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ESPN's Howard Bryant Covers The Bases On This Week's MLB Playoffs


I've been waiting the whole show for this. Baseball's playoffs have opened. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us now. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Oh, good morning, Scott. I can - I can hear it in your voice. Boy, what do you want to talk about?

SIMON: Well, I thought maybe perhaps the Cubs game. It was - look, it was a - it was a duel between two great pitchers won by a squib of a home run. Cubs - one; Giants - nothing.

BRYANT: You know, Scott, when we were supposed to do this show, we were only supposed to be in for about three and a half minutes I think. And then suddenly...

SIMON: You noticed - you noticed we built more time into it, didn't you, yeah?

BRYANT: Suddenly, when the Cubs win, we're in for four minutes and 30 seconds. It was a phenomenal game last night. It's been an unbelievable playoff. For all we talk about with baseball, the game finds a way to save itself from the people who run it and sometimes from the people who play it because the game itself is so compelling. I refer to the San Francisco Giants as the team that can't be killed. They won the World Series in 2010, 2012, 2014, and now in San Francisco they say even year magic, even year magic. And so in 2016, who are they playing? They're playing the team that I call the wire to wires, which is the Cubs, the team that was in first place all season long till the end, unchallenged for the most part. And what did they do last night? They put on a great show. Johnny Cueto with the Giants was fantastic, but Javier Baez was one swing better. And now it's the best 3 out of 5, and the Cubs have one, and Bill Murray was very, very happy. Two more and they go to the next round.

SIMON: The Toronto Blue Jays - which, by the way, their roster does not include BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music - continued to drub the Texas Rangers. They won last night 5 to 3. Jays just look better overall, don't they?

BRYANT: Well, this is one of the great stories. I remember last year we were talking about whether baseball needed to lighten up because Jose Bautista hits the big home run against Texas and then there's the bat flip and everybody goes crazy. And so what do the Rangers do this year? Bautista goes in in a game in Texas, puts in a hard slide in Roughned Odor, the second baseman, punches him right in the jaw, and now we've got a brawl. And I don't think the Rangers thought they were going to see the Blue Jays again this year.

So I think they had the last laugh, but they didn't because now it appears that the Blue Jays are one game away from actually (laughter) from winning the war, from hitting the knockout punch themselves. They're a great team. I mean, they're playing really well, and all of a sudden, they're another one that they were supposed to be done in September. They didn't play very well. The Red Sox beat them up, and now they're playing as well as they've played all season. It's really an unbelievable kind of turnaround.

SIMON: The Tribe defeated the Boston Red Sox last night 6-zip and they take a two-game lead. I - I've been surprised.

BRYANT: I've been surprised as well, but here's the reason why we've been surprised. You've been surprised because you've been thinking about the Cubs all season. I've been surprised because...

SIMON: I just found out there's an election.

BRYANT: Exactly.

SIMON: I had no idea. I've been following the Cubs, yeah.

BRYANT: And that's how it works because the Indians really did sort of live under the radar all season. They probably have a couple of players. How many people can you name that team? And Kluber, their pitcher last night who outdueled David Price, he's Cy Young Award guy. And so they're a solid team. They're a good team. You had LeBron James and J. R. Smith and the Cleveland Cavaliers up in the luxury box dancing. And wouldn't it be crazy for the city of Cleveland to have not won a championship at all in 50 years, 52 years, and then to maybe get two of them this year with the Cavaliers and the Indians?

SIMON: It's - well, there's a theory. They're won in bunches, right? That's what happened in Boston, right...

BRYANT: (Laughter) That's what happened in Boston.

SIMON: ...With the Red Sox and the Patriots, yeah.

BRYANT: Yeah, that's exactly right.

SIMON: What should we be watching today and tonight? Because we have - we have the Cubs versus Giants again - I know what I'll be watching - the Dodgers versus the - and the Dodgers versus the Nats.

BRYANT: Well, I think the first thing you need, one, is the Giants need to win tonight. Maybe not for you, they don't, but if they want to have anything - if you really want to make a series out of this because you've got the great Madison Bumgarner going in San Francisco in game three, to go back 1-1 is exactly what they need. Obviously, the Cubs - the Cubs did exactly what they needed to do. They're the - they're the favorites. They're the - they're the ones expected to win. They've got to go do it, and they're doing exactly what they should do.

On the other hand, the Nationals, they just have to win a game. They're beaten up. They don't have anywhere near the players that they had before because they had so many injuries. So they're trying to hang on. And I think that this is really when teams are really at their most dangerous, when they're injured and they know they have to win. So I think the thing to look for today is some really great baseball.

SIMON: I keep expecting Bryce Harper to just, you know, shake off the slough he's been in and to rise to the occasion.

BRYANT: Well, as they say in the clubhouse, it's go time. So if he's going to do it, now's the time to do it.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.