Craig Calcaterra

World Series

World Series Reset: Game 1 is finally here

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Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, won by the Mets, took place on October 27. Game 1 of the 2015 World Series takes place on October 27. Mets fans like to worry about stuff a lot and a good many of them believe in signs and omens, most of them bad, the poor things. But maybe this little coincidence will cheer them up as they wait for the first pitch tonight.

Oh wait, Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, won by the Royals, took place on October 27th too. Guess that makes it a wash. Resume worrying, Mets fans.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern.
The Place: Kauffman Stadium
The Channel: Fox — like the one you can get with an antenna and no cable package.
The StartersMatt Harvey vs. Edinson Volquez
The Upshot: Matt Harvey hasn’t pitched in 10 days. He tends to be a good bet on long rest in his career, however, having allowed only 14 earned runs in 94.2 innings pitched and striking out 121 batters with 6+ days of rest. Not that rust may not be an issue, as it appeared to be in his NLDS game against the Dodgers, which also came after a long layoff.

For the Royals it’s Edinson Volquez, who was 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA during the regular season and 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA in three starts in the playoffs. The Royals are hoping they get the Volquez who tossed six shutout innings against Toronto in Game 1 of the ALCS and not the one who got lit up for five in Game 5.

My whole preview of the Series is here. Overall, we all know what we’re getting: a strength vs. strength matchup between Mets starters, who have amazing stuff and strike out batters in droves — while walking very few — and Royals hitters who had the highest contact rate in the majors this season. We have a Royals bullpen which will make the game short. We have a Mets lineup which is far more potent than their season-long stats suggest. Indeed, they were about the best offense in baseball down the stretch and have continued that trend in the playoffs. The Royals themselves are scoring 5.7 runs a game in the postseason.

The first game of a World Series tends to be like round one of championship boxing match in which the fighters are feeling each other out. The bell rings in less than 11 hours.

Rob Manfred and the art of magical thinking

Rob Manfred
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KANSAS CITY — No Major League Baseball “Jewel Event,” as they like to call the World Series, All-Star Game and the Winter Meetings, is complete without the Commissioner showing up and taking questions from the assembled media about the State of the Game. Today is no different, and just as the Royals took the field for their off-day batting practice and infield drills, Manfred got up on his dais to do just that.

He’s a very different character than Bud Selig was. Actually, less of a character. We lived with Bud for so long, overestimating him, underestimating him, mocking him, praising him and most of all turning him into some sort of caricature that, over time, he ceased to be an actual person. There was BudSpeak to which we all became immune and eventually that worked to his benefit, allowing him to get away with a lot of stuff non-caricatures would never be able to. When a man says black is white for so many years — and when he’s actually kinda cute in a weird Midwestern way as he does it — you end up cutting him the sort of slack that shrewd, powerful and situationally manipulative people like Bud Selig actually is tend not to get. “Oh, the owners are going broke, Bud? The Steroid Era is over? Moving all of the baseball games to pay-TV serves the fans better? You may have a point, there, you old salt. Gotta hear both sides!”

Rob Manfred hasn’t earned that kind of a pass yet. He’s still a man. A lawyer, no less. He doesn’t have weird hair, ill-fitting suits and the sort of ruthless rise to power which, by the benefit of time passing and people with memories dying, has been transformed into a “journey.” As a result, when Manfred shovels B.S. we don’t roll our eyes and chuckle like we did with weird old Uncle Bud. We actually smell it and don’t much care for it.

Not that everything he said today was bull. He offered some news, saying that there will be a presentation to owners at the next owners meetings (in November) about fan safety and extended safety netting down the lines. The league is being sued over foul ball injuries at the moment and there have been a number of serious injuries at ballparks. Maybe now we get more netting, maybe we don’t, but either way it seems like we’re close to one of those tipping points in which baseball finally, after a long time discussing something, actually acts in a way which makes a load of sense. It often takes a lot of time for baseball to do the right thing, but they usually move in the right direction.

One area where baseball is moving backwards, however, is in minority representation in front offices and manager jobs. There have been several high-profile GM and manager hires of late, and almost all of the jobs have gone to white men with good connections. Manfred was asked about that today and this is what he said:

“You’re going to have peaks and valleys . . . We are focused on the need to promote diversity . . .  we have had a year where our numbers are down in terms of the diversity that we have in some of our key positions . . . it’s incumbent upon us to come up with additional programs and ways to make sure that our numbers look better over the long haul.”

“Peaks and valleys?” When were the “peaks,” exactly?

OK, we’ll leave that for another day and get down to brass tacks: Right now here’s what baseball has in place:

  • The so-called “Selig Rule” which directs teams to “consider” minority candidates for manager and other positions; and
  • The August retention of search firm Korn Ferry to “provide a number of support services for qualified candidates to assist in their interview preparations for key baseball operations positions [with] special emphasis to the preparation of minority and female candidates.”

Against that are a bunch of Ivy League-educated wunderkind baseball operations types who, as executives have done since time immemorial, have hired guys who look and think they do. As far as efficacious measures go, I’ll take centuries worth of cultural inertia in that battle.

To be fair, Manfred doesn’t hire for these positions himself and, to continue to be fair, there is no reason to believe that the people who make such hires are motivated by some sort of overtly racist or sexist thinking. Indeed, I highly doubt, in this day and age, any of them are racist or sexist in the most obvious or overt ways. But that’s the thing about institutional racism: it doesn’t require such animus by any one person. Any given system may have sloughed off its formalized color barriers and men’s club ways decades ago, but it still may nonetheless have internalized and memorialized racism and sexism as a result of a thousand putatively innocuous decisions which work against women and people of color in the most pernicious of ways.

For example, clubs pay front office people jack crap for the first several years of their careers. They don’t do this because they’re overtly racist or sexist. They do it because they’re cheap and because they can get away with it. A result of that separate and apart from some savings on the bottom line: a huge percentage of the people who were able to stick around long enough to get the sort of seniority that puts them in line for an interview are the ones who were well-off to begin and could afford to make bubkis for several years. Do front offices really favor white, Ivy League educated men? I don’t know. But trust funds sure as hell do. Executive search firms on retainer are nice, but the rich kids’ club being favored by major league front offices is one of the many things Manfred and the owners who employ him need to be thinking about as they think about how to bring new voices and new faces into baseball’s leadership ranks.

The stuff on diversity in front offices and the top of dugout steps is a tough subject, to be sure, so Manfred can be forgiven for some euphemism, I suppose. On other matters, however, he’s just full of it.

Matters like daily fantasy sports, which have come under considerable scrutiny lately. Manfred was asked about that scrutiny because Major League Baseball has a considerable equity stake in daily fantasy company DraftKings and it and most of its clubs are involved in multi-year marketing and advertising partnerships (Disclosure: NBC Sports Ventures has a considerable equity investment in Draft Kings’ competitor, FanDuel). Manfred’s comment amounted to a declaration that he does not believe playing daily fantasy constitutes gambling. Indeed, it was more than a belief. He said, “I know I’m right.”

Whether an investment and partnership is wise for a sports league (or a sports network for that matter) is not something I’m very well qualified to discuss. It may be a good and profitable one, I have no idea. But whether daily fantasy is gambling seems pretty cut and dry, and I land on that the same place this law professor does:

“Everybody knows that daily fantasy sports is gambling; the contestants are wagering something for a chance to win money,” said Marc Edelman, an associate law professor and sports-law expert at Baruch College in New York.

“The question is whether this is illegal gambling, and the definition of illegal gambling varies by state,” Edelman said.

And the states — and to some extent the feds — are looking into that. Nevada has just banned it until it can be regulated by their gaming commission. Which likely won’t end up mattering for the players or, after some regulatory bumps, the companies. And may not matter much for most of these companies’ investors. There is all sorts of legal gambling around or, as daily fantasy may be adjudged, games of skill which look a lot like gambling but are held not to be for regulatory purposes.

But Major League Baseball is different because Major League Baseball has much stricter rules on gambling than states and the feds do and legal gambling is just as much a problem for baseball as illegal gambling is. At least historically speaking. All of which is to say that Manfred can’t, as he did this afternoon, hide behind legal definitions and his personal beliefs when it comes to the league’s involvement with daily fantasy. Or at least he shouldn’t, what with Pete Rose sitting over there all banned and everything.

Maybe Bud Selig got away with soft-peddling and legalisms and general shrugging when it comes to the big issues facing the game more easily than Manfred does. Maybe Manfred gets away with it too, actually, because the game is generally healthy, people are generally happy and the gosh darn World Series starts tomorrow, so who can be bothered to focus on the negative things.

But until Manfred takes on some cuddly, responsibility-deflecting persona like Uncle Bud did, denying the bleedin’ obvious and referencing committees and consultants and the like doesn’t wear well on him. It doesn’t wear well on anyone.

World Series Preview: The Mets and Royals are the vanguard of modern baseball

DeGrom Harvey Syndergaard
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Last week everyone wanted to talk about “Back to the Future Part II” and, if they were baseball fans, they wanted to talk about that film’s prediction — and punchline — that the Cubs would win the 2015 World Series. The thing about this World Series, however, is that if someone did travel to the present from the 1980s, they wouldn’t think that the Royals facing the Mets would be all that crazy. Indeed, to a time traveler from 30 years ago, the 1985 and 1986 champs facing off in the Fall Classic would seem like a pretty straightforward proposition.

Yet here we are. And for as unlikely as this matchup may have seemed even a couple of years ago, we’re getting what has all of the makings of an epic matchup of two teams at the absolute top of their games. And, what’s more, two teams playing a style of baseball which, a few years from now, we’ll likely talk about as being quintessential 20-teens baseball: contact, defense, smart, aggressive base running and young pitchers pushing 100 m.p.h. and striking out guys by the boatload.

The Royals made it back to the World Series with the help of a lineup which didn’t feature anyone who hit more than 22 home runs. But it was a lineup which the Astros and Blue Jays can attest is anything but powerless. You can cruise against them for a while but then they’ll string together a couple of hits. Oh, wait, it’s five. Maybe they’ll steal a base or three. Or, if even if you can keep them from doing that, they’ll just score from first base on a single. Next thing you know they’ve put up three or four runs and your little lead is gone. If the game is close there is never a time you feel really confident against them. And if it’s close and in their favor you never feel like you have a chance against that bullpen, particularly Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

The Mets, on the other hand, never really let you get going in the first place. How can you against Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard? If you’re going to beat them you’re going to have to do it in a low scoring game. Preferably with someone like Clayton Kershaw pitching for you. Oh, you don’t have someone like Clayton Kershaw? Well, that’s a shame. In the meantime Daniel Murphy, with power and plate coverage on loan from God, Satan or someone else more powerful than we can know, is hitting homers every game and you’re starting to do crazy things like entertain the notion of pitching to Yoenis Cespedes, as if that’s the safe option.

We can argue about whether today’s game is more aesthetically pleasing than the game of past eras. Whether take-rake-baseball of the 1990s and 2000s is preferable to the pitching-heavy game we see now. But it’s hard to argue that the Royals and Mets aren’t masters of the current craft, with the Mets’ rotation looking nearly unstoppable and the Royals’ relentless, honey badger-like attack about the best one possible to contend with it. Between that and solid-to-spectacular defensive players all over these rosters, this series is the exact opposite of time travel. It represents the vanguard of baseball in the year 2015.

Let’s do a quick breakdown of the component parts:

LINEUPS:

Forget the season-long stats, this Mets lineup is a totally different beast now than it was all year. Since the trade deadline — just before which the Mets picked up Yoenis Cespedes — the Mets have been among the hottest offenses in the game. Between that pickup and the return from the disabled list of both David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, the offensive attack of the Mets has been transformed. And that’s before you take Daniel Murphy’s recent tear into account. Cespedes left Game 4 of the NLCS early with a bad left shoulder, but he got a cortisone injection and said he expects to be ready for Game 1.

The Royals, as stated above, are full of tough outs up and down the lineup. And, much like the Mets, got a major boost late with an addition (Ben Zobrist) and a starter returning from injury (Alex Gordon). Even the guys who were pretty easy outs all year have toughened up in the playoffs. Most notably Alcides Escobar, the ALCS MVP, who batted .386 with five extra-base hits in the playoffs after failing to get on base at a .300 clip all year. As always, the AL will be at a disadvantage when playing in the NL Park due to losing the DH. Kendrys Morales has four homers and 10 RBIs in the playoffs but will likely be on the bench when the series moves to Citi Field on Friday.

Advantage: METS, but only slightly. Mostly because Murphy can’t still keep raking. Can he?

ROTATIONS:

The biggest advantage either team has in this series is the Mets’ advantage in the starting rotation. Every single one of the Mets’ top three starters — Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard — is better than anyone in the Royals’ top three of Johnny CuetoYordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez. As such, it doesn’t matter much that Ned Yost hasn’t set his Series rotation yet, because the Mets have and always will have the edge here. If we go to fourth starters, Steven Matz is better than Chris Young and Kris Medlen too. Heck, if two Mets’ starters are run over by the Good Humor truck, they still have Bartolo Colon, who would likely be in the Royals’ playoff rotation if he played for them. Really, no matter what else we say about the matchups in this series, the Royals’ chances begin and end with their ability to make something happen against the Mets’ starters. No one has done it yet.

Advantage: METS

BULLPENS:

Even with Greg Holland gone for the season with Tommy John surgery it’s impossible to claim that the Royals’ bullpen is anything but intimidating. Wade Davis has shown he can go multiple innings if he has to and, as Game 6 of the ALCS showed, even a rain delay can’t stop him. Kelvin Herrera is almost as good. If Ned Yost needs more than three innings from the two of them Ryan Madson is waiting. He’s been great all year, his shaky ALCS Game 6 appearance notwithstanding.

For the Mets, it’s all about getting it to Jeurys Familia, who hasn’t given up a run — and hasn’t given Mets fans a reason to sweat — in the playoffs. It’s a little dicey beyond him. The Mets’ starters, however, have been making that bridge to Familia a short one. Even, if necessary, filling in as setup men on their days off themselves. Indeed, look for Noah Syndergaard to make at least one relief appearance in a close game.

Advantage: ROYALS

MANAGERS:

Ned Yost was a butt of jokes in last year’s playoffs before suddenly looking like a genius by the time the World Series ended and solidifying that status in year in which the Royals cruised to the AL Central title. Chalk that up more to circumstance and hindsight analysis than anything else, however, and know that we’re always a move or two — most likely with the bullpen — which will allow us to turn “Yost” into “Yosted” (Pro tip: if your name is being turned into a verb, you’re probably not having a good day). This could’ve happened in Game 6 of the ALCS, in fact, when Yost let Wade Davis sit out in the bullpen while Madson gave up the lead thanks to a Jose Bautista home run. The upshot: when the game goes according to plan, Yost is fine. If he has to improvise, bad things can happen.

The only knock anyone has ever had on Terry Collins came years and years ago when he was a younger man and didn’t have much control over his clubhouses in Houston and Anaheim. He’s a steady hand now, whose in-game decisions aren’t questioned all that often. If his starters continue to do what they’ve been doing all postseason, he’ll have even fewer second guessers.

Advantage: METS

PREDICTION:

The last World Series game which took place was an epic battle in Kauffman Stadium where amazing pitching, hitting to contact and base running decided everything. It only seems appropriate that we’re right back here again. And, if anything, pitching, hitting to contact and base running seem poised to be an even bigger part of what’s about to go down.

For my part, it’s hard to pick against good starting pitching. And the Mets don’t have good starting pitching. They have GREAT starting pitching. And for that reason I’m not picking against them here. This is a very evenly-matched series overall, but give me the fireballers every time: METS in SIX.