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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And to the uplifting notes of B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, Major League Baseball is headed into the final weeks of the regular season. Mercy, is there a race in the NL Central. Howard Bryant of ESPN and espn.com joins us. Howard, thanks for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Oh, it is a good morning. The Cubs defeated the Reds - I mean the Cincinnati baseball team, not the KGB - 3-2. The Brewers defeated the Pirates 7-2. The Dodgers defeated the Cards 3-0. This put the Cubs a game and a half above the Brew Crew (ph) and five ahead of the Cards. These are three very worthy teams, aren't they?
BRYANT: You know what, Scott? We talk so much this year about the president, and we talk about the NFL when we talk about Colin Kaepernick, and we talk about Serena and we talk about all of these things, but this has been such an underrated baseball season. And this is my favorite time of the year, the last few weeks of a pennant race. And you've got really - you've got a great race in the National League Central. You've got a great race for the wildcard in the National League. But what I really like about this is you've got this machine, your baseball team, your underdog machine, the Chicago Cubs. Yes, they are an underdog machine, yes.
SIMON: (Imitating dog barking) Yeah. OK.
BRYANT: All the money in the world...
SIMON: The Chicago machine. It's OK with me, yeah.
BRYANT: Exactly. You know, they're going up against the Milwaukee Brewers, who, last year, really had them. They had the Cubs beat, and everybody in baseball in the offseason talked about how the Milwaukee team made a huge mistake last year by not making a deal at the deadline. They had a 6-, 7- game lead over the Cubs at the All-Star break, and then they wilted at the end. This year, they're a game and a half out. They made their deals. They got Christian Yelich. They got Lorenzo Cain from the Royals. And now they're right there, and they're in the - they lead the wild card, as well. So this is a great race.
And then on top of that, you've got the Cardinals, and the Cardinals were left for dead this year. They made a managerial switch. And suddenly, they're within a couple of games. They're, you know, five out of the wild card with the Phillies, as well. So you've got five teams fighting for a wild-card space with 14 games to play. You've got three teams within three games in the National League Central. This is the good stuff.
SIMON: And in the American League, we can't let the week pass without noticing the Boston Red Sox clinch the American League East title. They've won over 100 games already. No one's had a better year, whatever happens from here on out? Although, what does that mean when you get to the playoffs?
BRYANT: And what does it mean? That's the big question. You've got the Red Sox winning 100 games for the first time since 1946, when they went to the World Series. It's the first time they've had a first-year manager win 100 games since 1915, when they won the World Series. So does that mean the Red Sox are going to the World Series? Well, hold on a second because you've got three other things happening, which I also find fascinating.
One, the team that nobody's really talking about is the defending world champions, the Houston Astros. They're a great team. And they're suddenly starting to get healthy. And they went into Fenway Park last week, and they hammered the Red Sox. They took 2 out of 3 from them and probably could have swept that series. You've also got the Yankees that nobody is talking about because they've had their injuries, and they're in the wildcard, and they're 10 games behind the Red Sox. But they're going to win. They got a chance to win 100 games. They've got 91 wins already.
And then there's the team that was supposed to lose 90 games this year, and they've had injuries, as well going down the stretch. But they just won their 90th game - the Oakland A's. The Oakland A's - believe it or not, they've got 90 wins, as well. And they're only a game and a half ahead of the Yankees. So I'm behind the Yankees. So they could actually - if they catch the Yankees for that one-game playoff, they might actually get a home game, believe it or not. It's a fantastic story.
SIMON: Yeah. I love this time of year. Let's turn to the NFL now. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers reminded us this past week of his mastery. Alas, it was against the Bears. The Browns tied the Steelers, which is as close to victory the Browns have been for a while.
SIMON: What games do you look forward to this week?
BRYANT: Well, I like the fact that you've got Dallas playing the Giants. That's the 8 o'clock game tomorrow night. And that's going to be interesting to see sort of if the Cowboys can sort of find their way. And it's always nice to see Saquon Barkley, the running back, first-round pick from the Giants. I also - I don't think Aaron Rodgers is playing tomorrow against the Vikings. That would've been the big game - Minnesota and the Packers - because, of course, they're the big rivals anyway. But I think that what we saw from Aaron Rodgers was just another example of him having an S on his chest. It's a shame if we don't get to see him. That's the game I really wanted to see.
SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much. By the way, I misstated something the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth. They didn't clinch the AL East. I'm very sorry to all Yankees fans, as if I weren't in enough trouble with Yankees fans (laughter). I'm very sorry to everyone in that division, OK? Am I? Let me think. All right. OK. Howard Bryant of ESPN and espn.com, thanks so much for being with us. Talk to you later.
BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.