This is why we can’t have nice things: Orioles flaunt doubleheader rule

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A couple of years ago, MLB did a nice thing, accommodating teams with doubleheaders by allowing them to play with a 26th man for the day. Of course, one of the reasons it took so long for the rule to come about is that the league knew that no matter how it tried to structure the rule, MLB teams would seek to exploit it.

Take, for example, the 2014 Baltimore Orioles and Kevin Gausman. On Wednesday night, Gausman pitched six scoreless innings as part of a 2-0 shutout of the Rays. On Friday night, he was demoted back to Triple-A, not because he’s out of the rotation, but because the Orioles saw a chance to game the system. Since the 26th man in doubleheaders is not beholden to the 10-day rule (players optioned to the minors must stay there for 10 days unless being recalled to replace an injured player), Gausman can be recalled to start next Friday in the Orioles’ doubleheader against the Rays.

The original plan was for Gausman to start next Wednesday instead, but since the Orioles have six starters, shuffling things around for him to go Friday was no problem. Making the move gives them an extra middle reliever (Brad Brach) to use in the series against the Yankees and White Sox, and depending on what they want to do with Gausman after his start next Friday, essentially allows them to play with an extra roster spot for a week and a half, putting their opponents at a disadvantage.

That certainly wasn’t MLB’s intention in crafting the rule. But, then, MLB typically does a lousy job of crafting rules, as we’ve seen with some of the replay/plate blocking stuff this year and we’ll see again on July 1, when the Yankees dominate international signing day. The Orioles are hardly the first to try to use the 26th man rule for a several-day advantage and they won’t be the last. Plus, as far as these things go, it’s far less distasteful that placing a starting pitcher on the bereavement list a day after his start and activating him the day before his next start. It’s on MLB to tighten up the 26th man rule, if it cares to do so.

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.