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Wednesday October 28, 2009

The Series Freezes, Neyer Nitpicks

From Rob Neyer's Wednesday Wangdoodles:

OK, so Scioscia doesn't like the postseason schedule. Calls it "ridiculous," and I'm basically on his side. I would like the postseason to perfectly reflect the regular season, where you need four starters and sometimes even five. I have to mention, though, that since the modern World Series was invented in 1903, many managers have gotten by with three starters. In 1905, Christy Mathewson or Joe McGinnity started all five games for the Giants. Sixty years later, Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat combined for six starts in the Twins' seven-game Series loss against the Dodgers. Scioscia's right: there are too many off days. But managers have always been able to lean heavily on their best starters in October.

OK, so Neyer thinks this one point doesn't apply to the whole of baseball history. Says "I have to mention, though." Brings up 1905 and 1965. Brings up Big Six and Kitty Kaat. And he's right: managers have leaned on their best starters in October. It doesn't change the fact that SCIOSCIA'S RIGHT and HE'S THE ONLY GUY IN BASEBALL SAYING THIS STUFF about THE GREAT TRAVESTY THAT IS BASEBALL'S POST-SEASON SCHEDULE. Save your nitpicking, Neyer, for who's the tenth-best second baseman of the 1930s. This is time to get on board, use what power you have, and fix what needs fixing.

"Basically on his side"? Damn, Neyer.

Oh, and happy first game of the World Series! We're finally here. October 28th. Predicted game-time temps? Below 50. Probability of precipitation? 100 percent.

Fun.

Posted at 08:49 AM on Oct 28, 2009 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 25, 2009

Scioscia on October Days Off: "Ridiculous"

My man Tyler Kepner! Here's an excerpt from his column in today's New York Times about all those freakin' days off in October:

Partly because they each swept their division series, the Yankees and the Angels have played just eight games in 20 days since the end of the regular season. In a session with Los Angeles-area writers on Saturday, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia made his feelings clear.

“Ridiculous,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know. Can I say it any clearer than that? We should have never had a day off last Wednesday. We should never have three days off after the season. You shouldn’t even have two days off after the season.

“It just takes an advantage away for a deep team, which everybody feels very strongly is an asset. It takes that advantage away and I think that’s something that Major League Baseball hopefully will consider looking at.”

Mark Teixeira has played so little he says he has newfound respect for utility players. And why so many days off?

The reason for the elongated schedule is the recent change in the start of the World Series. From 1985 through 2006, the World Series was scheduled to start on a Saturday. Then baseball and the networks concluded that Saturday was a dead night for ratings. They built a few extra days into the schedule, which pushed Game 1 to a Wednesday.

I wrote about this back then. I've been bitching about it all month. Here and here and here, too. It's time for Major League Baseball to get smart. It's time to stop being ridiculous. Bud Selig and the networks are ruining the most important baseball games of the year, and for what? It's not even helping ratings. They're ruining baseball for nothing. Does Bud want that to be his legacy?

Baseball is supposed to be played every day in fair weather. Its most important games are now played every other day in horrendous weather. And that's not baseball.

Posted at 09:49 AM on Oct 25, 2009 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 22, 2009

Live-Blogging Game 5 of the ALCS

5:12: The Yankees begin the game with two hits and Joe Buck begins the game by saying, ominously, "And here comes New York!" And then there went New York. Out out out. Question: Is Mark Teixeira going to be the new Alex Rodriguez? The guy the press says folds in the clutch on a small sample size? A-Rod was the new Randy Johnson (remember before 2001?) who was the new... Willie Mays? Ted Williams? Take your pick. It's a tired storyline. I'm actually glad A-Rod's doing well this post-season so I don't have to hear that crap anymore. By the way: Nice to see sun. But what's with the empty seats down the right-field line before gametime? C'mon southern Cal: Represent!

5:17:  Walk and double and now my man Torii Hunter comes through for two! Off his bat I thought Jeter had it, but I guess Jeter had him played wrong. Wow, and now Vlad with a double in the gap! 3-0. Was Torii limping around the bases? Did I see that? Hope not. This is fun! Yanks get the first two guys on and 10 minutes later, it's 3-0, Angels.

5:18:  4-0, Angels. One wonders when New York is going to warm somebody up.

5:25: The Spanish for "liner" is ligne? Thanks, Tim McCarver. And the Angels have been waiting for an inning like this, Joe Buck? I've been waiting for an inning like this. Doesn't matter, though. The Angels could be up 10-0 and I'd still be worried. The Yankees are Freddy Kreuger to me. They're Michael Myers. Just when you think they're dead, they rise up. They're their own horror movie.

5: 35: Cano not doing well in the post-season. Swisher. Teixeira. One wonders how the Yankees have won anything. And now they're giving us the John Hancock question of the day: Who are the only three LCS MVPs to come from losing teams? Wasn't one of them George Brett back in the '70s? And doesn't this go against the usual nomenclatural argument against the regular-season MVP? That you can't be "valuable" on a team that doesn't win? Surprised McCarver doesn't mention that. I never buy that argument, by the way. You can be valuable, even most valuable, on a team that doesn't go to the post-season. Three definitions of valuable: 1) Having considerable monetary or material value for use or exchange; 2) Of great importance, use, or service; 3) Having admirable or esteemed qualities or characteristics. Nothing in there about winning.

5:47: Uck, that tomato alfredo in the Olive Garden commercial looks awful. And what's with the Chris Farley Direct-TV ad? Isn't that a little creepy? He's been dead for 12 years now and they're trotting him out to... What? Are they saying you should get Direct TV so you don't have to watch Chris Farley? That would be pretty gross. On the other hand, at least it's not that damn Viagra ad with the guy talking to himself or the Black Eyed Peas commercial where the girl is remaking "A Midsummer Night's Dream" while the dude is walking on the moon with a camel.

6:00: Torii Hunter's stolen base in the bottom of the third was pretty funny. Don't know if I've ever seen that before—where a baserunner was halfway down to second before the pitcher even threw the ball to homeplate. And now he's at third with only one down. Ah, but then nabbed in a rundown. McCarver: "That's why you bring the infield in." No shit, Sherlock. You could almost see Torii calculating, to see how long he could run back-and-forth before Vlad got to second base. And he almost got back to third anyway. But the Angels gotta get some more runs here. Freddy Krueger ain't gonna play dead forever. Those eyes are gonna pop open.

6:19: Here's the answer to that John Hancock question: Fred Lynn in '83, Mike Scott in '86 (of course!) and Jeff Leonard n '87. All within a five-year period. Wonder why? Also: John Hancock signs his name big and over 230 years later we're asking trivia questions in his name. Cue Yakov Smirnoff.

6:27: Melky Cabrera gets on base with one out in the top of the 5th. There goes Molina back in the dugout and here comes Posada out of the dugout...and he goes down on strikes. Does this mean A.J. Burnett is gone, too, since Molina catches Burnett? Angels need runs. They haven't scored since the 1st. BTW: I like how Mathis, the Angels catcher, pounces after that ball when he's behind the plate. He really moves. C'mon, Lackey, strike Jeter out already. Yes! Made him look ba-yad, too.

6:37:  "That's outside!" Gotta love an ump you can hear. I also like this guy's strike zone so far. Seems on. A solid base-knock from Torii. Let's see if he tries to steal again. And yet another throw over to first base. You embarass me and I will bore everyone to make sure you don't embarass me again. Joe Buck: "Hunter's getting worn out over there." CUT TO: Hunter, smiling.

6:48: Two-out double from A-Rod. Did he think it was a homerun? It took him awhile to get to second, but then Torii played it well off the wall, too. Again, I'm happy for A-Rod as long as it doesn't lead to any runs here. And...? A walk. Joe Buck: "And with Cano coming up, with one swing of the bat he could change the complexion of the game." Oh, shut up! Nope, force at second. Yanks have 9 outs left.

7:00: Some doofus dunks himelf in the fake pond in centerfield and for some reason FOX shows it. For a long while, too. I thought the networks weren't supposed to show this crap, so they don't encourage the doofuses of the world. Then again, FOX is used to broadcasting, and encouraging, the doofuses of the world.

7:17: It's a good feeling when a ball, that might be trouble, is hit to a guy, and you're not even worried. That's how I feel when a ball is hit to Torii Hunter. But overall I still don't like this. It's top of the 7th and the Angels are just sitting on this lead. And now a third strike to Posada is called a ball? Joe Buck: "What will that lead to?" Oh, shut up. And now Jeter walks to load the bases. The tying run, Johnny Damon, comes to the plate for the Yankees. Joe Buck: "Damon has homered in two straight games... One memorable Damon grand slam in LCS play..." Oh, shut up! But Damon flies out. So... two outs. But the tying run is still at the plate: Mark Teixeira. And there goes Lackey with 7 outs still to go. And here comes Darren Oliver. And there goes the mothercreepingfreakingflugging ball! CRAP! One pitch from Oliver, three runs score. How big is that missed called third strike by the ump? The Yankees always seem to capitalize on bad calls. Now a Matsui basehit. Tie game. This is not a good feeling.

7:20: Is there a more obnoxious commercial than that Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad? It's the Yankees of ads. It also feels slightly racist. "Don't worry, Punjab, I'm here."

7:25: 6-4, Yankees. I hate life. But the inning finally ends, thanks to Nick Swisher. The Angels still have nine outs, but if this is the end of their season, if we're done with the LCS, the Yankees and Phillies have to wait a whole freakin' week while the earth moves further and further away from the warmth of the sun. Nice schedule, Bud. Of course, if there's one team that deserves to play in the cold and awful of November, it's the Yankees.

7:32: McCarver's talking as if the pitching change (Oliver for Lackey) happened when there was one out. There were two outs. There, he corrects himself.

Seventh inning, Angels! This is your inning! The eighth means the only pitcher with VETO power in the Majors, Mariano Rivera, can come in, and we don't want that. Jesus, I just realized the Yankees got their half-dozen runs without a homerun. In fact, no one's hit a homerun in this game. 10 runs, no homeruns. A walk to Eybar, the man with cheekbones you can cut yourself on, and there goes Burnett. And here comes the top of the Angels order. Time for a homerun, Angels! But Chone Figgins...drops a bunt? I don't know. I'm not a fan of the sacrifice. You just gave up one of the nine outs you have left in the season.

McCarver calls Yankees reliever Damaso Marte the most "volatile" of the Yankee relievers. In terms of temperament? In terms of performance? What does he mean? Ground-out from Abreu scores a run. 6-5, Yankees. And here comes a new reliever. Phil Hughes vs. Torii Hunter. 1-0 count. Tying run at third. 2-0. Hitter's pitch. 3-0. Do you greenlight him? Why not? See if he can send it deep and put the Angels ahead. He walks anyway, so it's time for Big Bad Vlad.

Wow, after that second strike I was ready to give up on Vlad, but thankfully Jeter can't go to his left, and it's a basehit and a tie game! Now 12 runs without a homerun. Time for a homer, Kendry! 3-1 count. And the ball's ripped into right field! "And here comes Torii Hunter! And the Angels are back on top!" Izturis is up but McCarver's still questioning the 1-2 fastball to Vlad.

7:58: Top of the 8th, 7-6, Angels, and Jared Weaver's knocking 'em down. If he keeps doing it, they should let him stay in. Love the Angels' fans booing Jeter every time he comes up. Yanks got four outs left. Yes! Fastball down the pike and Jeter coudn't catch up! Three outs left. LEAVE WEAVER IN!

8:09: So nice to see Joba the Hutt. And it's a lead-off double! Hope the Yanks don't bring in VETO power. Might not matter since the Angels continue to bunt away outs. If they can get the bunts down. And now Eric Eybar sends one up the middle but Cano gets to it. Can't get Eybar at first but it prevents a run from scoring. And, uh-oh, VETO power is up and throwing. So the Yankees stall...and stall... and stall... and then bring him in. The last no. 42 in Major League Baseball. Let's see if the Angels can at least get that one big run in.

8:14: "10 earned runs in 125 1/3 innings pitched in the post-season." If Rivera isn't the real reason for the Yankees' success these past 13 years... OK, Rivera and $$$$$$$$. Hey, good move by Eybar, stealing second with the infield in. And McCarver just mentioned what I just thought: Luis Gonzalez in '01 hitting that bloop single off Rivera to win the World Series with the infield in. McCarver called it correctly then, hope he's called it correctly here. Nope, fly ball...and the guy on third doesn't even score! Crap. That was about as solid a hit as you can get off of Rivera. Pop fly ends the inning. So now it's 10 earned runs in 126 innings pitched in the post-season. And here comes Fuentes. He's going to have to face A-Rod again, isn't he?

8:34: "Johnny Damon...how I hate him.. now that he's with New York..." A rocket to first but out. And an easy fly out from Teixeira. Two gone. And now... A-Rod. Do you walk him? No. Pitch to him! But they don't. They intentionally walk him. I know it worked before but that's a little too much respect for a guy who makes an out 2 every 3 times. Poor A-Rod. First they walk him, now they pinch-run for him. Won't anyone let him play?

And now it's 3-1 to Matsui. And now it's 3-2 to Matsui. And now Matsui walks. Runners at first and second, and two out, and Robinson Cano at the plate. And Fuentes hits him. Bases juiced. Joe Buck: "And Nick Swisher, who does not have an RBI this entire series, will be the hitter." Shut up! But a quick 0-2 to Swisher. Now 1-2. Now foul. Now 2-2. Joe Buck: "It's a situation like this that makes this game great." Sure, but only if the Angels win. Otherwise it's like Goliath beating David and that's hardly news. Now it's 3-2. With the bases juiced and a one-run lead. But Swisher swings and it's a high popup!...And Eybar's got it!... And we're going to New York for Game Six.

Whew.

Interesting experiment but doubt I'll repeat it anytime soon. Too difficult to say anything interesting in the time-span allowed. It's vaguely interesting, because you get to see what you thought an inning or two or three earlier, but overall... It's typing, not writing, as Truman Capote once said of Kerouac.

Look Bronxward, Angels.

ADDENDUM: Turns out that after his 3-RBI double in the seventh, Mark Teixeira isn't the next A-Rod; Nick Swisher is. Rob Neyer sensibly asks everyone to shut up already about this crap.

Posted at 04:52 PM on Oct 22, 2009 in category Baseball, Yankees Suck
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Saturday October 17, 2009

Countdown to the World Series-III

We're still 11 days away from the start of the 2009 World Series—and y'all know how I feel about that—but today, Oct. 17, is particularly significant as a demarcation point between how we did things then and how we do things now. Except for the anomalous years of 1910 and '11, every World Series from 1903 to 1971 was finished by this date. Every one. Since the advent of the division series in 1995? Only one World Series had even begun by this date, and that one, in 1998, began on this date. Here's your chart. The gray vertical lines are the first and last days of October; the light-green vertical line is October 17:

How's the weather where you are? It turned pretty crappy here in Seattle a couple of days ago. Yesterday it dumped. Today it's damp, drizzly, gray. But at least it's not as cold as it is in New York.

The solution to this problem, as I've said, is to play through, play through, play through. No dayoffs during the playoffs. Maybe no days off during the World Series, either. This is hardly unprecedented. For your reading pleasure, a list of the 22 World Series that were played through without even one stinkin' day off or postponed game:

  • 1906: Chicago White Sox 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct. 9-14)
  • 1907: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 0, Tie 1 (Oct. 8-12)
  • 1908: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 1 (Oct. 10-14)
  • 1913: Philadelphia Athletics 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 7-11)
  • 1922: New York Giants 4, New York Yankees 0, tie 1 (Oct. 4-8)
  • 1923: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 2 (Oct. 10-15)
  • 1924: Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3 (Oct. 4-10)
  • 1927: New York Yankees 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 9 (Oct. 5-8)
  • 1933: New York Giants 4, Washington Senators 1 (Oct. 3-7)
  • 1934: St. Louis Cardinals 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 3-9)
  • 1935: Detroit Tigers 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct.  2-7)
  • 1937: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 6-10)
  • 1940: Cincinnati Reds 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 2-8)
  • 1944: St. Louis Cardinals 4, St. Louis Browns 2 (Oct. 4-9)
  • 1947: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Sept. 30-Oct. 6)
  • 1948: Cleveland Indians 4, Boston Braves 2 (Oct 6-11)
  • 1949: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 1 (Oct. 5-9)
  • 1950: New York Yankees 4, Philadelphia Phillies 0 (Oct. 4-7)
  • 1952: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Oct. 1-7)
  • 1953: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 2 (Sept. 30-Oct.5)
  • 1954: New York Giants 4, Cleveland Indians 0 (Sept. 29-Oct. 2)
  • 1955: Brooklyn Dodgers 4, New York Yankees 3 (Sept. 18-Oct. 4)

I figure if they didn't have off-days for travel between Chicago and Detroit in 1907, players don't need them now, a century later.

Playing every day, as baseball was meant to be played, is the only way we're going to get back to some semblance of good, World Series weather. Jimmy Rollins will thank you, Robinson Cano will thank you, and I'll thank you.

Posted at 10:39 AM on Oct 17, 2009 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 15, 2009

How to Fix the World Series—In a Good Way

The graph below charts on which days (and nights) in October (and September and November) the World Series played—from 1903 to 2009. Orange represents game days, yellow represents off-days. The gray vertical lines represent the first and last days of October:

I was surprised that many of the first World Series games were played in mid-October. In two years, in fact—1910 and 1911, those orange lines sticking out at the top of the chart—they didn't begin until mid-October, and, because of a weeklong rain delay in Philadelphia, the 1911 Series didn't end until October 27th. But they learned their lesson. Not that one shouldn't play the World Series in Philadelphia (although...), but you need to start earlier to hopefully hit the good October weather. So they started earlier. After 1911, October 10th (1923) was the latest Series start until 1969. That's a good time to play the most important games of the year. Indian summer, we used to call it. World Series weather, Billy Crystal used to call it.

Four events have pushed the most important games of the year deeper into the darkest, coldest part of October: the introduction of the 162-game schedule in 1961; the introduction of the best-of-five playoffs in 1969; the shift to a best-of-seven playoffs in 1985; and the introduction of the best-of-five division series in 1995.

Overall, as many as 20 games (162-154+5+7), and at least 15 games (162-154+3+4), have been added to the post-season schedule.

For a while, MLB accommodated these extra games by pushing up the start of the baseball season into early April and sometimes into late March. But eventually MLB began running out of room here, too, and the long push into late October began. Al Qaeda prompted the first November Series in 2001; and now Commissioner Bud Selig, with a nod to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March and a yes-man attitude toward the networks, has adopted al Qaeda's schedule for 2009. Game Four is set for Nov. 1st. Game Seven, if we get there, is scheduled for Nov. 5th.

Can anything—short of reverting back to the 154-game schedule or eliminating a tier of playoffs—be done to reverse this trend?

Of course. Eliminate most of the off-days in October. I've written about this before.

This year the regular season ended on Sunday, October 4th. Assuming each playoff series goes the maximum, there are, for each team, 11 off-days before the World Series even begins. In other words, half the days in October are off-days.

So why not have the players play through? That's what they do during the regular season. With this method, we could've had the following 2009 post-season schedule:

  • Division series: Begin Tuesday, Oct. 6 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Saturday, Oct. 10 (game 5). Day off Sunday, or for postponed games.
  • Championship series: Begin Monday, Oct. 12 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Sunday, Oct. 18 (game 7). Day off Monday, or for postponed games.
  • World Series: Begin Tuesday, October 20.

We save a week, we don't go into November, and teams have to play the kind of games they played to get to the post-season: notably, using fifth starters and more of their bullpen. Teams dance with those that brung them. Hell, with this method, in a non-WBC year, we could start the World Series as early as mid-October. Maybe as early as Oct. 12. And we haven't done that since 1984.

Arguments against?

  • Wait! That means four games per day are played during the division series! How can I watch them all? Don't you have TiVo? Or DVR? Or the Internet? I might also suggest not watching them all and, you know, getting a semblance of a life.
  • Who wants to watch fifth starters when you could watch C.C. Sabathia? Nothing would please most baseball fans more than watching the Yankees fumble with their fifth starter.
  • Is the weather really that important, Uncle Erik? Not sure if anyone would actually raise this objection but here's the evidence: the average monthly temperatures for the following cities, according to weatherbase.com, which suggests it makes sense to lean toward September rather than play into November:
City Sept. Oct. Nov.
New York 68 58 48
Philadelphia 68 57 47
Chicago 65
53
40
Minneapolis 61 50 33
  • Dude! The networks won't allow it. And the networks rule! I admit I have no idea what kind of negotiations go on with your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs, or why the networks would want off-days in the first place, since off-days cause fans and casual observers to lose the thread of the storyline. "What day is it on again?"  Etc. But it feels like MLB could push this if they wanted. They could push this because they have their own network now. Hell, if they got the MLB network on basic cable—and, again, I'm not sure what you'd have to do to get a network on basic cable—they could elminate your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs completely. Maybe that's their strategy. I hope it is.
  • Why mess with a good thing? Because it's not a good thing. And not just aesthetically or historically; it doesn't make market sense, either. The trend in television ratings, and thus ad revenue, has been down since the early '80s. Look here. Or here. The ratings for the first game of the 1986 World Series? 24.2. The ratings for the first game of the 2008 World Series? 9.2. In fact, last year, for the first time ever, every game of the World Series had a rating below 10—while the third game had a rating of 6.1. Ouch. I don't know if what I suggest would reverse the ratings trend; I just know that what they're doing now isn't turning people, and television sets, on.

Baseball has a problem but it has an easy solution. Eliminate off-days. Maintain the thread of the storyline. Dance with the guys that brung ya. It's win-win-win-win. 

Baseball is supposed to be played every day in fair weather. We're now playing the most important games every other day in horrendous weather. And that's not baseball.

Posted at 09:11 AM on Oct 15, 2009 in category Baseball
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