Back in the day, by which I mean before 1969, there were no playoffs in baseball—the best team from the AL met the best from the NL, they squared off in the fall classic, and that was that. With expansion, things changed. First, there was a League Championship Series (until 1993), then a Divisional Series with a wild card team (until 2011), and now we have all of that plus a wild card game, so that 10 teams technically make the playoffs each year.
All of which is good! It would be ridiculous to have only two teams play for a title in a league with 30 franchises, especially when those franchises are sorted into divisions of varying strength which creates imbalanced schedules. Nobody in his or her right mind would argue for a return to the old system...
...except for this year. Because the Yankees and Dodgers, the sport's greatest historical rivals (sorry, Red Sox), are the best teams by record in their respective leagues, and based on the dynamite three-game Interleague series in Los Angeles that we just witnessed, these teams absolutely must play in the World Series. It's so alluring, so perfect, that Major League Baseball would be justified in taking the extraordinary step of canceling the playoffs and just declaring an old-school pennant winners' championship series.
Let's revisit. On Friday, facing the pitcher with the lowest ERA in baseball (Hyun-Jin Ryu, who also boasted a 0.81 ERA at home), the Yankees gave him a rude reminder of what American League hitting can do. Aaron Judge was the first to go deep with what was remarkably his first homer to left field this season:
That was followed by Gary Sanchez going yard, which was in turn followed by this:
Ryu was chased in the fifth inning, and in the course of that single game, his ERA went from 1.63 to 2.00. This tweet sums up the carnage:
But if Dodgers had their comeuppance on Friday, it was the high-riding Yankees who came back to earth on Saturday after a classic pitchers' duel, complete with stellar bullpen work from both sides, led to a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the ninth, with the Dodgers up 2-1, and their stud closer Kenley Jansen facing all-star catcher Gary Sanchez:
Then, in Sunday's rubber match, the Yankees gave all their fans hope that perhaps good pitching doesn't have to beat good hitting, as they went deep off Clayton Kershaw three times to take the series. And Aaron Judge has officially caught fire:
Not only are these two of the most storied franchises in the game, with a rivalry dating back to when the both played in NYC, but the atmosphere in L.A. was electric, it would be the same in Yankee Stadium, and this potential World Series would be the greatest thing baseball has seen in decades, with ratings to match.
In short, cancel the damn playoffs. Don't let the Astros or the Indians or the godforsaken Cardinals spoil this. Give the people (i.e., me) what they want, and let's play seven.
The Soccer Thing of the Week: Crystal Palace Stuns Man U
Crystal Palace, which is the name of an actual soccer team in England, hasn't beaten Manchester United in league play in approximately 90 years. So it was surprising when Palace went up 1-0 on the road in Manchester, but less of a surprise when the home side tied it up late. Then, seconds before the final whistle, something happened that can only be fully enjoyed to the dramatic stylings of Celine Dion:
Triumph! Humiliation! Soccer!
The Suddenly Exciting Event of the Month: The Basketball World Cup
I'll be honest—I'm dying for the new NBA season to start, so I was going to get my fix with the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Australia no matter what. But now, I can honestly say that it's going to be a truly fascinating event, for the only reason that it possibly could be: America lost.
That's right—for the first time in almost 13 years, a span that covered 78 games, a United States team with NBA players dropped a game. The anti-American evildoers, in this case, were the home team, Australia, who rode Patty Mills' 30 points to a 98-94 comeback win. Check out the highlights here, which are worth it just to watch the Australian announcers turn Marcus Smart's last name into a three-syllable word:
As the announcers declaimed, that's history for the Aussies, who had never beaten Team USA before. Now, sure, the U.S. left many...well, okay, all...of its best players at home, and instead of LeBron and Kawhi and A.D. and Curry, we're rolling with Kemba Walker and Smart and Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton. And instead of Coach K, the team has to settle for Gregg Popovich. (Braces for a severe beating.)
Still, I say this is a good thing. A competitive tournament is better than a drubbing, and watching Popovich and the Americans try to figure it out against some stiff competition that includes the Aussies, Serbia, Greece, and Spain. It starts later this week with group stages, which might be a little boring, but the knockout stages should be, um...
(searches for Australian word for "good," fails to find anything)
The Questionable Basketball Innovation of the Decade: James Harden's "One-Legged Three"
So, apparently, this is an actual thing now. Harden, who is already a historically great scorer with a fearsome step-back, is trying to develop a "one-legged three," an example of which you can see here:
"I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever," Harden told ESPN, and while he's still not sure if he'll actually use it in the coming season, he's been working on it seriously all summer. Personally, I can't tell if this is the kind of genius that will change the sport, or something that will result in a torn ACL on opening night, but as long he and the Rockets never win a championship, I'm all for it.