September Surprise: How Did Baseball Suddenly Get So Exciting?

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The Cardinals and the Rays are surging, while the Red Sox are looking creaky. As MLB heads toward the postseason, a look at the league's tightest races.

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson, (writer, The Atlantic), and Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin) talk about this year's exciting baseball season.


Hey, guys,

Something interesting happened on the way to the Major League Baseball's postseason. Namely, the season itself, and "interesting" wasn't how anyone would have described the 2011 races just a few weeks back. Yes, Detroit is still cruising atop the AL Central, while the Phillies clinched a fifth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday, and their rough beast of a three-armed rotation slouches towards October, waiting to be born. But a few of those races for playoff slots that looked all but won in the triple-digit heat of August? Yeah, they suddenly feel tighter than new Spandex shorts.

Things have gotten good in the NL Central, for instance. The surging Cardinals, who swept the Braves in St. Louis last weekend, are threatening Atlanta's grip on a Wild Card, and have gotten close enough to make division-leading Milwaukee check the rear-view mirror. Similarly, though the Angels have cooled along with their 20-year-old outfielder Mike Trout, the halos still are close enough to let the AL West-leading Rangers know the season's final two weeks will be a battle.

Where the big kids play, in the American League East, all heck has broken loose. Yeah, Tim Wakefield won his 200th game. Finally. But the Red Sox have looked creaky. Meanwhile, the remarkable, roster-slashing Tampa Bay Rays have stormed back into Wild Card contention, and are hovering a few games behind Boston. As it is written in the stars, though, the AL East will most likely come down the the Yankees and Sox, who have three games left against each other, Sept. 23-25 in the Bronx.

How about it, Patrick? What baseball story are you most excited to see play out over the next few weeks? For me, whose Royals have been out of contention since the mid-1990's, it's all equally good. . The only baseball story I'm not for, really, is Moneyball.

–Hampton

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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