THERE ADMITTEDLY has been a bit of deceptive wordplay in this column's display type in the hopes of engaging readers in the daily evolution of the baseball standings, as this season portends that there are decades-dragging championship droughts which could be ending for some long-suffering franchises.
When I was a fledgling young fan, a pennant race was just that. The eight (then 10) teams in the American and National Leagues were attempting to finish in first place, thus winning the pennant and advancing to the World Series. September, the final month of the regular season, was when the battles for the league titles reached their zenith, as the dog days of August-grudgingly or gladly--gave way to the exciting pennant races in the calendar's ninth month, a season pregnant with possibilities about to reach fruition.
Today, things are a bit more muddied, since there are no more pennant races--not really. The two leagues remain but, to accommodate 30 teams, each circuit now is divided into three divisions of five clubs apiece. The three division winners, plus a pair of wild card entries, qualify for the playoffs. The two wild cards--boasting the best records among teams that failed to win their division--then have a one-game play-in to qualify for the Division Series (best three of five). The victors in the Division Series move on to the League Championship Series (best four-of-seven) to decide the pennant. Those who raise the banner (or fly the flag) move onto the World Series (best four-of-seven), which hopefully turns out to be a Fall Classic. Bottom line: rather than a race for the pennant, it's more like a push for the playoffs, as finishing first hardly is a guarantee of a pennant, but it does make your team eligible for the ultimate postseason prize. (The 2014 WS, for instance, featured the second-qualifying wild cards as the respective A.L. and N.L. representatives.)
The dictionary, meanwhile, says that, when something is "flagged," it is marked for special attention. That same dictionary also informs us that "flagging" signifies a lessening, or waning, of something. However, this column has sort of bastardized the latter term in an attempt to define it as the former. So, which "bastards" will be best:
Chicago Cubs. Swept in last year's NLCS, the Cubbies have no pennant since 1945 and no World Series championship since 1908. This season, they sport baseball's best record--October beckons.
Cleveland Indians. The Tribe have endured...