Lou Piniella’s advice for Tampa Bay Lightning

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A thing I would not know if I did not get copied on emails from a company that broadcasts NHL games: the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in hockey his year and stand a decent chance at breaking the Detroit Red Wings’ all-time record for wins in a season. That’s pretty neat.

A thing the Tampa Bay Lightning has to worry about as a result of how they’e doing: balancing that shot at history with the need to rest guys for what, especially in the NHL, is a grueling playoff format.

A person who knows about what that entails: Lou Piniella, who lives in Tampa but one time managed a Seattle Mariners team that had a shot at similar regular season glory. That 2001 M’s squad tied the single-season win record at 116 (the 1906 Cubs won that many in fewer games) but famously flamed out in the ALCS to the Yankees. Fairly or not, history has treated that team as a disappointment because, in sports, we have come to consider anything less than a championship as failure.

Piniella talked about that team and the balancing of the regular season win record vs. postseason strategy. He tells the Tampa Bay Times that, yep, it was a choice to try for 117:

“Remember, it was 9/11 that year, we had about a two-week break. So, we had to make a tough decision. Do we go for the record or rest our team entirely?” he said. “We had a big enough lead. We decided to take a shot at it while still being able to rest our pitching as well as we could. We had a Hall of Fame GM in Pat Gillick. We talked all the time about it. And we talked to the players. We had a clubhouse meeting. The players wanted to go for it.

“As it was, we lost to Texas in the final game of the season. We would have won 117 but came out at 116. I don’t regret it at all.”

He doesn’t regret it because, as he explained, the Mariners’ loss in the ALCS was not a function of regular season fatigue. It was a function of the Yankees having better pitching, exacerbated by the fact that the M’s inferior pitching staff was stretched to the limit in an unexpectedly tough ALDS series against the Indians. That’s true. I’ll add that my memory of that series involved the M’s, who had played in good luck all year, simply having their luck run out. They were down early often, didn’t hit with runners in scoring position and generally got outplayed. In other words: the Yankees, even if they were underdogs in the series, were a fantastic team and the defending champs, anything can happen in a short series, stuff, in fact, happened, and that was that.

Piniella says in the article that a regular season wins record is “a double-edged sword.” Based on why the M’s lost to the Yankees, I don’t think he really means that it’s a bad thing for one’s competitive prospects in the postseason. I think it has more to do with over 17 years of talk about the disappointment of 2001. Which is to say it’s a double-edged sword with respect to one’s legacy, not one’s team in the moment. At least that’s how I’m reading it.

So, go ahead and shoot for 63 wins, Lightning. Just make sure you have whoever your equivalent of Jamie Moyer is fully rested before the Stanley Cup Final begins.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.