A's Failure To Reach Playoffs Hurts

ALSO: EVER-CHANGING PLAYOFF SCHEDULE CONFUSES FANS

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Now that Mike Shildt is out as manager in St. Louis, wonder whether White Sox pilot Tony La Russa, now 77, might be tempted to return for a last hurrah . . .

ALDS playoff rivals Houston and Chicago met in the 2005 World Series (swept by the Sox) when the Astros were still in the National League . . .

Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena is the only player ever to homer and steal home in the same postseason game . . .

Chuck Hartenstein was the only person in uniform present for the first games played at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium in 1977 (as a player) and SkyDome - now Rogers Centre - (as a coach) in 1989 . . .

Hall of Famer Harold Baines hired his first agent by finding a lawyer in the yellow pages after he was the first-round pick in the annual amateur draft.

Leading Off

For The Oakland A’s, 2021 Was Disappointing

By Rich Campbell

The Oakland Athletics finished the 2021 season with a record of 86-76, good for third in the American League West trailing Houston and Seattle, with a +56 run differential.  After winning the division in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with a record of 36-24 (following Wild Card appearances with 97 wins in both 2018 and 2019), this year’s result undoubtedly disappointed players and fans.

In the background, poor attendance and threats to leave for Las Vegas seemed to diminish the team’s well-established home-field advantage, resulting in just a 43-38 (.530) record at Rickey Henderson Field after winning at home at a .639 clip the previous three seasons combined.

While the unsettled stadium issue looms large on the franchise, the focus here is on the four key questions the team – and some key employees – must answer this off-season:

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?  This question is in the hands of four key figures in the franchise: Managing Partner John Fisher, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane, General Manager David Forst and Manager Bob Melvin.  Fisher writes the checks and the other three have headed up the decisions about the on-field product for years.  The rumor mill swirls with stories of Beane leaving baseball altogether or Beane departing to join his once-mentor Sandy Alderson with the big-market Mets (the team that drafted Beane, in a full-circle angle) or Beane departing to New York and taking Forst and/or Melvin with him.  How this situation shakes out will directly impact how the remaining questions are answered –- and who makes those decisions.

What about the New Guys?  The A’s brought in some great players in deadline deals: Starling Marte, James Harrison, Yan Gomes and Andrew Chafin.  They each fit their roles perfectly, yet the club did not reach the playoffs.  Each is free agent.  It seems unlikely that Marte (cost) or Gomes (Sean Murphy is a younger/cheaper catching option) fits into the A’s plans.  Chafin has a mutual option on his contract for $5.25 million and the A’s may be interested.  The guess here is the 31-year-old Chafin opts for free agency and seeks a multi-year deal elsewhere.  That leaves the 34-year-old Harrison as the most likely of this group to stay in Oakland on a reasonable one or two-year deal.

What about the Old Guys?  The 2021 version of the A’s was full of old guys.  Sorting by age: Sergio Romo (38), Jed Lowrie (37), Yusmeiro Petit (36), Mike Fiers (36), Mitch Moreland (35), Jake Diekman (34), Gomes (33), Harrison (33) and Khris Davis (33).  Only Diekman remains under contract heading into 2022.  It is easy to imagine a scenario where none of the others are back.  If Melvin remains as manager, he clearly has a soft spot for Lowrie, Davis and Petit and may be interested in keeping a few of “his” vets in the clubhouse.  Which depends upon the answer to the final question.

Forge On or Rebuild Or Somewhere Betwixt?  The core of the lineup remains under team control:  Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Sean Murphy.  Utility guys Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder are both 29 and under team control as is 28-year-old Seth Brown, who hit 20 homers in 308 plate appearances while bouncing between AAA and the A’s.  Mark Canha is likely gone as a free agent.  Elvis Andrus, who broke his leg in the final series of the year, is under contract as is oft-injured Stephen Piscotty.  In an ideal world clearing the Andrus and Piscotty deals would be the goal, but that likely is not realistic.

The whole rotation from 2021 is under team control, too:  Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Cole Irvin and James Kaprielian.  Almost every team looks to reconfigure their bullpen in the off-season, but mainstays Diekman and Lou Trivino are under contract for 2022.

So do they make another run in 2022 by plugging a few holes?  Or does the front office want to start a rebuild now by dealing some combination of Olson (value sky high), Bassitt/Manaea (both free agents after 2022), Matt Chapman (coming off a poor year)?  The guess here is that once a  resolution about who is making these decisions is settled, the middle ground will be taken and the bulk of the core will return and the verdict on a full rebuild will be deferred until the 2022 trade deadline.

Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night.  He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly.  You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.

Cleaning Up

It’s Hard To Figure Out Who Plays Where Or When

By Dan Schlossberg

Nothing in the world of sports can possibly be as confusing as the postseason schedule of Major League Baseball.

In an unabashed effort to accommodate the lords of television, the game has devised a complex, confusing, and inexplicable schedule that even Einstein couldn’t understand.

For example, any wild-card team that advances always has to yield home-field advantage to its opponent. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Consider the case of the Atlanta Braves, champions of the National League East.

After they beat the Milwaukee Braves in a four-game Division Series, the Braves didn’t know whether they would host the NL Championship Series Saturday or have to fly to San Francisco for the first two games.

That was to be determined by the outcome of the Dodgers-Giants game that started so late Thursday night — at least on East Coast time — that its outcome figured not to be settled before the wee hours of Friday morning.

If the Giants, champions of the NL West won, the NLCS would open at Oracle Park Saturday, then revert to Atlanta Tuesday for the middle three games in the best-of-seven set.

But if the Dodgers won, the series would open in Atlanta because L.A. is the league’s wild-card team — despite 106 wins, just one less than the Giants.

Under that scenario, the Dodgers would have to fly to the East Coast and play Saturday, with the first two and last two games scheduled for Truist Park in Atlanta.

Such uncertainty makes life crazy for the media members, fans, sponsors, and other out-of-towners who need to go to the games.

How can anyone book air tickets, hotels, and rental cars, not to mention make plans for their suddenly-disrupted personal loves, if they don’t know what’s happening more than 24 hours in advance? And suppose the vagaries of weather, such as pea-soup fog on San Francisco Bay, force an unexpected postponement?

The plot thickens.

But how about this for a plot-twister: should the Boston Red Sox beat the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, they would host the start of the World Series — even though they, like the Dodgers, got where they are by winning a wild-card game.

Say what?

Apparently, the rule preventing wild-card winners from having home-field advantage doesn’t apply to the World Series. In that case, the team with the best record gets the advantage in the best-of-seven match.

That means Boston, which won 95 games, has the advantage over Atlanta, which won 88.

Too bad they didn’t have the exact same number of victories. Then what? Would Rob Manfred order a coin flip?

Things made more sense when the leagues alternated home-field advantage, with the AL getting it one year and the NL the next. At least there was continuity and people knew what was coming before it hit them between the eyes.

Baseball also needs to let people know the starting time of its games will be in advance. With four different networks covering the playoffs, that should be a no-brainer.

It should also be a no-brainer to play late-October World Series games during daylight hours on weekends. Conditions are best then and that’s what the public should be seeing.

We all saw what could happen when cold and snow disrupted the only World Series played in Denver, in 2007. It won’t snow in any of this year’s Series cities but that doesn’t mean it won’t be cold, windy, and unpleasant — especially if the last round reaches San Francisco.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, author of 38 baseball books, and contributor to forbes.com, Ball Nine, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and more. Check his website at www.DanSchlossberg.com or e.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Fellow Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez had a .571 lifetime batting average against Mariano Rivera, the only unanimous electee . . .

Cleveland outfielder-turned-pitcher Anthony Gose, out of the majors for five years, threw seven pitches of 100 mph in his pitching debut . . .

Boston’s Alex Verdugo has dreams of becoming a two-way player . . .

In the last month of the 2021 season, Jon Lester joined Justin Verlander (226) and Zack Greinke (219) as active pitchers with 200 wins.

Mike Schmidt hit Lee Smith so well that Smith once said, “Every time I came to Philly, there was always a limo waiting to take me to the ballpark.”


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] 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.

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