Looking ahead to a full slate of division series action today

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Four games, two possible eliminations. Let’s see what the playoffs have in store for us today:

Cardinals vs. Nationals, 1:07 PM, MLB Network

The Nats and Cards split in St. Louis and now play a best of three in Washington, which will host its first playoff game since 1933.  The back-from-the-dead Chris Carpenter faces off against Edwin Jackson, whose last posteason win came in the 2011 NLDS for the Cardinals. The Cards offense exploded in Game 2, and Jackson needs to stop them or else the “why did they shut down Stephen Strasburg?” chorus will grow even louder.

Giants vs. Reds, 4:07 PM, TBS

An extra innings win last night was nice, but the Giants still have their backs up against the wall, facing elimination. They are also facing an offensive drought, having scored a mere four runs in three games while hitting .126. Barry Zito takes the hill for San Francisco. And if anyone says they would have predicted that he, rather than Tim Lincecum, would be the go-to guy in an elimination game, they’re lying like a cheap rug. With Johnny Cueto out, the identity of the Reds starter is still up in the air. It could be Mike Leake or Mat Latos.

Orioles vs. Yankees, 7:37 PM, TBS

This one has the feel of a series that is going to go all five, with each team beating the other’s brains out. The Yankees have the presumed pitching advantage here, with Hiroki Kuroda — perhaps their most reliable starter all year — facing off against Miguel Gonzalez. Of course, thanks to the New York media narrative, all eyes will be on and most announcer words will be about Alex Rodriguez, who has struggled mightily of late. Never mind that the entire team has struggled to some degree — Rodriguez didn’t strand all ten of those baserunners himself on Monday night — but that’s how it is when A-Rod is involved.

Tigers vs. Athletics, 9:37 PM, TBS

Speaking of cold bats, the Tigers have them now, as the A’s pitchers carved them up last night, cutting Detroit’s series lead to 2-1. A.J. Griffin will take the ball in the do-or-die game for Oakland. The very-banged-up-but-now-allegedly-healthy Max Scherzer goes for the Tigers. If he is on, the A’s may be in trouble. Scherzer’s second half performance was the stuff of aces. The last time we saw Griffin pitch, he was digging a hole for his teammates in game 162 against the Rangers.  If he does that again, he can’t count on being bailed out like he was last time. The rookie has pitched a lot more innings this year than he expected to, and he may be running out of gas.

Get your snacks ready and watch baseball all day long. I doubt your spouse or your boss will mind one bit. Tell them I said it’s cool.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.