And That Happened: Monday's scores and recaps

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White Sox 6, Indians 3:
Nice Indians’ debut for Chris Perez: He hit the first two batters he
faced, walked the bases loaded and then gave up a fielder’s choice, an
RBI double, a wild pitch and run-scoring single. One of the guys he hit
— Alexei Ramirez — took it in the head and had to leave the game.
Congratulations, Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge! After fifteen years of
respectability, you have finally brought the Indians back around
full-circle to “Major League” territory, complete with Rick Vaughn on
the mound.

Cubs 3, Pirates 1:
Rich Harden was impressive, striking out nine and giving up only one
run — while scattering nine hits — over seven innings. Phil Rogers
will likely call for the Cubs to waive him tomorrow. In other news,
this may have been the perfect Craig day at the ballpark: small crowd,
weekday game, not too hot, good pitching, done in 2:17. Really makes me
wish I was there. I can almost taste the Yuengling.

Rays 4, Blue Jays 1:
Roy Halladay came back and was good (6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 7K), but not good
enough. Carl Crawford hit a two-run homer, got another hit and stole a
base. Pat Burrell too. The homer I mean. If he stole a base I probably
would have led with that.

Red Sox 4, Orioles 0:
Jon Lester was fantastic (7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 8K) and J.D. Drew homered,
tripled, and singled, driving in two. “Baltimore citizenry welcome
Boston conquerors: ‘we kept your rooms just the way you left them’.”
The Red Sox are 22-9 at Camden Yards since the end of 2005 and have won
eight straight there.

Giants 10, Cardinals 0:
Holy crap, Tim Lincecum is good (CG, SHO, 2 H, 8K, 0 BB). Clayton
Mortensen hitting Aaron Roward on the knee with a pitch in the seventh
was the hardest hit the Cardinals had all night.

Marlins 4, Nationals 2:
Florida vs. Washington, on a Monday night in Miami, with a rain delay.
It says that paid attendance was over 10,000. What do you suppose the
real attendance was. Seventeen? Thirty?

Brewers 10, Mets 6: According to the Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt,
Gary Sheffield was booed heavily each time he came to bat. Sheffield
was traded away from Milwaukee over seventeen years ago. Sure, he left
as a very, very unpopular Brewer, having called out the team’s pitchers
and allegedly tanked plays at third base on purpose. Either way,
though, seventeen years is a long time to hold a grudge, isn’t it?
Willie Randolph was the starting second basemen and Jim Gantner was the
starting third baseman on Sheff’s last Brewer club. Rick Dempsey was on
that roster. Maybe they should let it go, ya know?

Royals 4, Twins 2:
Luke Hochevar has had one dawg of a start since his recall on June 6th,
but the others have been aces, including this one (7 IP, 2 H. 0 ER).
Like J.D. Drew in the Red Sox game, Miguel Olivo came a double short of
the cycle, driving in two runs.

Angels 5, Rangers 4:
The Angels are starting to pull away from Texas. This saddens me
because I think I may have been the only person in the free world who
picked Texas to win the west before the season started and I don’t want
to see them slide out of contention. Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera did
the damage for Anaheim, driving in a pair each.

Astros 3, Padres 1: Roy Oswalt’s still got it (CG, 2 H, 1 ER 8K), as he continues to own San Diego.

Athletics 7, Tigers 1:
Rick Porcello was beat up by an A’s offense that doesn’t beat up many,
giving up five runs on nine hits. This is one of the better passages
from a game story this year: “After Porcello was chased, left-hander
Fu-Te Ni struck out Giambi in his major league debut. Ni didn’t know
who Giambi was, and he raised his eyebrows in surprise when told of
Giambi’s achievements.”

Dodgers 4, Rockies 2:
The Dodgers win it on a walkoff homer by Andre Ethier, but it sure took
a while to get there. The Dodgers used eight pitchers, so Joe Torre is
probably going to be sore today from all of that walking back and forth
to the mound.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.