The Cardinals and Dodgers, who are playing game three of a four-game series… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Call it good planning or good luck, but the addition of a second wild-card team this season saved September in the National League.
Under the old rules, this September would be one big yawn. The Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves would be coasting right about now, resting the regulars and juggling the rotations in preparation for the playoffs.
Behold the cage match for the second wild-card spot, with six teams entering play Saturday within 41/2 games of that golden ticket — among them the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies, both left for dead months ago.
That, in turn, makes the reward for finishing with the best record in the NL far more significant than home-field advantage through the postseason. The team with the best record opens the postseason against the survivor of the wild-card playoff, a team that probably would have used its ace in that sudden-death game and might have exhausted its pitching staff just to qualify.
The Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals lead the pack for that second wild-card spot. In the week ahead, the Dodgers face the two best teams in the league, Washington and Cincinnati. The Cardinals face the two worst teams, the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs.
In the American League, the three division titles and two wild-card spots remain up for grabs.
Among the teams in contention: the Baltimore Orioles, who will finish with a winning record for the first time since 1997 and last played a postseason game without Cal Ripken Jr. in 1979. Among the teams not in contention: the Boston Red Sox, who could finish in last place for the first time since 1992 and could lose 90 games for the first time since 1966.
Sons of L.A., stars of David
Israel might be the name on the front of the jersey, but the Team Israel entry in this week's World Baseball Classic qualifier might well be called Team L.A.
Of the 28 players on the roster, three are from Israel and 10 from the Los Angeles area. Israeli baseball officials have stocked the roster with Jewish minor leaguers in the hope of advancing into the main WBC field next year, adding a Ryan Braun or Kevin Youkilis to the roster and attracting enough attention in Israel to generate interest in the sport.
For now, the success of Team Israel will depend on Americans. The star players are former major leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler.
Of the 14 position players on the roster, Green (Tustin) and Kapler (Woodland Hills Taft) are among eight who played high school ball in the Southland. The others: catcher Jack Marder (Newbury Park) and infielders Cody Decker (Santa Monica), Casey Haerther (West Hills Chaminade), Jake Lemmerman (Corona del Mar), Ben Orloff (Simi Valley) and Josh Satin (Studio City Harvard-Westlake).
The Southland pitchers: Jeff Kaplan (Dana Hills) and Brett Lorin (Dana Hills).
Israel opens WBC play against South Africa on Wednesday. The four-team field also includes France and Spain, with the winner advancing into the main event next spring.
The Dodgers have the best prospect on any of those teams, according to Baseball America: Team Israel outfielder Joc Pederson, who hit .313 with 18 home runs at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.