The Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in a thriller on Sunday to take a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven World Series.
A competitive finale to the playoffs has seen plenty of drama between Houston and LA – with the Astros bidding to win the title for the first time with victory in game six on Tuesday.
With this in mind, we ask: Has the World Series helped boost baseball’s stature?
What side are you on in our debate?
The 2017 World Series is baseball at its very best. In terms of quality the baseball has been breathtaking, as you would expect in the first matchup between two 100-win teams in the Fall Classic since 1970.
But it also packs all the tension and drama of a good novel – fascinating characters and a suspenseful story with lots of subplots and epic symbolism.
And what characters they are: Jose Altuve, the Astros’ power-hitter and the smallest man in baseball; Yasiel Puig, he of the blue mohawk, who if he’s not licking his bat, is hitting homers; Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation who had never before thrown in a World Series; and Evan Gattis who walked away from baseball in 2006 and found himself begging for money in New York City before giving baseball another try.
The Astros have galvanised a city left reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and have come to epitomise the rallying cry “Houston Strong”, even wearing the “Strong” logo on their jerseys.
Yes, baseball has its challenges: a greying fan base, increasing competition from other sports and a general apathy brought on by a long season. But with this extraordinary World Series, coming on the back of the Cubs’ 100-year drought breaker last season, and it’s not surprising baseball is starting to win back the fans it lost and create some new ones.
The Dodgers’ 6-2 jaw-dropping win in Game 4 led to celebrations in packed establishments all over L.A., more than a few Halloween parties being sparsely attended and some even taking a rest from their Stranger Things 2 binge to watch the ball game.
Game 5 was up against Sunday Night Football, and with this enthralling WS don’t be surprised if baseball finally knocks the NFL off its perch.
Even to the biggest baseball detractor, the MLB playoffs have been difficult to downplay.
From the Wild Card round to five games through the World Series, we’ve seen no shortage of excitement and entertainment.
And there’s no doubt the star power has been compelling, with some of the game’s brightest stars – Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers – showcasing their talent on the grandest stage.
As impressive of a display as the league is putting on right now, there’s still more to do if outsiders are going to be drawn to the game.
That speaks less to any lack of quality regarding these playoffs and more to how much work baseball has to do in order to close the gap with the NFL and the NBA.
You could point to the NFL’s event-like nature, or the NBA’s year-round cycle – which reached a fever pitch this summer when several All-Stars switched teams – or pace of play as to why those two leagues appeal more to the younger generation than the MLB.
Some of that may be subjective, of course, but what isn’t are the television ratings.
Game 4 of this year’s World Series actually topped Game 4 of the 2016 edition, with the former netting a rating of 10.6/20 (percentage of US TV households that watched the game/percentage of TV sets in use that were tuned to the game), edging the latter’s mark of 9.3/18 (16.7 million viewers).
That’s encouraging, but still lags the 20.38 million viewers on average this June’s NBA Finals drew.
The MLB is going in the right direction, but one or two playoffs won’t change things overnight.