The playoffs are approaching, and perhaps an indirect benefit of expanding them is that the more flawed teams are competing for them, the funnier it can get.
It’s one thing to have 100+ win teams storming down the last weeks of the season. It’s another watching a few teams try to get to the checkered flag while the brakes barely work or there’s oil spewing out of the muffler and a tire has just flown off. It’s a different kind of entertainment, for sure.
That was the weekend in MLB. We already went over the Reds dropping a grenade into their own cereal on Saturday night. Most of the focus this weekend was in Arlington, Texas, as the Mariners and Rangers had a direct discussion over both the AL West title and a wildcard berth.
The series lined up perfectly in a styles-makes-fights fashion, as the Rangers were the bash-heavy outfit while the Mariners came in as the pitching-laden one. The M’s didn’t have either of their top starters, Luis Castillo and George Kirby, slotted for the series, and they probably wish today that they did. Seattle gave up 17 runs combined on Friday and Sunday as Bryan Woo and Bryce Miller became speedbags. Logan Gilbert, the M’s No. 3 starter, held it together far better, giving up only two runs in 5.2 innings, but the M’s couldn’t scratch anything against Jordan Montgomery.
The Rangers the past couple months have basically been doing their best to outsprint their own bullpen, attempting to get big enough leads that their collection of pyromaniacs stored behind the outfield wall couldn’t blow. It just barely worked against Seattle. They mustered an eight-run lead on Friday before the bullpen gave back five and got out of it with the tying run at the plate in the ninth. Sunday, the Rangers had a 7-2 lead before the pen made it 7-5 and turned a 9-5 lead into a 9-8 one and got out with the tying run on second in the ninth. But by the skin of one’s teeth counts as a win as much as a 10-run beatdown.
The perspective of those three wins changed even more when the Astros were done barfing up a lung to the Kansas City Royals, getting swept at home by a Royals team that struggles to find its way from the clubhouse to the dugout most nights. Framber Valdez picked an odd time to start throwing cupcakes around, while Hunter Brown continued to be a controlled detonation.
All of it has left the Rangers absolutely in the driving seat, 2.5 games up on the Astros and three games up on the Mariners, and those two teams will spend the next two days playing each other. So the Rangers should be gaining ground, or at least not losing ground, to someone every night. By the time they go to Seattle to close out the season, either the M’s or Astros might not even be a concern for Texas.
The demolition derby wasn’t restricted to just the AL West. In the second half of the season, there hasn’t been a better bullpen than Tampa’s, at least in terms of FIP and all the guys they strike out. So naturally, on Friday and Sunday, the Jays turned the Tampa pen into mush for two wins, scoring four runs on Friday and three runs on Sunday to ice another victory. The Jays now have a 2.5 game cushion for a wildcard spot, while the two teams behind them are having an alley knife fight at T-Mobile Park.
Elsewhere, the Marlins gave up 16 runs on Friday, and then won the next two games against an admittedly kicking-their-feet-up Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs actually acted like a team in a playoff spot playing the remedial class by sweeping the Rockies at Wrigley after tripping over their shoelaces against the Pirates and Rockies the previous 10 days. And the Padres ended their season’s meaning like they had spent all season, going 1-for-935 with runners in scoring position on Saturday night to blow a very winnable game against the Cardinals.
They died as they lived, if you can call the 2023 Padres living.
Nothing is settled yet, though it feels like the Reds have basically been culled from the NL race and the Jays are as close to safe without being officially so. But you can bet there will be more twists and turns in the last week because none of these teams are good enough to make it rudimentary. If they were, they wouldn’t be in this mess.
Such is the beauty of MLB’s new playoff system.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social