September usually marks the time of year when most American sports fans switch gears from baseball to football. But before every sports fan switches his or her attention to football, the last month of the baseball season is shaping up to be as good as any other.
Only three teams, Minnesota in the American League and Atlanta and St. Louis in the National League, have playoff spots locked up heading into the home stretch. Of the five remaining playoff positions, the race for the National League wild card figures to be the best of the bunch.
Those ‘loveable losers,’ the Chicago Cubs, lead the wild goose chase with a 73-60 record, one game ahead of San Francisco, with the San Diego Padres in a close third at 71-61.
If the thrill of having three teams chase for one playoff spot isn’t enough, then each team has its own sentimental sub-plot to enchant their fans until the end of the season. In Chicago, the Cubs are not only trying to erase a 96 year championship drought, they are also trying to erase the pain of watching the upstart Florida Marlins overcome a 3-1 series deficit against them in the National League Championship Series last year on their way to a World Series Championship.
In San Diego, the Padres are defying the odds and still remain in contention, after almost every baseball pundit imaginable-including myself-thought they were headed for the cellar of the National League West. Not only are the Padres third in the wild card standings, they still have an outside shot at the division crown as their last 23 games are against division opponents, with seven of those being against division leading Los Angles.
And, in San Francisco two words can describe all the hysteria around the club, Barry Bonds. Amid accusations of using steroids, Bonds is in contention for an unprecedented seventh MVP award-no one else has four. Continuing his incredible disregard for the history books, Bonds is inching closer to his 700th home run, and shattering the single season walks record, something he already owns.
Even fans of teams who know their fate for the 2004 season have things to be optimistic about. Out in Houston, Roger Clemens has been nothing short of unbelievable for the Astros this season. Even after allowing five runs in six innings, Clemens has been the lone star for a team that has vastly underachieved this season.
In Detroit, fans couldn’t be happier that their Tigers are nine games below .500 with a month to play. Of course, you would be, too, if your team had to win five of its last six to avoid having the worst record in the modern era.
With so many players, teams and stories to follow this last month of the baseball season, fans should put those plans of tailgating on hold for a few weeks to watch the Boys of Summer race to see who will participate in the Fall Classic.
Will Brown, 19, is a junior broadcast journalism student from Rockledge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org