And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 14, Orioles 3: Aaron Judge went 4-for-4 with two homers, one of which was the longest home run hit in baseball this year. He also doubled, walked and scored four times. Judge has 21 homers on the year. Eight of them have come against the Orioles in a mere 12 games. Lost in all of that was Starlin Castro driving in five. New York has won five in a row and has scored 55 runs in those five games. They’re just ridiculous right now, and they’re being led by the most ridiculously good story of 2017.

Indians 4, White Sox 2: Carlos Carrasco allowed two runs in five and a third and got pulled when the White Sox were rallying. The Indians bullpen, however, does not abide rallies. Andrew Miller came in to put out the fire and he, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen smothered whatever embers there were in the Chicago bats, tossing three and two-thirds of one-hit relief in total. When Cleveland has those horses rested and ready to go like they did here, the game is short for the opposition.

Rangers 5, Nationals 1: Austin Bibens-Dirkx allowed a run and three hits in seven innings while making his second big league start. In other news I refuse to believe that someone with a name like “Austin Bibens-Dirkx” is a 32-year-old rookie pitcher for the Texas Rangers and not am intense, high-powered, flamboyantly-dressed British magazine publisher with a dark secret. I mean, honestly, if someone showed you these two guys and asked you pick which one you think is named “Austin Bibens-Dirkx,” which would you choose?

Dang right.

Oh, Max Scherzer lost the game but he also struck out ten and topped 2,000 strikeouts for his career.

Giants 13, Twins 8: The Giants’ offense broke out just in time to help them avoid a three-game sweep. Buster Posey had three hits and four RBI. Hunter Pence added three doubles and scored three times. Oh, speaking of baseball names: it’s a well-known fact that every person named “Hunter” is or was at one time a top baseball prospect. Really, if you ever meet a Hunter, it is 100% the case that they reached at least Double-A for some organization.

Rays 5, Athletics 4Mallex Smith was called up on Friday to take the spot of the injured Kevin Kiermaier and quickly contributed, going 8-for-14 over the weekend including three hits in this one as the Rays take three of four from Oakland. The A’s have dropped eight straight series on the road.

Mets 2, Braves 1: Seth Lugo, who has been on the DL all year, made his season debut and gave up only one run and six hits, striking out seven and walking two as New York takes three of four. Lugo also doubled and scored. Mets pitchers have given up only nine runs in the past five games.

Pirates 3, Marlins 1Ivan Nova pitched six shutout innings and catcher Elias Diaz drove in two of the Pirates’ three runs and scored the third one. Ichiro hit a homer. It was his second of the year. He last hit more than one homer in a year in 2013. That doesn’t exactly validate that weird “Ichiro could totally have been a home run hitter if he wanted to” thing that used to float around baseball circles, but it’s kind of cool anyway. With Bartolo Colon sort of imploding this year it’s good to see another of baseball’s 40-something club still functioning.

Angels 12, Astros 6: The Angles took a 3-0 lead, the Astros scored six to take a 6-3 lead and then the Angels said “screw this,” and piled on twelve unanswered runs after that. Unanswered on the scoreboard at least. In the dugout they were probably answered by A.J. Hinch with a bunch of profanity and stuff. Eric Young Jr. drove in four, including a three run homer. Albert Pujols homered too. Young is hitting .318/.412/.523 with seven driven in and four stolen bases in the 13 games he’s played since taking Mike Trout‘s place on the roster. That’s not Wally Pipp/Lou Gehrig stuff, but it’s been a nice pick-me-up for the Angels.

Cardinals 6, Phillies 5: After a seven game losing streak, the Cardinals shook up their coaching staff on Friday afternoon. Then they won three straight over the weekend. Coincidence?! Well, yeah, probably actually. That and playing the hapless Phillies (Note: the Phillies weren’t hapless from 2007-2010, as they had Happ). Dexter Fowler hit a three-run homer.

Cubs 7, Rockies 5: The Cubs salvage one here and snap their five-game losing streak. In so doing they snap the Rockies seven-game winning streak. Addison RussellKyle SchwarberMiguel Montero and Ben Zobrist all homered as the Cubs climb back to .500.

Blue Jays 4, Mariners 0Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer and drove in three. J.A. Happ tossed six shutout innings and the pen took it from there. And it really was a group effort: it took six Blue Jays relievers — six! — to record the final nine outs. If Billy Martin were alive today and you told him that a team won 4-0 and needed six guys for the last three innings he’d . . . well, be super drunk and angry and would probably try to pick a fight with you because he doesn’t “like you FACE,” but the point remains. I guess. I don’t know.

Dodgers 9, Reds 7: Cincinnati had a 7-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth but the Dodgers rallied for six. Four of those came on a Corey Seager grand slam. Cody Bellinger hit a solo shot to lead off that evening. The Dodgers may be the $200-gabillion dollar team and all of that but the low-paid kids are pretty dang good, eh?

Diamondbacks 11, Brewers 1: Robbie Ray continues his torrid run, striking out 12 batters in six and two-thirds shutout innings. Ray is 5-0 in his last five starts and has given up just one run over 37 innings while striking out 48 in that span. Paul Goldschmidt had a grand slam.

Royals 8, Padres 3: Two homers for Mike Moustakas. Jake Junis allowed three runs over seven innings. I’m inclined to riff on his name too, but these recaps are already kinda late today, so let’s move on.

Tigers 8, Red Sox 3: The Tigers avoid a sweep thanks in part to a Justin Upton grand slam in the course of a five-run fifth inning. Nicholas Castellanos added a two-run homer. This game took more than four hours. Which made me happy that the kids commandeered my TV last night to watch the Tony Awards, preventing me from sitting through this.

What, don’t all 11-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls watch the Tony Awards?

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.