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Postseason Sked Remains Controversial
ALSO: SOME SELF-INFLICTED INJURIES INDICATE POOR JUDGEMENT
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Did you know…
The Braves received 96 RBI from the ninth spot in their lineup — the second-highest total in MLB history, trailing only the 1996 Rangers . Just five teams in MLB history have received at least 90 RBI from the ninth spot, with two of them the 2022 Braves and Dodgers . . .
A major Japanese company wants to buy the Angels, which could keep Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim after all . . .
Playoff foes Buck Showalter (Mets) and Bob Melvin (Padres) have each won Manager of the Year three times and are contenders again even though neither has ever won a pennant . . .
The Mets were never the same after player-turned-broadcaster Keith Hernandez tore a tendon in his shoulder when he missed a curb and fell on Sept. 22 . . .
New York led the NL East for 175 days this year but weren’t there at the end . . .
The Phillies made the race closer than it actually was by losing 15 of their 19 games against the Mets . . .
Pete Alonso’s 1.099 OPS with runners in scoring position trailed only American League MVP contenders Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani.
It Couldn’t Hurt to Watch, Anyhow
Postseason games are still fun—but the system really stinks
By Jeff Kallman
Reviewing the 1948 national elections, for a spoken-word album hit called I Can Hear It Now, broadcast news titan Edward R. Murrow observed wryly that the people’s pulse was taken, they’d been told for whom they’d vote and by how many votes, “and, yet—it couldn’t hurt to watch the campaign, anyhow.” Postseason baseball this year is somewhat like that.
We haven’t been told unto death who’s going to claim the Promised Land and in how many games. (Yet.) And, it’s going to take a little bit longer thanks to a lot more artificially inflated competition this time around. But it couldn’t hurt to watch the games, anyhow.
Not unless you watched the new wild card series. Not unless and you’re a fan of the Blue Jays (swept in two by the upstarts out of Seattle), the Rays (swept likewise by the kindergarteners from Cleveland), the Cardinals (retiring Hall of Famer-to-be Albert Pujols and ancient catcher Yadier Molina unable to retire as champions thanks to the barely-expected Phillies), or the Mets (shoved aside in three by the Padres).
Certainly not if you’re a Mariners fan who watched your team open its American League division series by mugging future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander (whose comeback season placed him back into the Cy Young Award conversation) for six runs on ten hits in the first four innings. That included a reverse cycle by the last four Mariners Verlander faced: home run (J.P. Crawford), triple (Julio Rodríguez), double (Ty France, with the RBI), single. (Eugenio Suárez, denied the RBI when France was thrown out at the plate.)
Astro fans, of course, will thank Yordan Alvarez unto eternity for turning what was a 7-5 loss in the making with two out in the bottom of the ninth into an 8-7 division series Game One win. When Mariners manager Scott Servais elected to play the portside matchup, with with two on and two out, and with usual starting pitcher Robbie Ray, making only the seventh relief appearance of his major league life . . .
Put it this way: Forgetting that the lefthanded swinging Alvarez is almost as deadly against lefthanders as righthanders cost Servais a game his Mariners had practically in the bank. As I wrote elsewhere, the warhead Alvarez launched on 0-1 yielded a mushroom cloud umbrella covering all Texas, half of Oklahoma, and a third of the Gulf of Mexico.
Nothing—not the Phillies bushwhacking Max Fried only to have to survive a late Braves uprising to win a National League division series Game One; not the Yankees shaking off an early Guardians attack (Steven Kwan, Rookie of the Year candidate, taking Gerrit Cole over the fence early) to win an AL division series Game One; not the Dodgers outlasting the Padres in another NL division series Game One—equaled Alvarez’s that’s-what-you-think nuke.
It's what went into the making of this postseason array that disturbs. Out of thirty major league teams 40 percent entered the postseason, thanks to Commissioner Rube Goldberg’s yet-again (not-again?) tinkering. He thought, ridiculously enough, that when it comes to championship play, the more, the merrier. The concept that championship play is supposed to belong to, you know, champions, was either unprogrammed into his software in the first place, or eliminated by some heretofore unidentified hacker.
Three-division leagues was never a sound concept in the first place, of course. But there were six division champions and six teams who finished in second and even third place (wild-card entrants the Padres and the Phillies) turning up to begin the championship rounds. And we thought everybody-in belonged to the lesser sports. (The NFL, the NBA, the NHL.)
Wild cards? They should have been left to card games, slot machines, or Concentration. They also push the execrable idea that merely “getting” to “the playoffs” is the thing, that trying to win the long season is just so last century, that it doesn’t matter so long as the games get wild, crazy, and fannies in front of television sets, that the tanking teams aren’t left to feel the terrible they deserve to feel for their tankings.
“The MLB playoffs can be riveting viewing,” writes Deadspin analyst Sam Fels, who knows the entire exercise is little more than what he calls justification for the big MLB television contracts putting dollars into the kitties of even the non-contenders. “They are fun, especially when we get to watch one man caress another man’s ears as part of his job.” (My link, not Fels’s.)
But what the “just get in” corollary is really trying to accomplish is that teams don’t have to try to build the absolute best team they can. The more and more fans feel like merely getting into the playoffs gives them as good of a chance to win the World Series as the team that laced through six months of games, and the more MLB devalues the regular season and is indifferent to attendance during it, then the fewer fans will demand free agent signings and trades and larger payrolls. Which is the real aim of all of this. The [Major League Baseball Players Association] was acutely aware of this when it halted an expansion of the playoffs to fourteen teams instead of twelve, but who knows how long they can hold that dam.
I’m going to guess that nobody wants to hear it now: The Show needs to realign to two-conference, four-division leagues. (Necessitating two more expansion teams, of course. Viva Las Vegas?) Or, that, thus realigned, legitimate postseason championship play should involve nobody but those whose butts were parked in first place in their divisions at season’s end. (Sorry, fellow Met fans. Second place with 101 wins is still second place.)
I’m guessing further that nobody wants to hear it now, about what ought to follow: The division winners in each such league conference should play a best-of-three division series. Those winners should go forth to play best-of-five conference championship series. Those winners should go forth to play best-of-five League Championship Series. (From your ancient history: the LCS was born a best-of-five and stayed thus until 1985.) And then, on to the still best-of-seven World Series.
Nobody wants to hear it now. Even though that plan, at maximum, would involve a) the determination of legitimate champions; b) the tankers placed on serious notice to make the honest effort toward winning; and, c) a maximum 37 games, as opposed to the maximum 56 the current exercise might have involved. (You think nineteen fewer possible games would really put a dent in those broadcast bucks? My Antarctican beach club remains for sale. At subterranean market value.)
Because it can’t hurt to watch the games, anyhow.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007, where he plays the guitar and writes music when not writing baseball. He remains a Met fan since the day they were born.
Stupid Injuries Crop Up at Worst Possible Time
By Dan Schlossberg
John Schuerholz once said of John Rocker that he had a million-dollar arm but a ten-cent head.
Apparently, plenty of other players are willing to join the Idiots Club.
Ozzie Albies of the Atlanta Braves missed 95 days after stumbling out of the batter’s box on wet turf and fracturing his foot. Then, in his second game back, he slid head-first into second base — or actually into the foot of Philadelphia second baseman Jean Segura — and fractured his pinky, eliminating his big bat from the Division Series.
It was only one year earlier that Marcell Ozuna slid head-first into the planted feet of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers in Boston and fractured several fingers. He missed the rest of the 2021 season after that May 26 incident at Fenway Park.
That same month, Braves breakout starter Huascar Ynoa broke his pitching hand when punching the dugout bench in frustration after being lifted from a start. He has never recovered and he spent most of 2022 in the minors.
Yes, all these things happened to the same team that once lost sparkplug shortstop Rafael Furcal because he went diving into second base and missed two months.
Brian Snitker, Bobby Cox, and every other coach and manager I’ve ever interviewed deplore head-first slides. They may thrill the fans but they’re a recipe for injury and an ill-advised means of advancing on the basepaths, since sliding feet-first is faster.
Maybe slapping an injured slider with a steep fine should supersede platitudes and apologies toward the guilty party.
But wait! There’s more!
The Philadelphia Phillies lost veteran closer David Robertson for the NLDS after he suffered a strained calf celebrating Bryce Harper's Game 2 homer in the Wild Card series in St. Louis. At 37, the ex-Yankees standout should know better.
So should Houston’s Phil Maton, another reliever who relieved himself from active duty. He eliminated any hope of facing brother Nick Maton, who plays for Philadelphia, by punching a metal locker. At least the Nolas (Phillies pitcher Aaron and Padres catcher Austin) can take up the fraternal fracas.
HERE’S THE PITCH weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Memories & Dreams, and various book publishers. To book him for a talk or complain about his columns, e.mail email@example.com.
“Steve Cohen’s $290 million galaxy ultimately dimmed in the presence of a champion.”
— Joel Siegel in The New York Post after Atlanta went 10-9 against the Mets in 2022
Babe Ruth, the only player to post a single-season WAR of more than 12.5, did it three times, with 14.2 his personal peak . . .
Aaron Judge, a Linden, Calif. native who grew up rooting for the nearby San Francisco Giants, considers Barry Bonds’ 73-homer season of 2001 the single-season record . . .
Judge led the AL not only in home runs but also in WAR, OBP, OPS, runs, extra-base hits, total bases, and runs batted in . . .
With 57 wins at home this year, the Yankees tied their record for the best mark in a single season at the new Yankee Stadium (also 2009 and 2019) . . .
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.