Baseball Playoffs: Subway Series on the Way?

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Washington Post reporter Howard Bryant about the nerve-wracking final weekend of baseball's regular season and what to look forward to in the playoffs. Is a showdown between the New York Yankees and the Mets in the works?

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's the last weekend of the 2006 baseball season before the playoffs, and as Laurence of Arabia said in the movie, nothing is written. In the National League, the New York Mets are in the playoffs but playing poorly and Pedro-less. The St. Louis Cardinals are sinking as they struggle against the Astros and Cincinnati Reds to win the Central Division. While the Padres and L.A. Dodgers, tied in the West, hope to keep the Philadelphia Phillies out of the wild card spot.

Over in the American League, the Yankees, the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins all within a game of winning home field advantage, while the Oakland Athletics have won the west. Howard Bryan joins us in the studio, staff writer for the Washington Post and author of the book Juicy in the Game, which has nothing to do with oranges.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HOWARD BRYAN (Washington Post): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Mets have the best record in baseball, but they haven't been playing well. How are they going to do in the playoffs without Pedro Martinez?

Mr. BRYAN: Well, they haven't been without Pedro Martinez for the last six weeks. The Mets are not a pitching team. They're a hitting team, and I think that what they're going to do is what they've done when they picked up all of those games in August and July, which is essentially to try to beat you 10-5 or beat you 9-2.

I think the most important pitcher on that team, believe it or not, is Orlando Hernandez, the great El Duque, the Cuban pitcher. Because if he doesn't pitch, then now you only have one pitcher that you can really count on, and that's Tom Glavine. And I just don't - luckily, that league is weak, because I don't see them being - they've won 95 games, but I don't think they're a lock to do anything right now. I don't think anybody is in that league.

SIMON: What's happened to the St. Louis Cardinals? It's going to be hard for them to regroup for the playoffs?

Mr. BRYAN: Well, it can actually help them and hurt them at the same time. One, they've got 82 wins. They're not very good. I think that's the first thing, is that you look at a team that's not producing. By this time of the year you should know exactly what you do well and what you don't do well. And with their record being what it is, you just can't count on them to be much of anything.

But on the other hand, a lot of teams that have to really struggle to get into the playoffs the last day of the season, the second to last day of the season, which is what's going to happen to that team, is because you've been competing so hard to get there, you've got a little bit more of edge than, say, a team like the Mets that clinched three weeks ago.

So on the one hand it can help you. The problem with the Cardinals is, is that unlike Houston, that's trying to catch them and has won nine out of ten games, the Cardinals are losing all of their games. So it's not as if they're going to go into the playoffs hot. So even if they win the division today or tomorrow, they're still very much struggling going into the postseason.

SIMON: Looking ahead, what are the chances of a subway series, and alas, I don't mean in Chicago. This would have to be the Mets and the Yankees.

Mr. BRYAN: Well, the chances of a subway series should be good, because you've got a 95 team win with the Yankees, and the Yankees are of course the Yankees. And the Mets are the cream of the National League. So those are the two best teams going in. I think that Detroit's a good team, I think Minnesota's a good team. Oakland's a very good team pitching wise. But the Yankees still have that special Yankee aura about them. And so I don't think that it's out of the realm.

I think that if you're in New York, on the National League side, if you're living in Queens right now, you expect to go to the World Series. You dominated the league for the whole year; you better go to the World Series or it's going to be a huge disappointment. If you're the Yankees - without Randy Johnson now - if you can get there, I think that you're expecting as well that - I'm sorry, it's the Yankees. You expect to get there no matter what. You expect to get there every year anyway.

SIMON: You expect to be considered for the papacy the next time that there's an opening.

Mr. BRYAN: Exactly.

SIMON: I want to ask you about Ryan Howard. Phillies first baseman, he's hit 58 homeruns. In theory, he could get to 61. Given your expertise in sports doping, is this the first legitimate run at Roger Maris's record?

Mr. BRYAN: Well, that's what people are saying. I'm not sure that I buy it, and I don't buy it for two reasons. The first one is that we don't know. It's still very, very early in the post-drug testing era. And I think that, number one, we don't know a whole lot - what if Ryan Howard flunks a drug test next year or next week? I mean who knows? We just don't have enough information.

But the other thing is, too, is that there are so much - and the stadiums - I mean the Philadelphia ballpark is so small.

SIMON: They like it that way.

Mr. BRYAN: They like it that way.

SIMON: As do Howard. Howard Bryan of the Washington Post, thanks for being with us. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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