Selig: baseball “moving inexorably” toward a ten-team playoff

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We’ve seen this coming for some time, but Bud Selig today said that baseball is “moving inexorably” toward an expanded playoff beginning with the 2012 season, and said that, while there are details to be worked out, it will likely be a ten-team affair. Specifically, he said “ten is a fair number.” This is a more precise way than he put it last fall when he said “Eight is a fair number. So is ten.”

Not that fairness is the real consideration behind this. If it was they’d just do a 30-team tournament because there’s nothing more fair than that.  No, this is about revenue from highly-rated national playoff games and several hundred thousand more people going through the ballpark turnstiles at playoff ticket prices. It’s also about job security, as anonymous baseball sources have admitted that it’s way better to be able to tell the team’s owner that, hey, they put a playoff team together rather than put a good team together that fell oh so short.

The league wants it. The union doesn’t oppose it.  It’s happening.  I just wish that when people talked about it they didn’t try to convince me that there are baseball, as opposed to business arguments for it. Because there clearly are none.

UPDATE: OK, I’m being overly grumpy. An additional wild card round — which is what Selig suggested, though he doesn’t know its length — will make winning the division a preferable option to winning the wild card and will make it all the harder for a marginal team to win it all.  That is a good baseball reason.  It doesn’t overcome my distaste of it because I hate short series — and God help us if they make it a one-game play-in thing, because that’s just gimmicky — but I’m being a grouch when I say there “clearly are none.”  I just don’t like ’em.

Now get off my lawn.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.