The Cutoff Man: Two Weeks Notice
Baseball season is almost over.
Welcome to the home stretch, folks. In merely two weeks, the regular season will be over and the postseason will begin. Which teams we will see playing October baseball will be decided in the next two weeks; not for a long time, though, have these next two weeks mattered so much for so many teams.
In 2007, the Mets seemingly gave their two weeks’ notice and played like a team resigned, losing a once-insurmountable division lead and missed the playoffs to the Phillies on the last day of the season. Meanwhile, in the National League (NL) West, Arizona, Colorado, and San Diego were all in a dogfight for both the division title and — with both the fading Mets and the fading Brewers — the NL wild card. Until those last two weeks, Colorado hadn’t even been a postseason afterthought, but with a remarkable 13–1 record down the stretch, the Rockies stormed into a one-game wild card showdown with the Padres, with Arizona barely eking out the division title. It was in that one-game, all-the-marbles playoff that the Rockies did what they’d done that season: They fell behind, seemingly doomed after losing the lead in the last inning, but rallied and won, sending themselves to the playoffs on a winning streak that wouldn’t end until the World Series.
How much crazier could that wild card have been? Consider this: Had the Mets won their last game of the season, they would have tied the Phillies with an 89–73 record. That, coincidentally, was the same record that the Padres and Rockies both finished with, which would’ve set up this scenario: a Mets-Phils one-game playoff, the winner of which went to the postseason as division champion, the loser of which would have played the winner of a one-game playoff between the Pads and Rox, and whoever won that final match would have been wild card champions. Two years ago, it was the American League (AL) Central that joined the NL wild card for the two-week drama. The White Sox tied the Twins for the division lead on Sept. 28, and the two went to a one-game playoff that the White Sox eventually won in dramatic fashion, sending them to the playoffs and sending the Twins home to prep themselves for a similar 2009. In the NL wild card race, the Mets, who had once again faded to cede the division lead to Philadelphia, were on pace to hit a playoff with the Brewers for the wild card title. But, again, the Mets lost to Florida on the final game of the season and Milwaukee won, avoiding what could have been another one-game wild card bonanza. Colorado, the comeback story of the year before, was nowhere to be seen; they’re certainly back this year, though.
The final weeks of 2009 saw only one truly tight race, as the Twins once again found themselves in a one-game playoff for the division title. This time they faced off against Detroit. After an intense game that remained tied from the eighth through the 12th, the Twins did what they couldn’t do the year before, winning the game and catapulting themselves into the postseason. The Rockies were once again wild card champions, though they didn’t take it in nearly as dramatic a fashion as they had two years prior.
Cue 2010. Once more, Colorado is ready to take baseball’s two weeks’ notice and show the world that they’d very much like to play on past September. Already the winners of 10 in a row, the Rockies entered Sunday’s action having won 13 of 17 games this month and trail the Padres by merely one game in the division and the Braves by 2.5 games in the wild card. They are riding on the back of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whose two-homer game on Saturday gave him a monstrous 14 home runs in 15 games. With San Diego finally floundering and the San Francisco Giants on-again, off-again, the Rockies look like they’re going to make this one even more memorable than 2007.
Atlanta, on the other hand, has its own battle to face. Similar to the Padres, the Braves enjoyed a comfortable division lead for most of the past few months before derailing in recent weeks. The Phillies have played their usual good September baseball and sat in first place by three games entering Sunday. Even though the Braves lead the wild card, the Rockies are certainly not making it easy, and the Braves seemingly have two uphill battles on their hands.
Strangely enough, the American League has no significant battles going into the last weeks of September. The only tight race is that between the Yankees and Rays for first place in the AL East; it doesn’t really matter, though, as whoever ends up in second will undoubtedly be the wild card champion.
So, regular season, your two weeks’ notice has been received. We look forward to what you can bring to the table in your final days, and expect nothing but good things when you are rehired come April.