Wild-Card Hopefuls Brace for Baseball Stretch Run

Nearly a dozen teams still have a reasonable chance to lock down baseball's two available wild-card spots. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport and Scott Simon discuss the pennant races.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, Christopher Columbus' last quest for gold, silver--and pepper, but time now for sports.

Major-league baseball laid down the wild card in 1994, adding to the playoffs a fourth team, one that did not win a division but has the best remaining record. Now classicists like me derided that, but as this season enters its last few weeks, it's once again the wild card that keeps fans following the standings, and puts many exciting teams into the postseason. Our own wild card Ron Rapoport joins us from Chicago.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Look at this morning's standing in the LA East. There are three teams, New York, Oakland and Cleveland, that are statistically tied for the wild card.

RAPOPORT: Exactly, and if you take a look at it, Scott, I mean, it makes this to me the real winner of the wild card is baseball. If you look at the pennant races in the American League, there are only four teams still competing. In the National League there's only race left with two teams. But in the wild card races, there are four teams in the American League, five in the National--that's nine more teams with a shot at the postseason, and as you point out, the wild card races are more interesting than the pennant races. You've got New York, Oakland and Cleveland tied; how can you do better than that?

SIMON: Yeah, you got Philadelphia is just two and a half games in the wild card ahead of the Washington Nationals, who stand a real chance of getting into the playoffs.

RAPOPORT: Well, and look at all the fun they've had in Washington. Here they got a new team, and they thought it was going to take awhile. Now the Expos were a good team, but what could be better than bringing baseball to the nation's capital and all of a sudden have them in playoff contention all season long? What this does is make the last weeks of the season so much more interesting for so many more fans. It also energizes the players and makes the teams that would normally be thinking about next year keep making deals to improve themselves this year. So a lot of teams that would have simply stopped playing baseball are still very competitive. This is great for the game.

SIMON: By contrast, the San Diego Padres could actually win the National League West by playing below 500 baseball.

RAPOPORT: Aren't they adorable? I mean, they're so cute. They're 63 and 64th, Scott; they're leading the National League West by six and a half games. All five National League wild card contenders have a better record than San Diego, and some of them have a much better record.

SIMON: Yeah. Have to close out the week by asking is there anything Lance Armstrong can do to clear his name for all time over these latest allegations?

RAPOPORT: Not really, Scott. But in this country I don't think it matters. He's so popular because of the way he overcome his battle with cancer that nobody wants to believe anything bad about him. Add to that the fact that nobody really understands his sport or the charges against him. Hey, they were written in French. Who knows? I'm guessing his denials will carry the day. It's not like he's a baseball player accused of using steroids. In those cases, we're prepared to believe the worst. But in Lance's case, nobody wants to think anything bad about him.

SIMON: All right. Thanks very much, Ron Rapoport, who's our sports man here on WEEKEND EDITION, and a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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