In reaction to the “radical realignment” proposals that floated around last month I made an off-hand suggestion to do something far more simple and far more elegant in order to address the temporary problem of the Yankees and Red Sox hegemony: break all of baseball down to two leagues, with no divisions, a fully-balanced schedule and have the top four teams in each league make the
playoffs. It’s not original or anything — others have suggested the plan before me — but it’s so damn appealing.
Today Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan develops the notion in an excellent column. What’s more, he does something that might actually help get the ball rolling: he gives the plan a name. He calls it “unalignment,” and it makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if a hundred baseball writers came out to today to dismiss it out of hand:
AL teams would play everyone in the league 11 times a year, with 19
interleague games. Those in the NL would play eight teams 10 games each
and seven teams nine games each, plus the 19 interleague contests. If a
team goes somewhere twice one year, it would host that team twice the
next season. The interleague games would rotate yearly. And if baseball
prefers 15 teams in each league, it could move Milwaukee (or another
willing participant) to the AL and use a schedule with at least one
interleague game every day instead of confining them to two blocks a
Passan has an excellent response to those who think that such a plan would kill divisional rivalries: tough. While ESPN won’t like it if we cut the Yankees-Red Sox games down to 11 from the current 18, unalignment would at least give every other AL team a larger piece of the gate from New York and Boston games than they currently get. Bonus: while we may lose seven Yankees-Red Sox games, we also lose even Indians-Royals games and many others of that ilk.
The biggest thing this plan has going for it is fairness. Everyone plays more or less the same schedule (interleague is still a problem, but let us not make a perfect world in which interleague play does not exist the enemy of a good plan). As Passan notes, it avoids the pitfalls of the NBA and NHL systems in which everyone gets into the playoffs for one in which making the playoffs is still difficult, but no longer impossible for those stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography. It retains the part of their systems, however, which rewards the best records no no matter where they happen be located.
I think it’s time to get this bandwagon out of the garage and out on the road. Unalignment, baby.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.