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And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 4, Rays 3: Morning baseball on Patriots’ Day featured Andrew Benintendi hitting a go-ahead, two-run single in the second inning which put the Sox ahead for good. All three runs in that inning were unearned thanks to a Brad Miller error. In his defense, ballplayers usually either play night games on Monday or have the day off, so he’s probably usually still asleep at the time the error occurred. You try fielding something at 4 AM. Ain’t easy.

Cardinals 2, Pirates 1: The Cards snap a three-game losing streak thanks to seven shutout innings from Lance Lynn. St. Louis still has the worst record in the NL, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Yankees 7, White Sox 4: Eight straight for the Bombers, powered by a three-run homer from Matt Holliday and a homer and three RBI from Aaron Judge. Rookie Jordan Montgomery took a shutout into the seventh. There’s somethin’ special happening in the Bronx right now. Special April things are never guaranteed to last even into May, let alone October, but this hot start has got to have Yankees fans pretty stoked.

Braves 5, Padres 4: Two homers and a double from the red hot Freedie Freeman and a walkoff RBI single from Dansby Swanson, breaking a 4-4 tie with two outs. The Braves finished their first series in their new ballpark with a four-game sweep. It was only the Padres, but Ws are Ws. Overall the Braves have won five in a row. Which comes after losing five in a row. Which means, like, the last 11-12 days never happened, right? Baseball with zero velocity?

Brewers 6, Cubs 3Eric Thames brought his big bat from Korea. The newest Brewer homered again, making that five games in row with a dinger. Ryan Braun and Jett Bandy also homered, giving the Brewers their sixth win in seven games. If Jett Bandy was named after James Dean’s character in “Giant,” I am going to track down his parents and buy them a steak dinner because that’s all kinds of cool. The Cubs fall to 6-7 overall.

Indians 3, Twins 1: Michael Brantley homered and drove in two. Having him back this year is so big for Cleveland. Danny Salazar allowed one run over six innings and struck out seven. Having him back to full strength after he was barely available for the playoffs last year is big too.

Astros 3, Angels 0: Charlie Morton tossed five shutout innings and three relievers took the five-hitter rest of the way home. Jose Altuve drove in two of the Astros’ three runs.

Rangers 7, Athletics 0: A.J. Griffin stymies his former club, allowing only one hit in six shutout innings. Nomar Mazara knocked in three. Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli each drove in two themselves.

Mariners 6, Marlins 1Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back homers in the first, and the rest was just paperwork. Ariel Miranda threw seven shutout innings. Feels like every pitcher threw six or seven shutout innings last night. All 20 starters across major league baseball. All relievers did too, even if the box score says otherwise. The government is keeping that information from you. But it’s true, every pitcher tossed six or seven shutout innings last night.

Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 2: It was 2-2 heading into the eighth but then Jake Lamb hit the go-ahead solo homer. That was followed up by an RBI triple from David Peralta in the ninth. On-pace stats are stupid this time of the year, but with three bombs and 12 RBI so far, Lamb is proving that last year’s 29-homer, 91-RBI season was no fluke.

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.