<span class="vcard">Craig Calcaterra</span>

Athletics Royals

Playoff Reset: The American League Wild Card Game

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Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what I’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight. Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. James Shields

The Upshot:

  • James Shields’ nom de guerre is “Big Game James,” but it’s probably worth noting that in six postseason starts, he’s 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 34 innings. There are other big games, of course, and Shields has been one of the most reliable starters all year, but to the extent you believe in playoff experience, believe in Jon Lester. He’s pitched in 13 playoff games, he’s started 11 and he’s 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 76.2 innings.
  • The Royals’ offense has been pretty lousy all year — and some of their most important bats like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have struggled against Lester in the past — but it’s not like the A’s have been knocking the cover off the ball. Indeed, in August and September the bats were in a deep freeze. Royals hitters were, overall, far better in the season’s final two months than A’s hitters.
  • Kansas City and Oakland have met seven times this year. K.C. won five of those. The two losses, however, game to Jon Lester.
  • The A’s are going to need to score early given how good the Kansas City bullpen is. If Shields cruises through six innings, the A’s are going to be faced with Herrera, Davis and Holland. If, on the other hand, the game doesn’t go according to that preferred Royals’ script — if, say, Ned Yost has to go to his pen early or use guys outside of their set roles — there’s a decent chance that the A’s will find themselves in preferable matchups. Because Yost has a lot of good weapons, but he tends to flake a good deal when his battle plan is disrupted by virtue of engagement with the enemy.

Obviously anything can happen in a one-and-done game, rendering these things coin flips. As such, predictions are kind of beside the point. I’d say, however, that a low scoring game favors the Royals and those crazy-good arms they have, while a slugfest — or whatever passes for one between these particular teams in 2014 — favors the A’s.

Umpires for the Wild Card and Division Series announced

Joe West
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Major League Baseball has announced the umpiring crews for the first two rounds of the playoffs. As follows:

  • NL Wild Card Game: Crew Chief Joe West, Doug Eddings, Paul Emmel, Andy Fletcher, Brian Gorman and Mark Wegner.
  • AL Wild Card Game: Crew Chief Gerry Davis, James Hoye, Dan Iassogna, Bill Miller, Todd Tichenor and Bill Welke.
  • ALDS in Anaheim: Crew Chief Ted Barrett, Lance Barksdale, Chris Guccione, Paul Nauert, Jeff Nelson and Jim Reynolds.
  • ALDS in Baltimore: Crew Chief Jeff Kellogg, Scott Barry, Dan Bellino, Fieldin Culbreth, Paul Schrieber and Jim Wolf.
  • NLDS in Washington: Crew Chief Mike Winters, Vic Carapazza, Laz Diaz, Tom Hallion, Brian Knight and Hunter Wendelstedt.
  • NLDS in Los Angeles: Crew Chief Dale Scott, Eric Cooper, Rob Drake, Jerry Layne, Jerry Meals and Alan Porter.

Also:

Umpires Phil Cuzzi and Tim Timmons have been assigned to work as Replay Officials during the Wild Card Games, while CB Bucknor, Chris Conroy, Ed Hickox and Brian O’Nora will serve in the Replay Center during the Division Series.

Viva la Men in Blue.

MLB has its seventh-best attendance total in history

old turnstile
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Just got the press release saying that Major League Baseball finished the 2014 regular season with 73,739,622 in attendance marking the seventh highest total of all-time.

Obviously “seventh best” is a tad misleading in that baseball has only had 30 teams for the past 16 years. Also, before 1993 the National League used to count actual butts in seats, not tickets sold, so there are some historical apples and oranges at play here. But it’s still pretty good attendance all the same. In all, baseball’s top ten season of attendance of all time have come in the past year.

The last weekend of the season featured the second best overall attendance of the year. Several games with playoff implications thanks to the addition of the second wild card can be thanked for that. As well as a lot of nice weather. Overall five teams topped the three million mark (New York Yankees; Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; St. Louis Cardinals; San Francisco Giants; and Los Angeles Dodgers). Twelve drew over 2.5 million.  The Pirates set a single season attendance record of 2.44 million. The Giants have 332 straight sellouts.

We can quibble with the numbers and the trends. But parks are generally more full then they used to be, even if they’re just a tad off peak. As far as the gate goes, the game is pretty healthy.

REPORT: The Astros to name A.J. Hinch their new manager today

A.J. Hinch
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The Astros are going to announce their new manager today at 5:30. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle says that man will be A.J. Hinch.

Hinch is a former catcher and managed the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 and 2010. Since then he’s been in the Padres front office in a scouting and assist GM capacity. The Arizona stint ended badly — there were reports of a clubhouse revolt, and Hinch himself has said that the focus tended to be on his lack of experience and that it created hostility — but 2009 is a very different time than 2014 for managers. Then, a young, inexperienced skipper like Hinch was rather unheard. These days there are TONS of guys who fit the profile Hinch fit in 2009. Former players with little experience, being plugged in to the GM’s system.

And of course, Hinch has has last experience and whatever experience he has gained in the San Diego front office to aid him. The Cubs interviewed him last year when their job was vacant, so baseball has not decided he doesn’t get a second chance. And now, it seems, he’ll get that second chance.

Who to root for in the postseason — National League

Best Fans
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We did the American League, now it’s the National’s turn. Same deal: if your favorite team is out, who do you root for and why? Same caveats:

1. You are totally excused from picking a division rival to your actual rooting interest. You can if you want to of course, but intra-division hatred is likely to trump all of the pros and cons listed below and you need not apologize for that.

2. You are totally free to go back to hating your postseason rooting interest next spring when the new year starts.

The options:

Washington Nationals

  • Why To Root For Them: I’d say Bryce Harper, but he hasn’t been a big factor this year. Same deal as Mike Trout in the AL, though: because it’d be good for a young superstar to break out in the postseason to erase all of the Jeter Mourning. Other reasons: There are certain types of people who like to root for the best team and, though there was no 100-win team in baseball this year, the Nats are arguably the best team going right now. They may have that 1990s Yankees thing about them too. No, they’re not as good as those teams, but they have the same sort of “hardly any weaknesses in the lineup” thing working right now, making them hard to pitch to. Again, if you’re in to that sort of “anyone can be a hero any given night” kind of vibe.
  • Why Not To Root For Them: You’re from Quebec and still hold grudges? You root for the Barves (this is a limited sub-category, I realize). You don’t like bandwagony fans. I mean, yes, the Nats have grown the fanbase since they’ve been there and been winning, but there is a still pretty healthy contingent of Washington fans who are newbies or who already shifted their allegiance to the Nats in recent years and perhaps you’re the type who thinks a fan base needs to endure more before they experience success. I think that’s a tad bitter, but I know a lot of you roll that way.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Why To Root For Them:  I know this will be interpreted as hate, because all Cardinals fans interpret everything short of “GO CARDS!” as hate. But really, it’s hard to find a good reason to adopt the Cards if they’re not already your team. They’ve won a lot in recent years and they have the same fatigue factors working for them Detroit does. I guess you can appreciate how good Adam Wainwright is. I spent the World Series in St. Louis last season and I had a lot of fun and enjoyed my time there, so if you have something similar I suppose that’s something. But really, it’s hard to gravitate to a team that has been such a postseason fixture in recent years. Their struggles this year notwithstanding, if you adopt the Cardinals you’re an overdog lover in some ways, and that’s never a good look.
  • Why Not To Root For Them: No matter what you think of the whole Best Fans In Baseball thing (Cards fans tell you that’s a myth perpetrated by haters, even though that is clearly not the case) they really don’t need anyone else’s help.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Why To Root For Them: Andrew McCutchen is another in that “amazing young stars” group with Harper and Trout who can be baseball’s next big face, and we need that, just to shut everyone up. It helps that he’s amazing to watch play too. If you’re the analytical type, the Pirates have just as good a claim to being the next sabermtric darling team as anyone. Baseball isn’t random enough, so why not root for a team who has Edinson Volquez lined up as its number one playoff starter right now?
  • Why Not To Root For Them: Remember in the late 80s through the mid 90s when Steelers fans were confined to Pennsylvania and you didn’t think much about them? Yeah, those were good times. Know a lot of Steelers fans now? Aren’t they awful and insufferable? Do you really want that to happen in baseball too?

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Why To Root For Them: If you can’t appreciate Clayton Kershaw there is no helping you. Puig is simultaneously another candidate for the young breakout star thing AND a guy you have to love if you love seeing crusty people who don’t enjoy flamboyant players and amazing fun get all bent out of shape. Indeed, you’re not just rooting for the Dodgers and Puig to win it in that case, you’re rooting for Puig to hit the go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series, flip his bat and run the bases backwards, then ending the game in the bottom of the ninth on an off-balance, airmailed, miss-the-cutoff throw that still somehow nails the would-be tying run at home plate. After which he ascends into heaven with his tongue sticking out and the old double freed0m rockets aimed at the press box where Bill Plaschke sits, gasping for air.
  • Why Not To Root For Them: I don’t subscribe to anti-Los Angeles/Hollywood sentiment — I rather like L.A. for some reason — but I understand it, and if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like L.A. and all it stands for, I can see not liking the Dodgers. I can also see someone being that un-fun, Play The Game The Right Way person who allows their Puig Derangement Syndrome to get the best of them. There’s at least an outside chance that Brian Wilson has a big moment in a playoff game, and we’re all still trying to recover from 2010 and 2012, so I can totally see not wanting to see that.

San Francisco Giants

  • Why To Root For Them: Hunter Pence is just plain weird, and I mean that in the best way possible. If you can’t watch him hack at the plate and play defense and not smile at least a little bit you’re dead inside. Pablo Sandoval is on a nice streak of showing us, every other postseason, that you can love arepas and still be a world class athlete. Personally, I’m covering the World Series again this year and I would like to go back to that doctor who gave me the amazing drugs the last time I was in San Francisco.
  • Why Not To Root For Them: Two World Series titles in the previous four years puts them in the Cardinals-Tigers fatigue category. Non-trivial chance that the existence of Buster Posey in the playoffs and the new plate collision rule will lead to multiple replays of the play that injured him back a few years ago and who the heck wants to see that.

 

So there you have it. You have until tomorrow evening to make your choice. Choose wisely.