FOOTE: New Contenders Excite in MLB Playoff Race
The Hot Stove

For years, the MLB playoffs have been pretty vanilla. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have always had their success. The Los Angeles Angels have been consistently good, and the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers put together a few seasons in which they challenged for the World Series. In the National League, even fewer teams competed for supremacy, among them the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. To sum it up, baseball has been predictable. Baseball has been boring.

But not this year. Fresh off a season in which the Kansas City Royals reached Game 7 of the World Series after not reaching the playoffs since winning it all in 1985, professional baseball is giving way to new contenders. Out are the Red Sox, the Tigers and the Rangers. In are the New York Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The last team, the Toronto Blue Jays, are probably surrounded by the most excitement at the moment. They, like the Royals of 2014, have endured their own postseason drought, spanning back to their 1993 World Series victory.

Additionally, they were extremely aggressive at the trade deadline, indicating their desire to go for a playoff run this season. They sacrificed a large part of their future, offloading numerous highly touted prospects, most notably left-handed pitcher Daniel Norris and right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman in exchange for the services of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left-handed pitcher David Price. Thus far, they have reaped the benefits. They are 11-0 since Tulowitzki’s arrival and recently swept the first-place New York Yankees. They will be an extremely exciting team to follow come October.

The Chicago Cubs are equally exciting. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon have brought the buzz back to Wrigley Field. The Cubs’ regular starters include six position players under the age of 25, but they still have the third-best record in the National League in spite of their inexperience. They’ve won 10 of 11 games and just swept the reigning world champion, the San Francisco Giants, in a four-game series. Their youth movement has them right back in contention, and with some luck, this team could end its 107-year World Series victory drought.

The Pirates may have the best team in all of baseball. Critics freely toss around the term “swagger,” but the Pirates have embodied the term; it cannot be understated how gritty the Pirates’ style of play has been. They play their best against the best, as evidenced by their sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers this week. They’ll need to catch the Cardinals, who have a 3.5-game lead, in order to avoid the Wild Card play-in game, but they are serious contenders.

The Mets and the Astros have both experienced huge turnarounds. The Mets have done it on the backs of their great young pitchers, led by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, while the Astros have put together a young group that just finds a way to win. It also doesn’t hurt that they have Carlos Correa, a former No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft and a future superstar, excelling at shortstop.

Of course, some of the consistent contenders are still there. The Royals, the Angels and the Yankees are looking good in the American League, and so are the Dodgers and the Cardinals in the National League, but the emergence of new contenders is always dramatic. The Mets aren’t expected to contend. Neither are the Cubs, nor the Astros nor even the Blue Jays (of previous years), but here they are, in the middle of the playoff race in the August. It is still extremely possible that the Royals and the Cardinals will square off in the World Series, but try to tell me you’re not secretly wishing for a Cubs-Blue Jays series. You can’t, because that would be can’t-miss television.




Jake Foote is a rising sophomore in the College. The Hot Stove appears every Thursday.



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