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Saturday Sports: Major League Baseball Playoffs; new seasons in basketball and hockey

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Baseball's most winning team and last season's champs on their heels in the playoffs, the NHL and NBA back in season. 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. But Cleveland rocks.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: So does Philly. So does San Diego. LA Dodgers and the reigning champs, the Atlanta Braves, are having problems. What do how do things shape up for you?

BRYANT: Well, things are heating up, Scott. Things are heating up really, really quickly. We have a new playoff format now. We have more playoff teams. And historically, as we talked about a - you know, last week, that baseball is supposed to be the sport where the best team has the best chance to win. And now it's a tournament. You have the 111-win Dodgers one game away from getting knocked out. If they don't win tonight against the San Diego Padres, a team that they were 22 games better than...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: They were - they won that division by 22 games over the Padres. And now the Padres have a chance to knock them out and go to the NLCS. You've got the Braves, who won 101 games, and they're a game away from getting knocked out by Philadelphia, who's not a very good team during the season. They won 87 games. They're 14 games out behind the Braves. And so, you know, there is a chance that you could have three 100-win teams in the National League...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And have none of them make the National League Championship Series. But this is what we've asked for. This is the new sport.

SIMON: Could...

BRYANT: On the other hand...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...If you're a 100-win team and if you're a great team the way you're supposed to be when you have that - you know, those big lofty numbers, then you can win two games in a row, and you prove that you're the better team. But we really have entered a new space in baseball now where the postseason is a tournament. And, you know, if you get a 10% chance to win, it's not a guarantee anymore that all those big numbers are going to do much for you.

SIMON: I say this as an Aaron Judge fan. He's been a little cold at the plate, hasn't he?

BRYANT: That's a - that is an understatement. Aaron Judge is 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts. And he hit 62 home runs, and everyone's expecting the big guys to show up. But it doesn't always work that way in the postseason, especially when they're concentrating on you. They're making sure that you're the guy that doesn't beat them. However, if the Yankees are going to do anything going forward - they're another one. They won 99 games. If they're not going to do anything - if Judge isn't going to be the guy, then they're in big trouble, too. And they're really up against it against Cleveland. And let's give some props, as well. Instead of talking about all the big guys, let's talk about Terry Francona for a second.

SIMON: Yeah, I love Terry Francona.

BRYANT: What a fantastic manager. See you in Cooperstown, Tito. He's one of the best to ever do it, and he's proving it again with this young team. And no matter what they do, he's been - he just always, always got his teams ready to play.

SIMON: Yeah. NHL, NBA are back.

BRYANT: Yeah. (Inaudible).

SIMON: It's not clear to me the Chicago Blackhawks even have skates this year.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Well, the team, of course, we're watching is called Makar and the Colorado Avalanche. They hoisted their championship banner - see if they can do it again, of course. We say this all the time, Scott. Of the Toronto Maple Leafs - is this going to be their year for the Leafs? The Leafs have not been to the Stanley Cup Championship round since 1967 in one of the great hockey capitals of the world.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: So is this the year for the Maple Leafs?

SIMON: You're asking me?

BRYANT: (Laughter) I'm asking the universe, Scott.

SIMON: I'm - oh, all right. I'm a Habs fan myself. But - you know, Les Habitants. But I - that's a question that, obviously, is going to hang all season, isn't it? I...

BRYANT: It is.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm also a Hawks fan and - dark times on that ice. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Oh, my pleasure, Scott. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.