The San Francisco Giants line up during pre-game ceremonies for Game Three of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park on October 6, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
By Maria Judnick
With both the Giants and the A's clinching playoff spots this year, it’s been hard not to be swept up in the Bay Area’s fastest spreading phenomena – baseball fever. For the diehard fans, it’s easy to love the pageantry of the playoffs where every at-bat and every out is a chance for your team to make history. But, for the bandwagon fans, the “hunt for October” is a nail-biting time of endlessly trying to understand why everyone at the local bar suddenly went nuts. So, to make life a little easier, here are seven things you need to know about postseason baseball to survive small-talk at your neighborhood sports bar:
1. How the Postseason Actually Works:
Sure, to an outsider, the pennant race may seem long, but the expanded system of a few elimination rounds -- started in 2012 -- is relatively straight-forward. For both of the baseball team leagues (the American and National Leagues, which each have smaller East, Central, and West divisions), there is a one-game wild-card playoff against the teams with the best records that didn’t win their divisions. Then, each league hosts a best-of-five between the division winners (one division winner plays against the wild-card game winner). From there, the teams play the best-of-seven to see who wins the League Pennant (a fancy flag that teams display at their ballparks). The American and National League winners then face each other in the best-of-seven World Series a.k.a. The Fall Classic. Simple, right? Still confused? Check out this helpful diagram.
2. How the Giants Are Doing:
Both Bay Area teams this year ended up with identical regular season stats -- 88 wins and 74 losses. The Giants are the second (and last) National League wild-card winners and faced the Pirates in Pittsburg last week. While baseball is a game of statistics (just ask Nate Silver, who started crunching baseball numbers before expanding his sights to politics), the Giants have defied the odds in recent years. Since 2010, the Giants have won the World Series in every even year (2010 and 2012), making 2014 seem promising. While recently the Giants’ pitching and hitting have been a concern, they turned it around just in time to face the Pirates, breezing past them easily with a score of 8-0. There’s a reason why beloved broadcasters, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper love to say “Giants baseball…torture!” as the Giants tend towards come-from-behind, nail-biting victories. Look for the names Hunter Pence (he’s the colorful “preacher” of the team), Panda (real name: Pablo Sandoval), Baby Giraffe (Brandon Belt), and the Bum (Madison Bumgarner). Bruce Bochy, the Giants’ manager (or “skipper”) since 2006 is the all-time NL Western Division leader in managerial wins. The Giants face the Nationals today.
3. How the A’s Did:
The A’s, the second American League wild-card winners, faced the Royals in Kansas City last week. If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball, you realize that the A’s have been perennial underdogs for years. Despite their ancient home stadium O.co Coliseum (it opened in 1966) being known now mostly for sewage problems, the Athletics far from stink. While they’ve been in a slump recently, the A’s have made it to the playoffs for the last three seasons and were Division Champions the last two years. Ranked 25th out of 30 teams in salary, the A’s have a right to be proud of their “green collar” baseball. The wildcard game went 12 innings and the A’s Brandon Moss set a team postseason record with five RBIs (runs batted in). Even with Moss’ two home runs and a large A’s lead for part of the game, the mood in Kauffman Stadium stayed jubilant and helped the Royals advance.
4. What’s Unique This Year:
While the 40-year-old Derek Jeter may have retired and played his last game in Yankee Stadium, fans will be talking about the team captain for a long time to come, thanks to his class act and five World Series championships. Look for the Kansas City Royals to be taking over the press void. They finally broke a 28 year streak of not qualifying for the playoffs, one of the longest current streaks in North American professional sports. To further their underdog status, the Royals have one of the lowest team salaries. Also on the radar, the Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) have never won a World Series and could be serious contenders this year (see #6).
5. Why Bud Selig’s Final Season Matters:
Derek Jeter isn’t the only person set to finally retire this year. Love him or hate him, baseball commissioner Bud Selig has put his imprint on the game for the last 22 years. Rob Manfried will be the new 10th Commissioner. Selig is known for overseeing some tough years in baseball – from the steroid scandals to strikes – so it will be up to Manfried to keep the leagues running smoothly.
6. What Baseball Prospectus Thinks:
Baseball fans love their stats. From ERAs (earned run average) to RBIs (runs batted in) to on-base percentages, just about everything in baseball is quantifiable. The World Series odds are no exception. Baseball Prospectus, a popular statistics website, predicts that the Fall Classic will be between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Washington Nationals. The Angels have the best record in baseball (98 wins, 64 losses), but the Nationals aren’t far behind (96-66). While fans would love an East Coast / West rivalry, others are hoping for a different type of World Series -- the Battle for L.A. --between the Angels and Dodgers.
7. Why the Playoffs Matter:
But in the end, no matter which teams make it to the Fall Classic, we’ll all watch it anyway. America’s pastime is called that for a reason and the playoffs are a time when legends are made. From Red Sox’s pitcher Curt Shilling’s bloody sock game (he took the mound for seven innings on an injured tendon) in 2004 to Mr. October’s (Yankee Reggie Jackson) three home run game in 1977 to Dodger Sandy Koufax’s two game shut-out in 1965, memorable moments are made every generation. For older baseball fans, that may still mean the Yankee’s Babe Ruth’s calling his shot in the 1932 series or the Giants’ Willie Mays’ incredible catch in Game 1 of the 1954 series. No matter what moment replays over and over again in your mind, the joy of baseball is not found solely in the stats but in the sheer emotion of the players and the fans during the game. It’s a game of parents and their kids, of immigrants, of little leaguers dreaming of one day shooting a home run straight into the lights. So, even if your team wins or loses, there’s what the Chicago Cubs like to say, “there’s always next year!”