There’s no denying that the ALCS is a bigger draw than the NLCS this year. The Yankees always garner eyeballs, New York and Houston have a recent, contentious history, and there is no fence straddling when it comes to the Astros’ cheating scandal. Either they should have a postseason ban like a college basketball program getting barred from participating in March Madness for NCAA violations, or fans should be over it by now.
As for the NLCS, there’s no playoff history between the Phillies and the Padres. If anything, the general feeling toward these two teams is resentment because they prevented three 100-plus-win NL teams from a chance at the World Series. Add in that people are as apathetic toward San Diego as they are spiteful of Philly, and you have a recipe for disinterest. I don’t care about a ratings disaster either. If only big markets are allowed to reach the biggest stage, then why do we have small markets?
If you’ve been paying attention though, the “second-rate” series has had better games. Justin Verlander made sure the Yankees bats stayed quiet in Game 1, and Alex Bregman scored all of Houston’s runs in Game 2 with one swing.
After an NLCS Game 1 pitching duel that was decided by a couple of solo shots from Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, the Padres rallied from four runs down in a single inning, scoring five runs in the seventh Wednesday to win Game 2, 8-5, and avoid falling into a 2-0 hole.
The second and third NL wild cards were back in action Friday night, and so was the drama. Schwarber stayed hot, hitting a lead-off home run for the Phils in the first. Then, in the fourth, Philly second baseman Jean Segura mishandled a double-play ball that would’ve gotten them out of the inning, instead leading to Juan Soto crossing the home plate for the tying run.
Of course, we all know in baseball that the spotlight has a tendency to find you when you’re hot or cold, and in the bottom of the fourth Segura found himself at the plate with two on and two out. Facing a 1-2 count against Joe Musgrove, he looped a breaking ball over the second baseman for a two-run single that put the Phillies up for good.
The game wasn’t done with him though. The Philly veteran was picked off at first to end that same inning, but made a great diving play to steal a base hit and end the seventh inning. He wasn’t the only player who made errors though, as Soto had a couple of fielding blunders, too. You can argue kicking the ball around the infield and misplaying line drives in the outfield isn’t pretty baseball, which is fine. What you can’t downplay is the fact that it’s action — and the action is the juice.
The most runs scored in a game by the Yankees or Astros this postseason is eight, which happened once, and the second highest output after that is five, which also only happened once. Granted the two NL teams are wild cards and have had more opportunities; between them they’ve combined to put up a nine, two eights, two sevens, two sixes, and three fives in 16 games. The Friars scored five runs in two different innings this postseason, both for comeback wins, and the Phillies hung a six-spot down 2-0 in the ninth inning to beat the Cardinals, 6-3, in Game 1 of that series.
Manny Machado and Harper have been as locked in as any hitters these playoffs, and Schwarber and Soto take the kind of ABs that make opposing fans watch with their eyes half-covered. Philly’s Rhys Hoskins hit a huge home run against Atlanta and Gronk spiked his bat. San Diego’s Trent Grisham and Josh Bell have had their moments and long balls (five dingers between the two of them this postseason).
San Diego and Philadelphia have forced four teams with 406 combined wins into early offseasons, and each of those clubs had stories the public deemed better than theirs. The juggernaut Dodgers, the defending World Series champion Braves, the resurgent Mets, and St. Louis’ three amigos all were unceremoniously sent packing.
Yes, it’s a little weird that the Phillies or Padres will be the NL representative, and goddamn are Philly sports fans hard to deal with right now between this run, the Eagles’ hot start, and the inevitable sad ending to the 76ers’ title hopes still seven months away. I know that Dodgers fans outnumbered Padres fans in L.A.’s trips to Petco until the postseason. And I agree that MLB should expand the early series from three to five in the first round and from five to seven in the divisional round to make it a little harder for the upstarts.
However, I’m begging you, please stop coming up with reasons to overlook the fun that these two teams have contributed to the playoffs. They didn’t make the rules. They’re simply playing whoever’s in front of them (and winning), and in a few days, one will earn a pennant and a shot at a World Series title.
Love it, like it, loathe it, leave it alone, I don’t give a shit. Just accept it so you can enjoy it.