Fox to put a lot more Saturday games in prime time this season

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I don’t know about you, but my summer Saturday afternoons are filled with shopping, cleaning, kids’ birthday parties, trips to the community pool and drinking beer while staring into the middle distance and wondering, if I jumped into my car and drove west with a purpose, how far I’d get before the authorities caught up with me and brought me back to the domestic existence from which I have no hope of escaping until at least the summer of 2023 when my son goes away to college.

Sorry. I may have said too much there.

The point is, it’s often very hard for me to find time to sit down and watch a baseball game on Saturday afternoon.  Last year Fox, realizing this, moved a couple to prime time where, amazingly, the ratings were higher.  So this year they’re doing it with several more games:

The latest attempt to turn TV’s least-watched night into a showcase for sports: Fox’s regular-season baseball will move to Saturday prime time (7 ET) for eight weeks in a row. The move, to be formally announced today, will start May 19 with regionalized coverage of five games, led by Boston Red Sox-Philadelphia Phillies. Fox’s idea is to package five or six games in prime time, compared with the usual three in Fox’s afternoon slots, offering options to swing viewers between games and, when games end quickly, switch to other games.

Given how much success ABC and ESPN have had with college football on Saturday nights, it makes perfect sense that baseball would do better in the evening hours than it does in the afternoon.  Yes, the big drawback is that it messes with local broadcasts of non-national games — the blackout rules will still apply, it seems — but it’s probably better for MLB to have another prime time national showcase apart from Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.