MLB Playoffs 2012: Pennant races across baseball come down to final week
(AP) - The Texas Rangers are totally set for the playoffs, eager to break out the bats, balls and gloves for really big games.
Maybe they should log on to MapQuest, Hotels.com and Travelocity, too.
Because with three days left on the schedule, the postseason picture is still impossibly scrambled. An October free-for-fall, with not a single team yet certain of when, who and where it will play later this week.
"If you had asked me before the season started, I would have expected that something would have been settled," New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday. "It's really hard to believe and I think it's what baseball was kind of looking for. They love to see these races. It's good for the game."
Not easy on the stomach, though.
Take the two-time American League champion Rangers. They could open Friday at Yankee Stadium in a one-game showdown of wild cards. Or Saturday at Detroit in the best-of-five division series. Or even Sunday at Baltimore.
Or perhaps play at home in this jumbled matrix.
"Listen, it's a logistical headache in some regards just because there's so many possibilities," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.
"It's not fun to be an advance scout or a traveling secretary right now," he said. "But from the standpoint of the game, and the fans, I think it's great theater and it's a lot of fun."
To Kevin Buck, that's fine. He is the Orioles' traveling secretary, and likes the idea of mapping out Baltimore's first playoff game since 1997.
"Right now it's just a fantastic problem to have," he said.
"We take care of pretty much every single scenario we can have. We make sure the hotels, the buses, the truck companies that haul our equipment, the chartered planes, are ready to go. Cities contacted - every city that's still in the mix. New York, Oakland, LA, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Detroit. Everything's ready to go," he said.
Several hours after he spoke Sunday, there indeed was another challenge. The Orioles' charter to St. Petersburg, Fla., was diverted to Jacksonville after there was smoke in the forward galley. Later that night, the Orioles completed their journey.
This season, seven of the playoff spots already have been filled. Texas took care of three clubs Sunday - its win over the Angels assured the Rangers, Orioles and Yankees of postseason slots.
The only in-or-out race is in the AL Central, where Detroit has a magic number of one for eliminating the Chicago White Sox. Not so clear is which clubs will be division champs and which will be wild cards.
Figuring out who plays when and where, that's the tricky part. With 10 teams in the playoffs this year - two more wild cards than last season - tiebreakers and cross-country travel schedules also are factors.
"Pretty remarkable," Oakland designated hitter Jonny Gomes said. "I guess not only as a player, I'm also a huge fan of the game. If you look into it, baseball's in a really good place. This isn't going to happen in football. This isn't going to happen in hockey and the NBA. There's teams that are resting guys the last couple weeks of the season. Not here."
The lone team that knows anything for sure is San Francisco. The NL West champions will open the first round on Saturday at their beautiful waterfront ballpark.
Their opponent? Well, no telling.
"That's why it's good to clinch it and have some serenity here," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
"We know pretty much what's ahead of us, the day we're going to play, where we're going to play. That is a little sense of comfort," he said. "It's nice to know what's ahead of us. A lot of these teams don't."
Chaos, complicated, confusing. And pretty cool.
"It is crazy and it's good for baseball," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think the second wild card, they made it for them to kind of create some stuff there at the end with the fans, and it sure has done that."
Washington manager Davey Johnson, who started his playing career in the 1960s when only two teams made the postseason and they met in the World Series, isn't keen on this new playoff format.
His Nationals could finish with the best record in the majors but, because of a one-year tweak in the postseason schedule, play Game 1 on the road on Sunday.
"I just really figured out what the whole thing was the last couple days," he said. "It seems like the team with the best record should be able to open at home."
Up the Beltway in Baltimore, the Orioles begin this week tied with Yankees for the AL East lead. The O's could wind up in a one-game tiebreaker for the division crown, or in the wild-card matchup, or with the best record in the league.
"It throws a twist into things having two wild cards this year. I liked the idea because I felt it gave another team that had a good season a chance to get to the postseason," Orioles outfielder Chris Davis said.
"Now that we're in the top seed," he said, "I think it's a terrible idea.