2013 Preview: what’s new in the new season?

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For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Next up: new things to watch for in the coming year.

We’ve previewed the teams, so now let’s look at some of the new things to watch for in 2013:

Rules changes

Nothing too drastic, but the changes that were made will be pretty visible:

  • When visiting the mound, managers and coaches will be allowed to bring interpreters with them in the event the pitcher is not fluent in English. No word on whether Phillies pitchers gets interpreters to translate manager Charlie Manuel’s 1940s detective novel slang-speak (hint: “what’s the rumpus?” is Manuelese for “how does your arm feel?” and “give this guy the kiss-off” is when he orders an intentional walk;
  • Teams will be allowed to have seven uniformed coaches in the dugout. Previously the limit was six. This change was necessitated because many teams have hired assistant hitting coaches. Which I suppose was simpler than spending the effort trying to figure out what the existing hitting coaches actually do in the first place; and
  • The pickoff move in which a right-handed pitcher fakes to third base and throws to first is now a balk. Broadcasters are now scrambling to find another oftentimes useful play which they can erroneously claim “never works.”

Schedule changes

With the Houston Astros going from the National League to the American League, giving us 15 teams in each league, it will now be required that, at all times, an interleague series be taking place. This contrasts with past practice of interleague series all occurring during specified blocs during the season. This will also lead to teams playing 20 interleague games a piece instead of the 15-18 interleague games in previous years. There will still be the old construct of “interleague rivals” which in good cases lead to series like Yankees vs. Mets and Giants vs. Athletics. And in bad cases lead to Pirates vs. Tigers and Astros vs. Rockies. Eh, this is where we are now. Those of us who remember and pine for the days of the NL and AL being separate are closer to AARP membership than we are to relevance in this now-over debate.

New Managers

Six teams will sport new managers in 2013:

  • The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine and hired former Blue Jays manager John Farrell;
  • The Indians fired Manny Acta and hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona;
  • Jim Tracy resigned as Colorado Rockies manager and was replaced by rookie manager Walt Weiss;
  • The Astros fired Brad Mills before last season ended and hired former Nationals coach Bo Porter;
  • The Marlins fired Ozzie Guillen after one season and replace him with rookie manager Mike Redmond; and
  • The Blue Jays essentially traded John Farrell to the Red Sox and hired former manager John Gibbons

Uniform changes

  • The Astros, befitting a team with a new owner, new front office, new manager, new league and a throughly-reamed roster, have a whole new look. Gone are the brick red/sand colored uniforms of old and back come the traditional orange and blue the team sported from their inception and on through the early 90s. There’s a bit of a twist to the orange and blue look — they’re not throwbacks to the rainbow days — but it is definitely a familiar and welcome look;
  • The Mets are going with two new alternate jerseys: a home alternate with “Mets” in script and a road alternate featuring “NEW YORK” in block. These look at lot like the 1980s duds.
  • The Cardinals are joining the trend of off-white home alternates which almost always look fantastic. They are also adding “St. Louis” to their road uniforms for the first time in 80 years. All teams should have their city name on the front of the jersey. It’s just cool. And frankly, probably leads to more jersey sales due to local pride and stuff like that.
  • The Pirates have a new home alternate for Sunday games. It’s essentially a throwback to their look from the 1970s, complete with the yellow caps.
  • The White Sox continue last year’s tradition of an alternate throwback uniform. This year it honors the 1983 team. This is a guilty pleasure uniform for me even though it came from the dark days of the pullover double knits; and
  • The Brewers are going to go all-gold on special occasions which they used a couple years ago but had abandoned for a while.

Of course, for all the changes, it will still be baseball.

Brewers on the brink of their first pennant in 36 years

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A series that had swung back and forth twice already swung back in Milwaukee’s favor last night with a convincing win. That it was convincing — it was not at all close after the second inning — is a key factor heading into today, as Craig Counsell has his bullpen set up nicely to shorten the game if his Brewers can get an early lead.

Josh Hader — who, if you are unaware, has not allowed a run and has struck out 12 batters in seven innings of postseason work — did not pitch yesterday or in Game 5. As such, he’s had three full days off. Given that this is a win or go home day and, if they win, he’s guaranteed two more days off before the World Series, he’s good for two innings and could very well go for three. That’s not what you want if you’re the Dodgers.

But it gets worse. Jeremy Jeffress pitched last night but it was only one pretty easy inning, so he could go two if he has to. Corey Knebel pitched an inning and two-thirds but he could probably give Counsell an inning of work if need be. Joakim Soria didn’t pitch at all yesterday. Between those guys and the less important relievers, all of whom save Brandon Woodruff are all pretty fresh, the Dodgers aren’t going to have any easy marks.

But the thing is: Counsell may not need to go that deep given that Jhoulys Chacin, their best starter of the postseason, gets the start. So, yes, in light of that, you have to like the Brewers’ chances tonight, and that’s before you realize that the home crowd is going to be louder than hell.

Not that the Dodgers are going to roll over — it’ll be all hands on deck for them with every pitcher except for Hyun-Jim Ryu available, you figure — but if they’re going to repeat as NL champs, they’re going to have to earn it either by bloodying Chacin’s nose early and neutralizing the threat of facing Hader and company with a lead, or by marching through the teeth of the Brewers bullpen and coming out alive on the other side.
NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Breakdown:

The most important part of this breakdown — the stuff about the Brewers’ pen — has already been said and, I presume anyway, the starters here will have the shortest of leashes. Chacin’s will be longer, as he has not allowed a run over 10 and a third innings in his first two postseason starts, making him the Brewers’ defacto ace. Every inning he goes tonight makes things much, much harder for the Dodgers once he’s gone as it means Milwaukee will be able to rely more and more on Hader and Jeffress, so the Dodgers had best get to him early.

Buehler has come up weak so far this postseason, having allowed nine runs in 12 innings, including surrendering four runs on six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory. Still, it’s not hard to remember how dominating he was in the second half of the season. If that Buehler shows up and can keep things close, we’ll have a ballgame. If L.A. finds itself in an early hole once again, theirs will be the tallest of orders.