By ALEX MULHALL – STAFF WRITER
The beginning of October means only one thing for Major League Baseball (MLB) fans: the playoffs. For the past several years, there has been a large amount of parity among the league teams, which has led to several repeat playoff contenders each year.
For example, the St. Louis Cardinals have made it to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) seven of the past ten years, including four straight from 2010 to 2014.
The American League Championship Series (ALCS) has experienced slightly more turnover in the past ten years, but it’s usually one of five or six teams, out of the 15 teams in the American League (AL), that represent the AL in the World Series every year.
This season marks a big shakeup for the league. Yes, the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have both made it to the NLCS again, but the ALCS features a matchup between the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles. This is the first time the Royals have made the playoffs since 1985. The Orioles clinched their division for the first time in 13 years and have the opportunity to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1983.
There’s finally something interesting about baseball again, and this spark could not have come at a better time for the sport.
As you may well know, the National Football League (NFL), which has dominated the national sports scene for some time now, has been much maligned by scandal from the players to its chief executives.
I will not be getting into the Ray Rice situation or call for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s job in this column, but the league has never mishandled so many public issues in a short period of time as they have in the past year.
The play of the NFL hasn’t been much better. There are no standout teams this year. The defending champion, Seattle Seahawks, still look like they could make a run for the Super Bowl, but they are not noticeably better than any other team. Every team looks like it could compete at this point in the season.
“But doesn’t that mean every game means more each week?” you may ask. Yes and no. Obviously, there is a chance for an outside team to make a run for the title this year. But parity across the league also means that there are no villains or underdogs.
For years, the New England Patriots were shoe-ins to make it to the Super Bowl, and every team was gunning for a shot at them. Now, basically every team is on an equal playing field, which makes football seem … boring.
Baseball is where the theater is now. Regardless of who wins the NLCS, both teams have enjoyed incredible amounts of success in recent years. Either the Royals or the Orioles will have an franchise changing opportunity on their hands to not only make history for their respective club, but they can also do it while upsetting a perennial powerhouse. Both teams are the ultimate underdogs.
Baseball needs this. The season is too long. No one wants to watch 162 games of the same sport, especially when each game takes three hours to complete. There’s a reason why the NFL and the NBA have overtaken the MLB in popularity.
This year’s playoffs gives the league a chance to reclaim some of the luster is has lost in the past few years. Teams across the MLB need to capitalize on the success of these two underdogs and use it to propel their franchises back to prominence. “If they can do it, why not us?” should be the motto of every MLB General Manager across the league, because if the MLB cannot slowly gain ground on it’s faster paced counterpart in basketball and football, it will slowly fade into obscurity and irrelevance.
This is it, Major League Baseball. Don’t let us down.