. But Bill, you know I’m wrong a lot when we get to October let alone from April to October.