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Saturday Sports; Upsets in the MLB playoffs; league championship series

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's a fraught world. But now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Baseball playoffs. Good teams? Goodbye. Is the postseason broken? Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. Thanks. So we're going to talk about the championship series in a minute. But I got to begin with who's out? The Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, LA Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays had the best regular season records. All of them now eliminated. Many fans seem to be palpably - and I just don't mean in Los Angeles and Atlanta - are outraged over this new playoff format, which expanded the number of teams to make the postseason. What do you feel?

BRYANT: I think it's a disaster. And I think baseball knows that it's a disaster, and I don't think they know what quite to do about it. But we started this season talking about all the new rule changes - the pitch clock and the stolen bases and everything. And now we end the season talking about the disastrous postseason setup. And the reason why it's disastrous is because you play baseball every single day.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: There're so many games. There's 40 spring training games and 162 regular season games. And the reason why you do that is to determine who the best team is and who the best teams are, and those teams are the ones that are supposed to make the playoffs. It's not basketball, and it's not hockey, where your best teams are going to win in the regular season and pretty much in the postseason, especially in basketball. But in baseball, it doesn't work this way because you only have - you'd never put your best team out there, except for about 15 or 20% of the time...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Because it's so reserve heavy. You know, you - if, you know, Justin Verlander is your best pitcher, he's only pitching, you know...

SIMON: Right.

BRYANT: ...15- to 20% of your entire season. So the regular season has to matter. So what happens here, Scott? What do we get? We get Miami, 20 games out, a playoff team...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Arizona, 16 games out, a playoff team; Philadelphia, 14 games out. Toronto was 12 out. So baseball's got to do something. And - otherwise, what is the point of playing all of these games if these mediocre teams are going to be the ones playing for championships?

SIMON: Yeah. Let me do ask you about who's still playing. American League Championship Series, the Battle of Texas, the Rangers against the Houston Astros. Both teams kind of flagged at the end. First game's tomorrow night. Who has the edge?

BRYANT: Yeah, exactly. But let's go one other place, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: That doesn't mean that what's happening on the field is not exciting.

SIMON: Right.

BRYANT: The Philadelphia Phillies are a great - they're a great postseason team...

SIMON: Yup.

BRYANT: ...That you do not want to play in a short series. They weren't great during the regular season, but, boy, when you play them in a five-game or a seven-game series, my goodness, because they've got stars. Bryce Harper is everything that he was cracked up to be.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: I love this series. You know...

SIMON: I love Bryce Harper's love for Philadelphia. I just - the way he...

BRYANT: Absolutely. And he signed that 13-year contract with no opt out because he wanted to commit to Philly. And he has done everything that was asked of him. And let's also not forget, the Phillies are the defending National League champions.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: They almost won the World Series last year, so it's not like they were a bad team. And they are fun to watch, and they can score. I'm really looking forward to this. But the one...

SIMON: Texas-Houston...

BRYANT: ...I really want to see, too...

SIMON: Yeah. Go ahead. All right.

BRYANT: ...Is Texas-Houston. Texas-Houston. You've got Dusty Baker, World Series champion last year, 74 years old, against Bruce Bochy, three-time...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...World Series champion with San Francisco. Two Hall of Famers - Verlander on one side, Scherzer on the other. They were teammates earlier with the Mets this year. Looking forward to both of them. But I'm really looking forward to Houston, really looking forward to Texas. But I kind of want to see a rematch. I want to see Philly, and I want to see Houston one more time.

SIMON: Yeah. That'd be fun. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

BRYANT: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.