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And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 7, White Sox 2: Chicago wins! Willson Contreras hit a three-run homer and drove in four in all. The talk of the game, though, was John Lackey who plunked four White Sox batters. Three of them in the fifth inning. It put me in mind of Dock Ellis’ famous “do-the-do” game, except Lackey is about as far from Dock Ellis-level cool as one can possibly get. Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon struck out 11 batters but lasted only four innings. Should’ve given up some more ground balls. It’s more democratic. The Cubs have won nine of 11.

Yankees 4, Reds 2: Todd Frazier hit into a triple play in his first at bat as a Yankee in Yankee Stadium. A run scored on the play — out number three came on a time-buying rundown — and the Yankees still won, so I suppose he doesn’t mind much. Jordan Montgomery allowed one run while pitching into the seventh. Didi Gregorius hit a sac fly and homered. Here’s the triple play:

Brewers 8, Nationals 0: Zach Davies pitched shutout ball into the eighth and Oliver Drake took it the rest of the way. Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Manny Pina all homered. Shaw’s was a three-run blast. “Oliver Drake” sounds like a fake name a guy gives to the police after the party gets raided. He’s a little drunk and has to think fast, scans the room, sees his DC comic book collection and just blurts it out.

Astros 5, Phillies 0: Houston can bash your brains in or they can shut you out. Well, they can shut Philly out at least. Old friend Charlie Morton did the honors here with seven shutout frames. Speaking of Morton and the Phillies, remember when he was supposed to have turned into a Roy Halladay clone? For that matter, remember Roy Halladay? That was some Ric Flair-Buddy Landel falloff there, brother. In other news, Jose Altuve only went 1-for-4, so I assume he had a compound fracture or something.

Blue Jays 4, Athletics 1: Fun with earned runs. A’s starter Sonny Gray gave up four runs in the second — all the runs the Jays would score in the game — but they were all unearned. Tough luck? Well, they were unearned because Gray himself made the throwing error that caused them to be unearned. Oh, and he also uncorked a wild pitch that put a runner in scoring position. He gave up four hits in the inning — two doubles — but all the runs were “unearned.” Stats are dumb.

Indians 11, Angels 7: You don’t see many walkoff grand slams, but Edwin Encarnacion hit one here in the bottom of the 11th. All three of the baserunners reached via a Bud Norris-issued walk, one intentional, two accidental. That was the second grand slam allowed by Angels pitchers in the game, by the way, as Bradley Zimmer hit one in the second. The Indians had a 7-0 lead after two and blew it before Encarnacion’s heroics. In other news, the AP gamer reads like Coppola’s discarded first draft of “Apocalypse Now”:

CLEVELAND — Bradley Zimmer didn’t care one bit that his mouth was filled with talcum powder.

To the rookie, it tasted like victory.

Royals 3, Tigers 1Whit Merrifield homered on the game’s first pitch and Danny Duffy was solid into the seventh. That’s seven straight for Kansas City. Meanwhile, Ned Yost just rendered every studio analyst and color commentator’s job obsolete with what is, really, the only commentary you need:

The Kansas City Royals are keeping the pressure on in the AL Central, and manager Ned Yost has no big secrets to offer about their impressive winning streak. “There’s no key to staying in it. You just keep playing good,” Yost said. “If there was a key to staying in it, then we would stay in it forever. You just play good. That’s all you do.”

Rays 5, Orioles 4: Baltimore closed the gap late and threatened in the ninth but the Rays held on to break their five-game losing streak. Tim Beckham hit a three-run homer. Rookie starter Jake Faria pitched into the eighth inning and pitched well before running out of gas and stalling out.

Rangers 10, Marlins 4Joey Gallo hit two homers and Mike Napoli and Rougned Odor each had one as well. Christian Yelich had a three-run homer and drove in all four of Miami’s runs in a losing cause. Adrian Beltre went 0-for-3 and the Rangers have a day off on Thursday, so, barring a 16-inning game in which Beltre goes 7-for-7 today, the march to 3,000 will go at least into this weekend. That’s unreasonable, of course. The Rangers could never play a 16-inning game with their bullpen. If they did. Beltre’s 7-for-7 and 3,000th hit would be the sidebar story.

Cardinals 3, Rockies 2: The Cardinals called up top prospect Harrison Bader yesterday. He made a good first impression, doubling to lead off the ninth inning and then scoring the walkoff run on Jedd Gyorko‘s sacrifice fly. He had to slide and everything:

Braves 8, Diamondbacks 3: Kurt Suzuki homered twice and Matt Kemp homered and tripled. Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz allowed two runs over six, striking out nine. He hasn’t lost any of his last nine starts, going 6-0 in that time.

Mariners 6, Red Sox 5: The Red Sox took a one-run lead in the 13th inning with a Sandy Leon RBI single, but Seattle came back in the bottom half via a walk-fielder’s choice-single-wild pitch-walk-infield single combination, proving that you don’t have to bash anyone’s brains in to win this crazy game. Jean Segura hit the walkoff single. Doug Fister was the Sox pitcher responsible for those thousand cuts.

Dodgers 6, Twins 2: Chris Taylor hit two run-scoring doubles and continued his torrid post-All-Star Game hitting. Dude’s 23-for44 in those 11 games and is at .321/.388/.545 on the year. Dude can play five or six positions too. The Dodgers win their 70th game.

Mets 6, Padres 5: Yoenis Cespedes homered, doubled and tripled, driving in three. He scored on that triple too, thanks to a Wil Myers throwing error. Cespedes even threw a bullpen session before the game, so even if the Mets can’t contend in the last two months of the season, maybe they can be fun and let Yo pitch:

Giants 11, Pirates 3: Madison Bumgarner finally earned his first win of the year, allowing one run over five innings. The San Francisco bats were winners too, as Bumgarner singled and scored, Buster Posey had three hits and an RBI, Joe Panik added a bases-loaded triple and the now-departed Eduardo Nunez drove in two before he started hugging his mates.

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.