MLB, MLBPA discussing realignment, two 15-team leagues

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ESPN’s Buster Olney has heard from three different sources that Major League Baseball and the players’ union are discussing a plan to move one team from the National League to the American League in order to even up the amount of clubs in each circuit.

The National League currently has 16 teams and a six-club Central division. The American League has 14 teams and a four-club West division. This new plan, which still needs to be voted on and stands only a “50-50” chance of being passed according to an Olney source, would even up those two lopsided divisions while putting 15 clubs in each league.

From a competitive standpoint, it’s the kind of thing that needs to happen. It’s not fair that the teams in the National League Central are at worse odds of reaching the postseason than the teams in all other divisions. The Cardinals, or Brewers, or Cubs must finish with a better record than five other squads in order to win the division and secure a playoff berth. The division winner in the American League West, meanwhile, only has to beat out three teams. The odds can change yearly based on talent level and the Wild Card race — at the moment it’s an advantage to have the Astros and Pirates on the schedule frequently — but simple math says a team in the Central will face a disadvantage most seasons. And, hey, the Bucs are showing signs of life.

Two club executives suggested to Olney that the Astros, currently at the bottom of the NL Central, would likely be moved to the AL West to create a potential rivalry in Texas with the Arlington-based Rangers.

There’s also been a discussion of getting rid of divisions altogether, and simply awarding playoff spots to the top five records in each league. The NHL has a well-received setup that is fairly similar.

It all makes a world of sense, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Major League Baseball tweaked its divisional alignment. Now let’s hope that it doesn’t take too long, as instant replay has, to be properly implemented. Change is a good thing, especially when it rights a clear wrong.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.