Is a freeway series good for baseball?

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The Dodgers and Angels in the playoffs together for the third time in six seasons, but this is the first time they’ve both made it this far, so people are starting to buzz about the possibility of a freeway series. Given that the Yankees and Phillies don’t have any plans of simply rolling over and dying the freeway series could just as easily be an I-95 series as it could be a 405  an I-5 series (see updates below), but let’s consider the pros and cons of the California version of such a beast:

Pro: Weather.  Last year’s ski-mask series between the Phillies and Rays was not a whole hell of a lot of fun, and given that this year’s Classic is going to stretch into November, the odds of poor weather affecting a series played in either New York or Philadelphia or both is even greater.  It’s still summer in Los Angeles, however. Hell, it’s always basically summer there.  A freeway series means no rain or snow delays and no Elmer Fudd hats. Just baseball in the sunshine.

Con: Strangely enough, that sunshine.  Because of the imperative that every game of the Series be played in east coast prime time, a freeway series is going to be subject to a lot of long shadows and setting-sun glare.  All but one of the NLCS games are set to start at 5:07 p.m Pacific, and the World Series games would presumably start then too.  That will make it tough for guys to pick up the baseball in the first few innings, which would lead to a lot of pitchers’ duels. Personally I love pitchers’ duels, but that’s only when the guys are really dealing, not because the hitters are flailing at balls they can’t see.

Pro: Stereotype busting.  You know the story: East coast fans are intense and knowledgeable. West coast fans are arrive-late, leave-early dilettantes.  Only problem is that that characterization is completely untrue.  I’ve got a brother and some college friends who live out west and because of it I’ve been lucky enough to go to a great number of Dodgers and Angels games over the years. Sure, there are some folks with expensive seats down low in Dodger Stadium who seem more interested in being seen than watching the game, but no more so than the guys down in the legends suites in New York.  Once you get past those guys, you’ll find no more passionate or knowledgeable fans in baseball than you’ll find in Southern California. You remember the explosion from the Dodgers crowd after Gibson hit that dinger in 1988? It was no fluke. I was at a Dodger game two years ago where Olmedo freakin’ Saenz got the same kind of reaction following a walkoff job. ThunderStix or no ThunderStix, Anaheim gets positively raucous as well.  They love their baseball in Los Angeles, and a freeway series will give the national media a chance to show the rest of the national just how much they do.

Con: The national media will probably whiff on that, instead giving us the standard “it’s the World Series, California-style!” coverage. Lots of shots of Hollywood stars in the stands. Lots of skinny blond chicks holding beers and going “wooo!” No less than 50 commercial breaks lead in with that awful Randy Newman song.  Blah.

Pro:  New faces. We get the Yankees on national TV a hundred times a year.  We just saw the Phillies in last year’s World Series.  While no one really needs more Manny Ramirez coverage, the east coast and Midwest haven’t seen nearly enough Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver and Kendry Morales.  Fresh is good.

Con: Low ratings. Sure, L.A. is the second biggest media market in the country, but (a) it’s not as big as New York; and (b) neither the Dodgers nor the Angels have nearly the national fan base the Yankees have.  Will will two L.A. teams draw the kinds of eyes that a series involving the Yankees will draw?  My guess is no.  I don’t own FOX stock so the business implications of this aren’t tremendous, but a low-rated Dodgers-Angels series would probably mean even more Yankees-Red Sox games on national TV next year.  If that’s possible.

Personally I’d love to see a freeway series because it would be a unique matchup of interesting teams with large portions of the action played in daylight.  I’m not sure the rest of the nation feels that way though.  Ignoring the fact that, yes, it’s probably too early to talk about this yet, how do you feel?

UPDATE: Interesting point raised in the comments as to whether my picture should have been of an I-5 sign instead of an I-405 sign.  I’ll grant that the most direct route between the stadiums is I-5.  On the other hand, no one is really going to be driving between the stadiums in this series, are they?  All of the fans rich enough to afford World Series tickets — and the players themselves — probably live in wealthy West L.A. or the beach communities, no?  Wouldn’t 405 be a better option for those folks?  And at least according to Google Maps, the 1-5 route “in traffic” would take considerably longer than 405.

I really have to plead ignorance here. The times I’ve been to the Big A from Los Angeles, I took the 405, but I wasn’t the one doing the navigating.  Angelenos: give me your opinion in the comments.  If 1-5 is a truly better route from the parts of L.A. where actual World Series attendants are likely to live to Anaheim, I’ll change the signs.

UPDATE #2:  OK, I’m getting a lot of emails and stuff now and the overwhelming sentiment is that it has to be I-5, and if that’s the way the winds are blowing, let no one say I don’t also blow. I have changed it to I-5.  Which is probably for the best considering that the rest of the media will probably go with that too.  Of course, if the forces of 405 make a convincing case later in the day, I’ll change it back again, because I’m a spineless flip-flopper. 

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.