Monday, October 26, 2015

World Series Preview

Another baseball season is coming to an end. Here is my breakdown of this year’s World Series between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals.

Hitting: Kansas City was unquestionably the stronger offensive team in the  regular season. The Royals had the third highest team batting average in the majors at .269. The Mets were 28th in batting in the regular season.  Kansas City finished seventh in runs scored while the Mets were 17th. But none of that really matters right now. In the playoffs, it’s all about timely hitting and the Mets have been getting plenty of that particularly from second baseman Daniel Murphy and the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline gave the Mets lineup some much needed pop in the lineup.  However, the Royals have been equally as capapable offensively in the postseason as they were in the regular season having scored 63 runs in 11 postseason games and hitting .271 collecitvely in the playoffs.  With Kansas City, there may not be that one imposing bat, but if you include last postseason, whether it’s Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, or really anyone in the lineup, many players are capable of getting a clutch hit.

Advantage: Royals

Pitching: This might seem obvious. But it’s not. Yes, Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard have been terrific for New York. Steven Matz has been more than adequate as a four man in the postseason.  Jeurys Familia is perfect on five save opportunities thus far in October. The one weakness for the Mets when it comes to pitching is their middle relief but with the starters going at least six innings seemingly every night, they’ve been able to get away with it, and I wouldn’t expect that to change now. But, the Roylas pitchers are capable of matching the Mets starters pitch for pitch.  Edinson Volquez proved his worth in the opening game of the ALCS against a lethal Toronto lineup. Johnny Cueto has won two of his three postseason starts and was the Royals primary target at the trade deadline for this very reason.  Yordano Ventura has won all three of his postseason starts and has not allowed more than three runs in the process. Wade Davis has filled in admirably as the closer since Greg Holland was lost  for the season. This is closer than you think.

Advantage: Mets

Intagibles: The Mets have been playing with house money this offseason and we’ve seen where that’s gotten them.  In a sense, New York’s run to the Fall Classic is similar to Kansas City’s last year. The Royals weren’t expected to contend for a championship last season, much less a playoff spot, won a crazy wild card game against Oakland and took off them there all the way to game seven of the World Series where they ran into Madison Bumgarner. Most experts took the Washington Nationals in the NL East this year and many believed the Nationals could be the team representating the National League in the World Series. Yet, here are the Mets, four wins away from their third World Series title in  franchise history and first in 29 years.  For once, there are expectations for Kansas City. The Royals nearly bowed out in the ALDS as Houston blew a four-run lead in the eighth inning up two games to one on the defending American League champions.  Can the Royals prove to just be the better team the way they did in the ALCS against Toronto or will the Mets run of destiny continue? The ladder seems more likely.

Advantage: Mets

Prediction: Mets in 6

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ranting on a Major League Baseball injustice

The postseason “begins” tonight in Major League Baseball.  You’ll notice I put begins in quotation marks. The New York Yankees host the Houston Astros in the American League Wild Card game. Tomorrow night the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. In 2012, Major League Baseball began using two wild cards in the postseason and having a one-game round between the two wild cards for the right to advance to the division series.

If you ask me, this is one of the worst rules in sports. The playoffs, as I know them in Major League Baseball, are four teams in each league. There are three division winners and a wild card. It’s one thing to play 162 games and finish tied with another team. Then you play a tiebreaker. This wild card game has created a one-game playoff scenario that breaks ties that never existed.

The New York Yankees played the entire season and finished one game better than the Houston Astros. Before 2012, that would have had the Yankees in the postseason and the Astros home watching. Now, you might as well forget that the previous 162 games even happened because all that matters is one game. The only thing the Yankees won by having a better record than the Houston Astros was home field advantage for one game, which in baseball doesn’t mean much.

There is a reason why in baseball, more so than other professional sports, teams celebrate clinching playoff berths. It’s a big deal. After all 30 teams play 162 games, if your team is one that gets to play well into October when two-thirds of the league is sent home, it’s worth celebrating over. But in cases like the Yankees and Pirates? Despite being the two teams that traditionally would have been baseball’s only wild cards, now all it means is a chance to play one extra game.

On top of that, both the Yankees and Pirates may be up against the respective Cy Young winners in their leagues. Tonight, the Yankees face 20-game winner Dallas Keuchel of Houston. While the AL Cy Young winner could very well wind up being Toronto’s David Price, Keuchel had a season that will get him recognized and shouldn’t finish behind any other pitcher besides Price in the voting. The Pirates face baseball’s hottest pitcher in Chicago’s Jake Arietta who seems to have the upper hand on the Los Angeles Dodgers duo of Zack Grienke and Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young race.

While proponents of the second wild card will point to the San Francisco Giants from last year as the second wild card in the National League to win their third World Series title in five seasons, it’s not adding up for me. In one game in baseball, any team can beat any other team. So for a team to fight all season to earn baseball’s first wild card only to be rewarded with home field advantage in a one game scenario isn’t enough for me. It’s easy for me to say just go back to the old way where there is only one wild card. I would be fine with that.

But my scenario, which could appease both sides to this issue, would be to play a best-of-three series in which the first wild card hosts all three games. It would be like any other three-game series in the regular season where all the games are played at the same location. That, to me, would be an ample reward for the first wild card team and allow for a second wild card. The second wild card should have to win two games on the road, not just steal one and then get to go home and close the series out. So Rob Manfred, in case you’re reading this, that’s my proposal. For Yankee fans and Pirate fans, if your seasons end tonight and tomorrow night, I’m sorry.