America's pastime can be yours too.
Baseball is America's pastime, but it can also be pretty damn confusing if you're not well-versed in its intricate rules and meta-narratives. With the Major League Baseball postseason starting tonight, here are five reasons to tune in.
1. There's a cinematic story: the upstart Arizona tykes vs. the old fogies of Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Phillies won the most games this year, to few fans' surprise — they have arguably one of the best pitching rotations of all time, and their hitters are no slouches, either. After the preseason hype and regular season backing-up-of-that-hype, if the Phillies don't win the World Series, this year will be a bigger disappointment for the city than M. Night Shyamalan's post-Sixth Sense career. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, are the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks, just happy to be in the playoffs after finishing in last place in 2010. No one expected them to contend, let alone win their division by eight games. While they both have to get past their first round match-ups, if they end up fighting for the National League crown, it will be a match-up of the second-highest payroll in baseball ($172 million in Philly) versus the twenty-fifth-ranked one ($53 million in Arizona). That's classic David versus Goliath stuff.
2. Statistical analysis is getting ever more intricate and fascinating.
If you remember talking about batting averages when you were a kid, but haven't watched in a while, be prepared for an onslaught of new abbreviations and odd-looking numbers to grace your screens this postseason. Complex stats have been slowly taking over baseball since Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003. But with the Brad Pitt-starring film adaptation introducing the concepts to the public at large, they're taking the jump out of stat-nerds' basements and into the primetime cultural ether. There's a good chance TV producers will be following that buzz, so get ready to throw away your grandpa's baseball-card stats like batting average and ERA and be introduced to your new friends OPS, WAR, and xFIP.
3. Gossip about Derek Jeter's love life remains entertaining.
Everyone thought Friday Night Lights darling Minka Kelly would be the lass to finally get Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter — Captain Bachelor — to settle down and become a family man. But instead, she just became the latest in an impressive dating tree that features Jessica Biel, Vanessa Minillo, Jordana Brewster, and Mariah Carey. (Somewhat creepy is the fact that despite this prolific career, not an ex has ever said a bad word about Jeter publically. In fact, Kelly went so far as to release a joint statement saying the split was amicable and they remain good friends. My theory: a good portion of that $51 million contract is reserved for hush money.) But no captain of the New York Yankees is going stag for home playoff games. The question will be, then, with Kelly out of the picture, who's getting Jeter's plus-one at Yankee Stadium? The smart money is that whoever it is will be (a) attractive; and (b) young.
4. The end of the regular season was thrilling.
If you were to say that Wednesday was a "fun night of baseball," it would mean that you've never seen a sport before in your life. Wednesday night was the stuff of legend. The Atlanta Braves, eight-and-a-half games ahead on September 1st, became the first team in baseball history to blow a lead of that magnitude. That record was broken within minutes, however, when the Red Sox completed their own epic collapse, losing a nine-game lead after (a) they blew a lead to the upstart Orioles at the last minute; and (b) simultaneously, the Tampa Bay Rays came back from a seven-run deficit to defeat the Yankees in extra innings. In other words, everything changed at once in the most dramatic way imaginable. Don't be shocked when "September 28th, 2011" becomes an award-winning sports documentary. This has exciting implications for the post-season, too: will comeback teams like the Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals be able to parlay these unlikely twists into a "team of destiny" confidence? Or will the weeks of insanity drain them for when the games actually start to mean something? Stay tuned.
5. A pitcher might be voted Most Valuable Player for the first time since 1992.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander led baseball this year in innings pitched, strikeouts, and component ERA (one of those high-fallutin' Moneyball stats). He has a gaudy 24-5 record and — oh yeah — he pitched a no-hitter in May. To have a more dominant year, Verlander would have to be playing Nintendo baseball with a Game Genie plugged in. While he's a lock for the American League Cy Young Award, there's rumblings that he should be clearing an extra spot on his trophy mantle for the MVP award as well, which would make him the first pitcher to do so since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The voting takes place before the playoffs begin, so Verlander can't help his case now. But if he does start reeling off gems and the Tigers keep on winning, bars around the country will be hosting fierce arguments about whether or not a player who only sees the field one-fifth of the time can be considered the most valuable.