MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Major League Baseball's regular season is winding down, but it will be a few more days before we know who will be in the playoffs. The four playoff teams in the American League are decided, but in the National League, only the New York Mets have clinched a post-season berth. Six other teams are still alive. Joining me now, as he does most Fridays, is Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hello, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.
NORRIS: Let's get right down to the most dramatic storyline, the collapse of the St. Louis Cardinals. What in the heck happened there?
FATSIS: It was one of the greatest end-of-season folds of all time, if it carries through to what's looking like a logical conclusion. On September 20 - that's just nine days ago - the Cardinals led the National League Central Division by seven games over Cincinnati and eight-and-a-half games over Houston. They have since lost eight out of nine. Houston has won nine in a row, and Cincinnati has hung in there.
NORRIS: You say one of the greatest end-of-season folds of all time. I guess we should be looking at this in historical terms then.
FATSIS: Yeah, we should. The team that's most frequently referenced in situations like these is the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. They blew a six-and-a-half game lead with 12 games to go. The Cardinals were up eight and a half with 13 to go. Easy to see which one could be worse.
NORRIS: So turning to the field this weekend, who has the edge going in to weekend play?
FATSIS: Well, Houston, simply because of the momentum. Roger Clemens pitches tonight in Atlanta. He's had the best earned run average in baseball since he joined the team in late June. On Sunday, could be a decisive game and a fabulous pitching match-up: Andy Pettitte for Houston, John Smoltz for Atlanta. The Cardinals, meanwhile, throw their struggling pitcher, Jeff Weaver, tonight in Milwaukee, and they've got two pitchers going on Saturday and Sunday who have at least done respectably during this train wreck: Jeff Suppan and Chris Carpenter. So they may have a shot there.
NORRIS: And that isn't the only tight race in the National League.
FATSIS: No, you've got the Western Division, which will be won either by the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Diego Padres, and the wildcard, the best second-place team in the league, will be either L.A., San Diego or Philadelphia. All three finish the regular season on the road this weekend. They've all had compelling storylines. The Dodgers hit four consecutive homers to win that game last week. The Padres outmaneuvered the Boston Red Sox in some key trades down the stretch. And the Phillies dealt two starters to the New York Yankees in August, and they still have managed to stay in contention.
NORRIS: So we're looking at some good baseball in the next few days. But all this might not get decided until later in the week.
FATSIS: Right. The regular season, on paper, ends Sunday, but the Cardinals could have to make up a rain-out at home on Monday against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, who, by the way, could knock out both the Dodgers and the Cardinals from the playoffs. And if there are ties among the finalists, there are going to be playoff games on Tuesday, Wednesday. The oddest possibility: all three central-division teams finish with identical 81 and 81 records, and all three wildcard-contending teams end up with 86 or 87 wins.
NORRIS: Those Yankees and their $200 million payroll have already clinched their division, the American League East. Can we predict a New York/New York World Series, a subway series?
FATSIS: They're certainly looking like the two best teams with the biggest payrolls. The Mets have been far and away the class of the National League this season. They're going to be the only team in the league to win 90 games. It's only the fourth time in the last 25 years that that's happened. But the Mets have struggled in September, and their ace, Pedro Martinez, won't pitch again at all this year because of an injured calf.
NORRIS: And the Yankees?
FATSIS: One of the most explosive offenses in baseball, but their starting pitching is questionable, especially in a short series against mostly younger arms that they're likely to face in Minnesota, Detroit or Oakland.
NORRIS: Finally, as this crazy weekend is wrapping up, you'll be on TV talking about your other favorite sport.
FATSIS: Yes, Scrabble. The 2006 U.S. Scrabble Open will be on ESPN at 6:00 Eastern time on Sunday. I will be behind the mike with Lon McEachern, who also does poker on ESPN. Two finalists worth watching. One of them actually played in a cover band that once opened for the Australian group Men at Work. So there you go.
NORRIS: Word up. Great to talk to you, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis at the Wall Street Journal. He speaks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.
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