And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2Justin Smoak smacked a two-run homer to tie it up in the sixth and Josh Donaldson hit a solo homer to break that tie in the eighth. It was Donaldson’s bobblehead day too. I wonder how many guys knock in game-winning runs on their bobblehead day? I wonder if anyone’s been ejected on their bobblehead day?

Pirates 11, Mets 1: The Pirates had a 5-1 lead in the seventh when John Jaso grounded into an inning-ending double play. The players went to their dugouts to get ready for the bottom half of the inning, the fans stood and “God Bless America” was sung. Then, because Clint Hurdle had actually challenged the call on the double play and because he won the challenge, the Pirates went back to bat, making this the first time the top of the seventh inning was finished before the seventh inning stretch. When play resumed, David Freese singled home a run to make it 6-1 before the Mets finally recorded the third out. They played “Take me out to the Ballgame” for the second seventh inning stretch. And you thought replay made the game less interesting.

Mariners 7, Rays 1: Seattle’s Ariel Miranda pitched a four-hitter complete game, striking out nine, as the M’s sweep the Rays. All that’s great, but this play by Jarod Dyson is really all that matters:

Red Sox 7, Orioles 3Andrew Benintendi hit two solo homers and added an RBI single. They scored two more runs when opposing catcher Francisco Pena tried to keep a runner at third base close by firing the ball down the line after fielding a pitch in the dirt but airmailed it. When I saw this in the box score at first, it didn’t say where Pena was throwing it, but did say that Pablo Sandoval was safe at second base after it was all said and done, so for a moment I imagined it all kicking off with Sandoval trying to steal a base. Alas, that was not what happened and we are all worse off for it not happening.

Phillies 9, Giants 7: , Freddy Galvis homered from both sides of the plate and Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera went deep too. The Phillies win back-to-back games for the first time since April. The Giants have lost their seventh of ten. After the game, Bruce Bochy said “We just didn’t execute pitches very well today and we got what you’re going to get when you don’t make pitches.” I have a bit of a rant coming up later this morning about “executing pitches.” It’s not the most well thought-out rant, but it’s been a long time coming. Stay tuned.

Brewers 3, Dodgers 0: Zach Davies tossed six shutout innings, allowing three hits, and the bullpen added three hitless innings onto that to shut the Dodgers out. Eric Thames and Domingo Santana homered for Milwaukee. No one went deep for L.A., because as I said, they were shut out. In this homer-happy age, though, I’m sure some team will find its way around that at some point this year.

Nationals 11, Athletics 10Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run homer to give the Nats a 6-3 lead in the eighth and the A’s made it 6-4 in the bottom half. The Nats scored five in the top of the ninth thanks in part to back-to-back homers from Matt Wieters and Michael Taylor to make it 11-4 but the A’s scored six in the bottom half to make this one really dang close. The Nats have a 10.5 game lead in their division but boy howdy do they need a closer. The A’s have lost seven of nine.

Tigers 7, White Sox 4: Tied at four in the bottom of the ninth and Justin Upton hit a walkoff three-run homer. The White Sox have dropped five in a row and were outscored 32-10 in the series. The win makes what was otherwise a bad day for Detroit more tolerable.

Braves 13, Reds 8: Ender Inciarte had five hits, reached on a walk and knocked in five runs. Danny Santana had four hits and three RBI and Matt Adams hit his third homer in two days. Fourteen hits in all for Atlanta, who took two of three from the Redlegs. Zack Cozart homered twice and drove in five runs in a winning effort in a losing cause.

Marlins 6, Diamondbacks 5: Tyler Moore hit a three-run homer, Derek Dietrich drove in two and A.J. Ellis knocked in the go-ahead run with an RBI single on the 14th pitch of his seventh inning at bat. The Marlins have won seven of eight and eight of ten.

Indians 8, Royals 0: Daniel Robertson drove in three, Roberto Perez knocked in two and Jason Kipnis homered and drove in two as the Indians pound the Royals to avoid the sweep. Trevor Bauer didn’t figure in the decision here because of a two-hour rain delay that chased him out of the game, but he probably had the highlight of the game anyway when he kicked a ball to start a double play.

Astros 7, Rangers 2: Two homers for George Springer and four homers in all for the Astros as they sweep the Rangers and win their tenth game in a row. The Astros have won six of seven from the Rangers this year after going 4-15 against them. Houston has a 13.5 lead over the Angels and Mariners in the division.

Twins 3, Angels 2Miguel Sano hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth as the Twins take three of four from the Angels. The game ended on an overturned call on an attempted steal of second base by Ben Revere.

Rockies 3, Padres 1: Rockies starter allowed one run on three hits over seven innings and Trevor Story drove in a couple as the Rockies jump back into first place in the NL West. Hoffman, who the Rockies acquired in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA and has struck out 26 dudes while walking only two in 20.2 innings this year. He has mid-90s heat and kills you with curveballs. This kid’s gonna be a good one.

Cubs 7, Cardinals 6: Rookie Ian Happ hit two homers and pinch hitter Jon Jay drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh with an RBI single as the Cubs sweep the Cards and move back over .500. The Cards have lost 8 of 11.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
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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.