Nine American League Teams In Playoff Running

Which team looks poised for the best last-minute kick? NPR's Scott Simon talks to Howard Bryant of ESPN about the scramble for a spot in the baseball's American League playoffs.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

SIMON: Midway through September - you know how many teams in the American League have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs? Nine - that's right, I said nine. Over in the National League it's a more exclusive club. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine joins us from Los Angeles today. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Wow. In the American League - OK, let me run this down - the Red Sox have pulled ahead in the East, the Detroit Tigers in the Central, the Athletics and Rangers are going back and forth in the West But - the rest - it's a wild card scramble between the Yankees, the Rays, the Os, the Tribe, the Royals, even, mathematically, the Angels. Who looks poised, to you, for a last minute kick?

BRYANT: Well, the Angels are done. They're not going to make the playoffs this year in any form. But the interesting story after everything we've gone through, after Biogenesis and the 211-game suspension of Alex Rodriguez, which he's appealing, the Yankees are very, very close to securing one of the wild card spots, so that they could actually make the playoffs, which would be a remarkable story and it would give Bud Selig lots of headaches.

SIMON: I would love to see the Cleveland Indians come into Fenway Park for a playoff series led by their manager Terry Francona who got thrown over the side in Boston.

BRYANT: Well, absolutely, and what a playoff match-up that would be, because the Indians weren't supposed to be a great team or even a good team. And let's not forget, for the long-suffering fans of Cleveland, they haven't won a World Series since 1948. So, highly motivated to get back to the World Series.

SIMON: To a Cub fan, 1948 is like yesterday. Let's talk about the National League now. The Braves are a mile ahead of the Nats in the East. The Dodgers are ahead of everybody in the West. But the Pirates, the Cards and the Reds are battling it in the Central.

BRYANT: And the Nationals have an outside chance of maybe joining that party, but it really is going to be that three-team race. One of those teams in the Central is going to win the division. The other two are going to play that one game, poison game, where you spend all season to make the playoffs and it comes down to nine innings. I have a feeling that the good old Pittsburgh Pirates, who finally reached .500 for the first time since 1992, are going to win that division and then it's going to come down to one game between the Cardinals and the Reds.

SIMON: Is there a heart so hard in this world that it wouldn't leap to see the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs for practically the first time since, you know, Roberto Clemente - well, since Willie Stargell, in any case.

BRYANT: Well, since Barry Bonds, actually, in '92. I mean, the World Series and Stargell, yeah. You know what, Scott? I'm of two minds. I like it for the fans. I think Pittsburgh is a great story for the fans because they deserve better than what that organization has given them. However, I'm not overjoyed in giving the Pittsburgh Pirates a medal just for having a winning record for the first time in 21 years.

SIMON: Great park though, isn't it?

BRYANT: Best park in baseball, arguably; worst press box in baseball, no doubt.

SIMON: Oh, I never sit in the press box. You know, the owner usually likes to have me on his or her lap.

BRYANT: Of course, he does. For the fans...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I'm kidding. I'm kidding for anybody who says that, all right?

BRYANT: You prima donna. Just another prima donna...

SIMON: And then I throw stale hot dog rolls at my, you know, my colleagues in the press box.

BRYANT: Yeah, well, you know what, you couldn't reach them. You'd need a bazooka to reach us this time. That press box is near the moon.

SIMON: Well, I haven't had the pleasure of going to a game in Pittsburgh but I have been - even the outside is nice with that statue of Honus Wagner. Yeah.

BRYANT: It's a gorgeous stadium, it really is, for anybody who just wants to go watch a ball game. It's as pretty and well-done a stadium as there is in baseball. Too bad the team hasn't been good enough for enough people to come.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

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