Baseball resumes play tonight. At least the National League, not for the Rays or most of the American League. The Rays themselves need that extra day off for travels - it's a long flight from St. Louis to Kansas City - and I suppose a reward for playing 40 games in six weeks. This will be the Rays last day off until July 30th, which is a startling few weeks away.
The ultimate goal is to have the season-ending series mean something. We'll see whether those will be the final three before the playoffs or the three that decide whether the Rays make the playoffs. I cannot stop imagining a scenario where the Rays win 92 games and miss out on the playoffs. I think that might qualify as the baseball playoffs version of purgatory: win 90 games, be the third best team in the American League, but be in the same division as the first and second best teams and well... be safe while enjoying your winter.
Calling for structural changes or divisional realignment would be an easy, and unopposed, way of solving this unique problem. Instead, I think we should embrace it. Undoubtedly the buzzsaw is going to chop us one time over the next half-decade. As everyone knows, I'm more satisfied as an analyst with winning the division than winning the pennant. Luck is less of a factor, smart managing and micromanaging is more of a factor.
I know I'm in the minority and I still wear my World Series t-shirt on a regular basis. I watched game seven again recently and still experienced a bleak feeling of hope after Dustin Pedroia homered and a rush of adrenaline when David Price entered. The fan in me really enjoyed playoff baseball; even the World Series, even with the results.
So when the fan and analyst meet in the middle and say: 90-something wins, no playoffs, I grimace and feel a bit sick. I'm not resigned to finishing in third and outside of the playoffs, I'm certainly not hoping for it, but I've come to the realization that someone in the division is definitely getting duped. This is nothing new, nothing the projection systems and common sense didn't tell us in spring, but the realization just set in.
I'm dreading the season ending because it means another cold winter and could mean an extremely cold playoffs. I'm anticipating these next 73 games perhaps more than any over set of regular season games I've experienced. Even last year, everything seemed to break the right way - well, the Rays way - now we're in a fight on uneven ground and the favored result is going to sting fiercer than any 100 loss season or stupid trade has before.
We're about to experience something supreme in feeling to last season. Whether that's good or bad, let's find out.