World Series Game 5 preview: It’s Ace vs. Ace once again

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What: Game 5 of the World Series
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
When: 8:07 EDT, Fox

What to expect? Your guess is as good as ours. But let’s try to pretend this game, which will decide who goes up 3-2 as the Series shifts back to Boston on Wedneday, is going to be conventional. Let’s talk about the matchups.

The 2013 postseason has been defined by aces. Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke. Max Scherzer. Justin Verlander. And now the two biggest aces left standing — Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester — meet once again.

Of course in Game 1 Wainwright looked like anything but an ace, giving up fice runs on six hits in five innings, putting his Cardinals in a hole out of which it was impossible to climb. He said during his pre-Game 4 press conference that that outing was a matter of poor mechanics, but one wonders if that’s the case. By now he’s been pitching for more than eight months straight and, between the regular season and the postseason, has 269.2 innings on his odometer, which is far more than he’s ever pitched. Will his work with film and practicing his pitching motion in a mirror these past four days cure whatever ailed him last Wednesday, or is Wainwright simply out of gas?  We should know in the early innings tonight.

Boston’s ace stands on far firmer footing. Lester looked dominant in Game 1, shutting out the Cardinals in seven and two-thirds innings. And maybe getting into their head a little bit courtesy of some mysterious goo that appeared on his glove. Or maybe that just got into the media’s heads with all of that, as the Cardinals didn’t complain. They did look lost against him, however. Possibly because they hadn’t seen him before. Perhaps their luck will change the second time around. Perhaps home cooking will help too. While it’s not easy to get to Lester anywhere, he is a bit more vulnerable on the road than he is at Fenway Park, where he sports a 3.09 ERA. In hostile stadiums he’s at 4.21.

Frankly, there is pressure on both offenses. Offenses which, in the regular season, were near the top of their respective leagues in most categories, but which have been mostly quiet during the World Series.

The Red Sox got power from an unexpected source in Jonny Gomes in Game 4 and David Ortiz has been an absolute beast thus far, going 8 for 11 with two homers, four walks and five RBI in the Fall Classic. But beyond that, it’s been an anemic offensive effort for Boston, with only Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Daniel Nava even cracking .200. For the Cardinals it’s been much the same: they sport a .235/.300/.309 line overall. Whoever can bust out will be the first team to truly do so and it could change the complexion of this Series.

But why are we even anticipating games decided on conventional grounds like hitting and pitching? With a Game 3 decided by one of the most unusual plays in World Series history and Game 4 ending in one of the more ignominious ways a World Series can end, perhaps we should expect the unexpected.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.