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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 3, Dodgers 2: The Cubs raise the World Series banner and get their rings (UPDATE: oops, they get their rings later this week) and all of that. Anthony Rizzo led the ceremonies, being the first player to begin hoisting the flag and being the one selected to carry the World Series trophy onto the field. He then carried the Cubs off the field in victory by hitting a game-winning single to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth and walk the champs off in victory. This game featured a rain delay at the outset, opening ceremonies and then the clubs cycled through 12 pitchers. Long night at Wrigley, but a happy one for the hometown nine and hometown crowd.

Nationals 14, Cardinals 6: Bryce Harper hit four singles and reached base six times thanks to two walks. Drove in three. Adam Eaton had three RBI himself, singling in two and hitting a sac fly. Adam Wainwright was tattooed for six runs, five earned, on eleven hits in four innings. He wasn’t the only Cards pitcher to be hating life yesterday, however, as the Nats formed a conga line on the basepaths in the eight too, plating seven runners against two relievers. In all, Washington rapped out 19 hits and walked six times to get those 14 runs. It was almost enough to get Cards fans to switch over to the Cubs ring ceremony.

Yankees 8, Rays 1: Michael Pineda was perfect through six and two-thirds — thanks, Martha! — but given how many runs the Yankees scored off of Alex Cobb and Austin Pruitt he didn’t have to be. Pineda ended up pitching seven and two-thirds, striking out 11 and allowing one run on two hits.

Reds 7, Pirates 1: While it’s certainly impressive that Pineda was perfect through six and two-thirds, it’s worth noting that the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen was perfect for seven. Michael Lorenzen (3IP), who got out of a jam Reds starter Brandon Finnegan got into in the third, settled things down and then he, Cody Reed (3IP) and Wandy Peralta (1IP) shut down the Pirates for the rest of the night. Given how terrible the Reds’ pen was in 2016, I feel like they should be allowed to hoist some sort of banner like the Cubs did last night.

Tigers 2, Red Sox 1: A matchup of Cy Young contenders did not disappoint, with Justin Verlander and Chris Sale each putting forth strong performances. Verlander was a bit stronger on the day, however, allowing one run, unearned, over seven innings while Sale allowed two runs, striking out ten, while pitching seven and two-thirds. Sale took the loss, having given up an Ian Kinsler homer in the sixth and than a Nick Castellanos RBI single in the eighth. The Tigers took three of four from the flu-depleted Red Sox.

Athletics 2, Royals 0: A two-run homer from Khris Davis in the fourth was all the scoring in this one, as Jharel Cotton rebounded from his poor first start of the season to toss seven shutout innings and beat Ian Kennedy.

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 1: Matt Moore impressed over eight innings, allowing one run on three hits. He also figured in a weird scoring play, hitting into a fielder’s choice on a swinging bunt in the fourth that resulted in three runs being scored thanks to the Dbacks throwing the ball away twice:

Mariners 6, Astros 0: James Paxton added another strong outing on a day filled with them, shutting Houston out for seven innings in the M’s home opener. This is the second straight time Paxton has shut Houston down, in fact, as his first start of the year, five days prior, featured him blanking the Astros for six innings. What if they made the whole schedule out of Astros games?

Mets 4, Phillies 3: Mets infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and Phillies reliever Edubray Ramos have a history as Cabrera hit a walkoff three-run homer off of Ramos late last season and celebrated it by tossing his bat and throwing his arms in the air. Which, to be fair, was justified as the Mets were in a desperate fight for the Wild Card, making that win a huge one. Ramos had apparently been seething about it, because last night when he faced Cabrera with one out in the top of the eighth, he sent one in high and tight. Cabrera took a couple of steps in but nothing happened other than warnings being issued and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin getting tossed. Ramos ended up walking Cabrera and Jay Bruce ended up launching a two-run homer — his second homer of the game — to give the Mets their winning margin.

Padres 5, Rockies 3: Wil Myers singled in the first inning, doubled in the third, hit a solo home run in the sixth, and hit a triple in the eighth. That’s a cycle, folks. Myers is now the second player in Padres history to hit for the cycle. The other was Matt Kemp on August 14, 2015 against the Rockies, also at Coors Field.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.