Column: Changing of the guard in the MLB

Andrew Clark

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The Washington Nationals have found themselves atop the NL standings but have to continue on without Strasburg in October. (Hyosub Shin/MCT)

They’ve waited, some for decades, for this moment.  Their fanbases have caravanned through the desert of losing seasons for years, at times hoping to reach the playoff oasis, only to find a mirage.The search for postseason playoff baseball may just come to an end for teams that have longed to taste the sweet waters of October baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles are only one game backfrom the division-rival New York Yankees.  The O’s haven’t been to the playoffs since 1997, where they lost to the Seattle Mariners.The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t seen the postseason spotlight since 1992 and they’re three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card.

The Washington Nationals haven’t been to the playoffs since 1981, when they were the forgettable Montreal Expos.

The Oakland Athletics of “Moneyball” fame haven’t played October baseball since 2006 and the Chicago White Sox since 2008.

Meanwhile, traditional powers like the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox are out of contention and big-market teams like the Detroit Tigers, Dodgers and the Angels have played below expectations given their expensive roster overhauls.

The changing scenery is the best thing baseball could have asked for in a post-steroid era as teams shift from having power offenses to power pitching.  The teams that have adapted are thriving while teams stuck in the powerball era are on the decline.

The Nationals, with pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and ace Gio Gonzalez, lead the National League in team ERA and are in the top three in saves and strikeouts.  The Oakland Athletics, led by a young rotation of Brandon McCarthy, Tommy Milone, and Jarrod Parker are second in the American League in ERA and in the top five in saves.  Even the Texas Rangers, long an offensive powerhouse, have the duo of Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish, each with at least 15 wins.

This year alone, there have been six no hitters, three of which were perfect games, a first for the sport. Conversely, only three hitters have hit 40 or more home runs.

The baseball world knows all about the winning tradition of the Yankees, the tradition of the Fenway faithful singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning, and the Bleacher Bums of Wrigley Field.  But the blue bloods of the sport have fallen by the wayside while the new talent, and by extension new traditions, are being made.

When I visited Baltimore in 2009, I went to famous Camden Yards, the Orioles’ stadium that revolutionized baseball parks with the return of the turn-of-the-century neighborhood park a la Boston’s Fenway Park or Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  The Orioles were playing the Red Sox in a stadium Sox fans mockingly referred to as “Fenway South” because the majority of the fans in the stadium would be rooting for the Sox rather than the hometown Orioles. Despite the Orioles losing the game, the minuscule home team crowd still partook in the Camden Yard tradition of singing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the seventh inning stretch.

The future for these teams is looking bright.  The Orioles have a strong nucleus in outfielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters.  The Cincinnati Reds have a great rotation while the Nationals have a mixture of both, with great pitching arms, a solid bullpen and hitters that will only get better with time.

These teams will compete for years to come, but this October, expect the Atlanta Braves and Reds to duke it out in the National League Championship Series while the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers battle in the American League Championship Series.

An old Nike commercial coined the phrase “chicks dig the longball”, but fans should dig the strikeout and the new entrants into the October playoffs. For fans in Washington, Baltimore, Oakland and everywhere in between, the wait for the postseason has been plenty long enough.