SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: Baseball playoffs have begun. What else could be going on in the world? And four out of the eight teams have won more than 100 games this season. So we're pleased to be joined - rejoined by our friend Howard Bryant of ESPN, who returns to us after a few weeks of recuperation from surgery. Howard, so good to have you back.
HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. As I said, there's a lot of ways to emulate Peyton Manning, but a...
BRYANT: ...Having a double neck fusion is not one I recommend. But it's really good to be back. Thank you.
SIMON: So how's your forward pass now? I mean...
BRYANT: I can't do anything until Thanksgiving. We'll see.
SIMON: All right. Let's start with the National League. The Nats came back against the Dodgers last night to tie the series 1-1. Cards and Braves are tied too after the Braves won yesterday. Looking like it might be a couple of good series.
BRYANT: Yeah. This is great. This is great stuff. I think that you're looking at in the National League, where the Dodgers have been the best team all year. But the Nationals have been really good. They started out this season 19 and 31. No one thought that they were even going to come close to the playoffs. And they were pretty much the hottest team in baseball. Huge win last night for Stephen Strasburg to come in and calm things down, had a no hitter through five innings. And for him to bring the series back 1-1, the Nationals have two home games. And who knows, we could get one of the big upsets.
I mean, let's not forget what the Dodgers are trying to do. They're trying to go to the World Series for the third straight year. And, you know, you got to go back...
BRYANT: ...You got to go back to 1942 to '44, the St. Louis Cardinals, to be the - to see the - the last National League team to win three straight pennants. So they're on the verge of making some history. But the Nationals, who have never been to the World Series, whether in Washington or as the Montreal Expos. So they're trying to stand in the way and do something special themselves.
SIMON: In the American League, the Yankees thumped the Twins yesterday to take a 1-0 lead. Lots of homers in that game, no surprise. The Astros are a game up on the Rays. Houston has been compared to the 1927 Yankee lineup.
BRYANT: They're amazing. And not just the '27 lineup, but they've also got the pitching. They've got Zack Greinke. They've got him in the trade in midseason now. You know, they've got Gerrit Cole. They've got Justin Verlander, who was terrific last night. They've got everything. They won the World Series. They beat the Dodgers in 2017, stumbled a little bit against the Red Sox in the playoffs last year. But this is a fantastic baseball team that pretty much does everything right. It's very funny. I feel old watching them because their manager, AJ Hinch, I covered him with the Oakland A's when he was a rookie back in 1998. They are one terrific team. And then, of course, they're going to go up against one - the Tampa Bay Rays, who nobody thinks this is ever going to be...
BRYANT: ...Any good. But they've got no payroll. And they won 96 games. So hopefully they can make a series out of this. But the matchup that I think everyone's looking for is going to be Yankees and Houston. These two teams, they've been the two best teams in the league all season. And that would be a pretty epic clash.
SIMON: Howard, as you know in these parlous times of much public controversy, I try and keep my opinion on the urgent matters of state to myself.
SIMON: But I think, speaking as a citizen - OK? - I think China, Russia and Ukraine, if they're listening - and we know they are - ought to investigate the scandal of one-game playoffs in Major League Baseball, the wild-card playoff game. I don't like them at all.
BRYANT: You know, Scott, I lose this battle all the time, every time, and I'm sure when I go down to the World Series again this year. I talked to Commissioner Bud Selig when he was the commissioner. I talked to Rob Manfred about it and a lot of the baseball players, too. They seem to like this integrity of the regular season by forcing the wild-card teams to play one game. To me, I hate it. I don't think that if you're a baseball team and you go the entire 162 games and you win a playoff spot, you should play a series. You should play...
BRYANT: ...Best two out of three. Or you should play a best three out of five. You shouldn't be the Oakland A's, and you win 97 games back-to-back years. And you get nine innings. And you lose, and then that's it. I just don't think it's very fair. I don't like - you don't like baseball being turned into the NCAA tournament.
But on the other hand, you have the old-school traditionalists say, listen; if you want to series, then let's keep the regular season intact. And you go out and you win your division. But I really have to say I don't like baseball being the only sport where you're essentially penalized for making the playoffs.
SIMON: Yeah. I agree. ESPN's Howard Bryant, good to have you back, my friend.
BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.