If you haven't spent the past six months following baseball, The Gal's Got Game gives you a chance to catch up and see what's ahead before the World Series starts October 23rd.
Including the regular season and playoffs, it takes almost eight months for the Championship to be won. There are 162 regular season games to play; one-game playoffs for teams tied for first in their division; the Wild Card playoff game; the Division Series; the League Championship Series; and, finally the World Series. That doesn't count Spring Training which starts in mid-February. That's almost ten months to name a World Champion -- no wonder the baseball season is known as a marathon, not a sprint.
Spring Training games don't affect the standings, but they help teams get used to playing together before the demands of the regular season kick in. But playing well in spring training doesn't mean success during the season. Team chemistry (which many agree is important, but very hard to quantify) can carry over, but all bets are off once the calendar flips to April.
Ah April. Opening Day is the first official step towards the World Series -- the only day all season every team is perfect and every fan believes their team will win it all. There's an adage that you can't win a pennant in April, but you can lose one. Teams can play bad enough in April, dig themselves so deep a hole in the standings, they can't really recover. Ideally, teams start hitting stride in May and carry it through the rest of the season. Pitching and defense get more consistent; the hitters start to heat up, but not too much. Usually as temperatures start to rise, that's how teams want to perform.
The trade deadline at the end of July is a fork in the World Series road. Teams have played more than half their games, and though standings aren't finalised (and anything can happen) contending teams start distancing themselves from non-contenders.
After the All-Star Break, teams have less than two weeks to buy/sell/do nothing by the trade deadline. The deadline lets contending teams add help for a playoff push and non-contenders to start building for next year. The Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are examples of non-contenders, since they finished with the worst and second worst records, respectively, in all of baseball.
August and September are the last stop before the final stretch to the Series. Games played in the last two months can be some of the most exciting all season and can show a team's depth of talent and drive. The Tampa Bay Rays are a good example as they beat both the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians in single game playoffs to claim the American League Wild Card.
The end of the regular season brings the finish line in sight. When the season ended September 30th, Division titles and the Wild Cards were handed out. Then on October 1st the playoffs officially got underway. Both Wild Card teams in each league play each other once to see who moves on. It's anyone's game in a one-game playoff.
The four remaining teams per league play the Division Series to move one step closer to the Series. The winners head to the League Championship, the final step before the World Series. Winning only four more games out of seven gets a team to the Series, which is easier said than done.
The World Series; every team wants it, only two reach it.
It takes up to 175 games to get there, but the excitement can be worth it. Anything can happen in seven games. Your team could win in four games, like last year's Champs the San Francisco Giants. Or, it could go all the way to game seven like the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers did in 2011. (The Cardinals won).
Almost ten months after teams set out, the World Championship is finally over. Once the Champ is named, there are only a few months before teams hit the road to the World Series again.
It may be long, with twists and turns, but the road to the World Series is one of the most exciting in sports.
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