Here's What's Up As Baseball Enters Postseason

The baseball postseason is set and gets underway tonight — a preview of the matchups in the American and National leagues.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. It's October, which means Major League Baseball playoffs are underway. The long-suffering fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates were rewarded this season when their team won the wildcard game in the National League. They'll face off against the St. Louis Cardinals. And in Atlanta, the Braves host the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the American League, it's the Tampa Bay Rays traveling to Boston while the Detroit Tigers head to Oakland.

NPR's Mike Pesca is following all this and joins us now. Hey there, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: I know it's early, but give me the lay of the land. Who is the favorite for the postseason?

PESCA: Well, there's a town called Las Vegas and they set the favorites as - they think the Red Sox are going to come out of the AL and the Dodgers out of the NL. However, I've been talking to some other people actually crunching some other numbers and a lot of the online advanced stats community simply loves Detroit. But here is the truth. This is a crapshoot.

A tournament at the end of 162-game season is a crapshoot. And unlike other sports where there's really high correlation between how you do in the regular season and what happens in the postseason, there's a lot of randomness in baseball. And this is why teams that win the wildcard do a lot better in the postseason in baseball than other sports.

And it's why even though Detroit has great pitchers and Miguel Cabrera, you know, their bats could go cold for four games. It happened in the World Series last year and then they lose.

CORNISH: And you mention wildcard teams the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays, they both advance as wildcard teams in their divisions. Were they hurt having to play an extra game to get in, though?

PESCA: Yeah, and in the Rays' case it was really two extra games because just to get to the wildcard spot, they had to play 163rd game of the regular season where they beat the Rangers. I think they're, of course, happy to be here. They're not hurt that much. Their rotations, meaning their starting pitchers, aren't exactly where they want them, but that's fine.

I think the bigger factor for both of those teams will be who the opponents are. And the Rays are a really good team, but they have played Boston, the Red Sox, they have played them 19 times and the Red Sox have won 12 of those 19, so that would indicate maybe Boston's better. And Pittsburgh's playing the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals tied with the most wins in baseball.

CORNISH: Now, let's talk about tonight's other game, the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

PESCA: Yeah, so the Braves are hosting because the Braves have the better record, but this is a five-game series. So one individual can loom large and when that player is Clayton Kershaw, the staff ace of the Dodgers, he could loom really large. He could pitch game one. He could pitch game 5 and Kershaw has had this incredible season for the ages. He really is an incredible pitcher.

Now, you're gonna hear someone saying, ah, but in the postseason, he has an ERA above 5. Yeah, that's when he was 20 and 21. He's at the ripe old age of 25. He's a shoo-in to win the Cy Young. Again, anything can happen, but if he pitches as well as he's pitched all year, the Braves will be in a tough spot.

CORNISH: Then, looking off field really quick, Alex Rodriguez in arbitration this week fighting a suspension he faces for using performance-enhancing drugs. What's the status of that?

PESCA: They've been talking to the arbitrator. They've been talking all week. What A-Rod is saying, well, I think he's going to do a little disputation of did he even take the performance-enhancing drugs, but then, eventually, his team is saying, why am I being suspended for 211 games? Baseball is saying, ah, it's because you tried to get in the way of our investigation.

Rodriguez will say, I can point to other players who've tried to get in the way of your investigation. You suspended a guy named Melky Cabrera. He set up a fake website to cover his tracks. This will go back and forth. The arbitrator will eventually either say no suspension, either uphold the baseball suspension or maybe they'll give him less than 211 days.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mike Pesca talking about Major League Baseball. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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