2013 Preview: what’s new in the new season?

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For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Next up: new things to watch for in the coming year.

We’ve previewed the teams, so now let’s look at some of the new things to watch for in 2013:

Rules changes

Nothing too drastic, but the changes that were made will be pretty visible:

  • When visiting the mound, managers and coaches will be allowed to bring interpreters with them in the event the pitcher is not fluent in English. No word on whether Phillies pitchers gets interpreters to translate manager Charlie Manuel’s 1940s detective novel slang-speak (hint: “what’s the rumpus?” is Manuelese for “how does your arm feel?” and “give this guy the kiss-off” is when he orders an intentional walk;
  • Teams will be allowed to have seven uniformed coaches in the dugout. Previously the limit was six. This change was necessitated because many teams have hired assistant hitting coaches. Which I suppose was simpler than spending the effort trying to figure out what the existing hitting coaches actually do in the first place; and
  • The pickoff move in which a right-handed pitcher fakes to third base and throws to first is now a balk. Broadcasters are now scrambling to find another oftentimes useful play which they can erroneously claim “never works.”

Schedule changes

With the Houston Astros going from the National League to the American League, giving us 15 teams in each league, it will now be required that, at all times, an interleague series be taking place. This contrasts with past practice of interleague series all occurring during specified blocs during the season. This will also lead to teams playing 20 interleague games a piece instead of the 15-18 interleague games in previous years. There will still be the old construct of “interleague rivals” which in good cases lead to series like Yankees vs. Mets and Giants vs. Athletics. And in bad cases lead to Pirates vs. Tigers and Astros vs. Rockies. Eh, this is where we are now. Those of us who remember and pine for the days of the NL and AL being separate are closer to AARP membership than we are to relevance in this now-over debate.

New Managers

Six teams will sport new managers in 2013:

  • The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine and hired former Blue Jays manager John Farrell;
  • The Indians fired Manny Acta and hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona;
  • Jim Tracy resigned as Colorado Rockies manager and was replaced by rookie manager Walt Weiss;
  • The Astros fired Brad Mills before last season ended and hired former Nationals coach Bo Porter;
  • The Marlins fired Ozzie Guillen after one season and replace him with rookie manager Mike Redmond; and
  • The Blue Jays essentially traded John Farrell to the Red Sox and hired former manager John Gibbons

Uniform changes

  • The Astros, befitting a team with a new owner, new front office, new manager, new league and a throughly-reamed roster, have a whole new look. Gone are the brick red/sand colored uniforms of old and back come the traditional orange and blue the team sported from their inception and on through the early 90s. There’s a bit of a twist to the orange and blue look — they’re not throwbacks to the rainbow days — but it is definitely a familiar and welcome look;
  • The Mets are going with two new alternate jerseys: a home alternate with “Mets” in script and a road alternate featuring “NEW YORK” in block. These look at lot like the 1980s duds.
  • The Cardinals are joining the trend of off-white home alternates which almost always look fantastic. They are also adding “St. Louis” to their road uniforms for the first time in 80 years. All teams should have their city name on the front of the jersey. It’s just cool. And frankly, probably leads to more jersey sales due to local pride and stuff like that.
  • The Pirates have a new home alternate for Sunday games. It’s essentially a throwback to their look from the 1970s, complete with the yellow caps.
  • The White Sox continue last year’s tradition of an alternate throwback uniform. This year it honors the 1983 team. This is a guilty pleasure uniform for me even though it came from the dark days of the pullover double knits; and
  • The Brewers are going to go all-gold on special occasions which they used a couple years ago but had abandoned for a while.

Of course, for all the changes, it will still be baseball.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).