Todd Hartley: Chicago, Boston aboard the dashed hopes express | AspenTimes.com

Todd Hartley: Chicago, Boston aboard the dashed hopes express

Don’t you hate it when you can see a train wreck coming and you’re powerless to do anything to prevent it? Imagine that feeling, and now imagine what it would be like if there were three train wrecks you couldn’t stop, and that’ll give you an idea of how baseball’s pennant races are shaping up this year.

You may have heard that the city of Chicago was making news because both the Cubs and the White Sox were in first place in their respective divisions. You may have heard this as recently as two days ago, in fact, because such was the case on Wednesday.

The reason that this is noteworthy is because it’s the first time both teams have been atop the standings this late in the season since 1908, the last year the Cubs were world champions.

You also may be aware that once again the Boston Red Sox are in the thick of a tight race in the AL East. This is noteworthy because, as usual, the Sox are up against their age-old nemeses, the New York Yankees, and trail them by a mere three games.

If these situations seem benign enough to you and not at all like impending train wrecks, then you are not familiar with your baseball history, in particular the year 1919.

That year, the Red Sox, coming off a World Series victory in 1918 but nevertheless strapped for cash, sold their star pitcher, George Herman Ruth, to the then-hapless Yankees. Ruth, under the name Babe, of course, went on to become the biggest star in the history of the game and establish the Yankees dynasty. The Red Sox haven’t won a world championship since.

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In Chicago, meanwhile, the White Sox steamrolled to a pennant, but then eight of their star players fell under the influence of gamblers. Dubbed the Black Sox, the players went on to intentionally lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. All, including the great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned forever from the game of baseball.

Since 1919, the cities of Boston and Chicago have combined for 11 World Series appearances, with no victories. That trend will not be broken this year or, most likely, in your lifetime.

Blame it on curses, blame it on bad karma, blame it on the stars, but ultimately postseason success is just not in the cards for the denizens of those two cities. That’s why I hate to see them get their hopes up prematurely. It’ll just make things more painful in the end.

Here’s the way it will play out: Chicago will be let off easy, as both the Cubs and White Sox fold down the stretch. The Red Sox, however, will make the playoffs and then find some horrible way to lose and torment their fans once again.

The wheels are already in motion in Chicago. Coming into Wednesday’s games, as I said, both the White Sox and Cubs were in first place. And both teams were playing great. The Sox had won five consecutive games, and the Cubs had won six in a row. Well, both lost Wednesday, heralding what I believe will be a couple of slow collapses over the final weeks of the season.

Neither the Sox nor the Cubs will win their divisions. The Sox will flounder because they finish against strong teams while the Minnesota Twins get to play stinkers, and the Cubs will fade from contention because that’s what the Cubs do. Both teams face major uphill climbs in the wild-card races as well, so don’t expect them to sneak into the postseason that way.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, though they will not overtake the Yankees, are firmly in control of their own destiny in the AL wild-card hunt. They lead the Seattle Mariners by two games and have the talent to stay ahead of them.

The Sox will move on the divisional playoffs, where they will defeat either the Twins or the Oakland A’s to set up a showdown with the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.

Behind the stellar pitching of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, Boston will take a 2-0 lead in the series. Their fans will start to celebrate, and then, shockingly, the Sox will lose the next two games. Martinez will win game five, but Lowe will lose game six to even the series.

In game seven, the Sox will go up by three runs, but in the ninth inning, after an error, a walk and a bad bounce, the Yankees will load up the bases, and Jorge Posada will win the game with a grand slam.

If you’re from Boston or Chicago, I want you to know that I’m sorry I have to tell you all this. But please don’t blame me, folks. I’m not the one conducting the train.

[“Sockless” Todd Hartley was banned form Little League baseball for having “foot fungus unbecoming a 12-year-old.” His column appears on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com]

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