Major League Baseball returned to the diamond Monday night to not only help ease the minds of the American people, but to re-ignite a red-hot playoff race, and an exciting chase toward the single season home run record.
There have been many changes to the world of baseball since last Tuesday. New security measures have been enacted to ensure the safety and ease the concerns of the players and fans. To make up for missed games, the regular season has added a week in October, possibly pushing the World Series into November.
There are several teams poised to make it into November, and this month's games will determine who will be represented in the playoffs for a chance at a World Title. The American League playoff spots are merely a formality for the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians.
After starting out 8-18 the Athletics have surged to hold the second best record this season after division rival Seattle, who has already set a team record with 104 wins in 144 games. The team closest to the Athletics in the American League wild card race is the Minnesota Twins, who are 11 games back in the wild card race, but only six games back from division rival Cleveland. Going into mid-season, the Boston Red Sox seemed to have the best chance at the wild card, but as usual they have continued their tradition of losing badly in the second half of the season. The curse of the great Bambino lives on.
In the National League an exciting race has developed between the top teams in each division. In the east, the Atlanta Braves are three and a half games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. In the central, the Houston Astros leads the St. Louis Cardinals by five games and the Chicago Cubs by six. And in the west we have a race like no other. The Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are all within three games of each other with the Diamondbacks leading the pack.
The National League wild card race is where it all gets interesting. There are six teams all vying for one spot, four of them within a game and a half of each other. The Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers and Cubs each have a great chance to make the playoffs if they do not win their divisions. On a separate note, the New York Mets have gone from dead last in the division to sixth in the wild card race, only nine games back from wild-card leaders, the Giants.
Not only does the playoff atmosphere of baseball in September urge fans to follow the game, but individual achievements generate a significant amount of excitement. Barry Bonds has launched an assault on Mark McGwire's single-season home run record of 70 by hitting 63 homers in 135 games. He is currently on pace to hit 71. Ricky Henderson is attempting to enter the elite 3,000 hit club; he currently has 2,976. Henderson is also on pace to break the all time runs scored record.
Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., two of the greatest players to ever play the game, will hang their gloves up at the end of the season for a final time. In five years, expect to see them voted into the hall fame on their first ballot.
Overall, this baseball season is turning into one for the ages, one that will be remembered for years to come.