Realignment? No way. How about "unalignment"

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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
year.

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.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.