3 Things We Want to See Happen in the 2014 Baseball Playoffs

  • Clayton Kershaw
    1. A matchup between the best of the best with everything on the line

    It’s probably not too controversial to say that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is the best pitcher in baseball. He already has two Cy Young awards under his belt, which easily could be three had the narrative around R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball not swayed the voters in 2012, and there’s just about no question he’s winning this year as well. Forget the Cy Young, actually; Kershaw has an excellent shot at winning the Most Valuable Player award, which would be a rarity. Since 1956, when the Cy Young was first handed out, pitchers have won the MVP just 10 times. He’s not only the best pitcher in the game; he might end up being one of the best we’ll ever see.

    It’s maybe slightly more controversial to say that Mike Trout is the best player in the game, but it shouldn’t be. Trout should be headed for his third consecutive AL MVP, but voters’ infatuation with the big counting numbers of Miguel Cabrera — ignoring base running and defense, which matter a lot — cost him the first two. He’ll likely get that fixed this year, and there’s a good argument to be made that he’s off to the best start of any player his age ever.

    Now, think about this: Kershaw and Trout are not only headed to the playoffs, but their teams are among the best in their respective leagues. It’s not at all out of the question that we see our first Freeway World Series between the Dodgers and the Angels, and that sets up the possibility that the two best players on the planet face off with everything to lose — or gain. When they met for the first time in August, Trout had two hits, but Kershaw also struck him out. Imagine it happening again, in October, in the World Series?

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  • Bryce Harper
    2. A chance for new teams to shine

    Believe it or not, this will be the first time since 1993 that we’ll have a postseason that doesn’t feature either the Yankees or the Red Sox. Of the 19 playoffs since — there were, of course, none played in 1994 — 10 of them featured either New York (7) or Boston (3) advancing to the World Series.

    That means that for the first time in two decades, the two AL East giants won’t be sucking all the air out of October, and while baseball’s broadcast partners may not agree — the Yankees and Red Sox generate ratings, of course — this is a very good thing for baseball. It’s a much-needed opportunity to get some new faces and names in the national spotlight, and to remind everyone of some great baseball cities that haven’t had this opportunity in a long time.

    Take Baltimore, for example, a wonderful baseball town that hasn’t been to the World Series since 1983, and recently went 14 years between playoff appearances. Washington hasn’t seen a World Series since the old Senators were there in 1933. It’s been since 1985 for Kansas City, their only appearance, and 1990 for the Oakland Athletics. Even the Dodgers are working on 26 years since they last made it. Sure, there’s Detroit and St. Louis around too, both with multiple recent trips to the Series, and maybe they’ll ruin it all for us and become the final two teams again. But at least this year, there’s a sense that it’s different, or that it could be.

    With some of baseball’s biggest young stars in the mix, like Kershaw, Trout, Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, etc., this should be a great chance for some fresh and exciting matchups.

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  • Jeff Samardzija
    3. At least a little offense

    This one is going to be a bit more difficult to come by, because offense is down all across baseball this year. Major League Baseball is getting on base at a mere .314 pace, the lowest since 1972 and one of the 10 lowest marks in the last 100 seasons. Strikeouts are up, runs are down, and pitchers are more dominant than ever.

    That’s a trend that tends to be exacerbated in the playoffs, for some easy to understand reasons. With more days off between games, teams no longer need to use their back-end starters in October, giving more starts to their best pitchers. Without needing to worry about coaxing additional innings out of their starters to save their bullpen arms, managers are free to make matchup decisions as they like, and there’s no more “giving a kid a chance” because these aren’t the dog days of August. If you’re still playing in October, you’re playing to win.

    That’s too bad, really, because most of the best memories of playoff baseball have been offensive ones. You remember Joe Carter’s walkoff homer to win the 1993 World Series, and Derek Jeter’s disputed “Jeffrey Maier” homer against the Orioles in 1996, or Luis Gonzalez’ series-ending hit for Arizona in 2001. It’s great to see an elite pitcher dominate, of course, blowing hitters away, and surely we’ll see that as well. But someone has to score, at some point, and with offense down, runs will be at a premium.

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  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Bryce Harper
  • Jeff Samardzija

After the longest season in big league history — don’t forget, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks got things started all the way back on March 22 in Australia — we’re finally getting to the good stuff: The playoffs. This is the time of the baseball year where legends and memories are made — think Derek Jeter and all of his countless nicknames — and just as fun, where everyone is watching the same game. Say goodbye to the nights of 10 simultaneous games happening in favor of the entire baseball spotlight being on one game at a time, and in the age of Twitter, it really does feel like you’re watching a playoff game with a few thousand of your closest friends.

That’s been a lot of fun over the last few years, especially when you remember some of the standout moments that have happened, like the disputed interference call at third base in last year’s World Series, the Giants steamrolling the Tigers in 2012, or the Rangers coming within one strike — twice! — of a title in 2011. This year, we’ll have the added twists of expanded instant replay and the controversial catcher blocking rule, both looming out there to fix an injustice, or, depending on your outlook, create one.

So what do you want to see in October? There are so many fun possibilities, a few of them that we definitely expect to happen. But today we’re looking at three, in particular. After this season, we deserve these. Here are 3 Things We Want to See Happen in the 2014 Baseball Playoffs.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @mike_petriello