The point here is not that steroids do nothing or that PED use should be legalized, but that the discussion itself may be approaching, or already reached, a tipping point where many fans simply do not care so much anymore. Steroids may be moving towards becoming an issue like gambling, against which baseball also has rules, but is not something fans spend a lot of time debating. The question of whether or not Jhonny Peralta should, in some abstract moral sense, be allowed to play in the ALCS may simply not very interesting to most fans. Perhaps fans would rather discuss the resurgence of Justin Verlander, or the question of Miguel Cabrera's health. These are more interesting questions for the millions of Americans for whom baseball is a hobby or passion but not a question of morality or good and evil.
The advantage of platitudes is that they do not have to be accurate, as they are generally untestable. Asserting the winning team has good chemistry might be true or it might not be. A fight in the locker room, for example, can be attributed to bad chemistry if the team goes on to lose, or just the right thing to motivate the team if they go on to win. The team that wins the World Series will likely have the right mix of veterans and young players because all teams have a mix of these types of players. David Ortiz, Tori Hunter, Brian Wilson, Bartolo Colon, AJ Burnett and Carlos Beltran and several others on post-season rosters are all capable of providing veteran leadership and will likely be credited with doing just that if their team wins.
That rivalry may not be between the Red Sox and Yankees, but between two teams that are gearing up for another division race in the NL West, and who are also playing each other this weekend, the Giants and the Dodgers. Both the Yankee-Red Sox and the Dodger-Giant rivalries have had moments of intense competition, memorable games and pennant races, and genuine rancor between the two teams. However, the degree of competition and balance between the two rivals has been consistently stronger between the two NL rivals.
If the expanded wild card system, which will be in place by 2013, had been in place this year, this second story, which may have been the defining baseball story of 2011 would not have occurred. The Red Sox and Braves, as the fifth strongest team in each league, would have won the last wild card spot. The exciting month of September in which four teams played meaningful games every day would have been replaced by five teams jockeying for post-season position. Rather than more than fifty games about which fans of four teams cared, there would be two very brief series at the end of the regular season.
Any proposal to restructure MLB is going to have its problems, just as the current system does, but it is foolish to move forward too quickly without thinking through these problems in advance. If baseball is comfortable creating a system that is, in some respects, more fair each season, but which further institutionalizes the advantages enjoyed by wealthy teams, that is not an unreasonable decision. On the other hand, rushing ahead with this new system and then feeling shocked and surprised when the Yankees and Red Sox are both in the playoffs for each of the first few years and that teams finishing 13th, 14th or 15th are hemorrhaging fans, would evince an appalling lack of foresight on the part of Major League Baseball.
The efforts to expand the current baseball playoffs so that a total of ten, rather than eight teams, earn a post-season berth is a good effort to solve a relatively minor problem, that will do nothing to address the more serious issue facing competitiveness in baseball. The alleged problem is that too many teams are never in the running for a playoff spot thus causing fans to lose interest early in the season, while the same small handful of teams dominate the playoffs.
There were several reasons why 2010 was a memorable baseball season. Fans of the San Francisco Giants saw their team win the World Series for the first time ever in San Francisco, while Texas Ranger fans saw their team play in the World Series for the first time ever. There were two perfect games and one almost perfect game thrown. Pitching dominated the game to an extent not seen for years. New stars such as Joey Votto emerged while proven stars like Roy Halladay switched leagues but otherwise maintained their dominant level of play. The trends and events raise some interesting questions to look at as the 2011 season approaches with bearing both on and off the field.
Bochy may not be the best Giants manager ever, but managers like player have career peaks and valleys; and Bochy is hitting his stride at the exactly right time. In general, Bochy seems less given to platitudes about chemistry, sticking with what has worked and the like than many managers. When Lincecum didn’t have it in the eighth inning of game six, Bochy took him out. Pablo Sandoval is a fan favorite who was a starter most of the season, but he has lost his starting job during the World Series. A clearly inferior, although well paid and experienced veteran like Aaron Rowand also is on the bench. Bochy, at least this post-season, seems driven by a strategy of getting the best players he can on the field for every inning of every game. It isn’t chemistry, but it just might work.
The Phillies, even after a tough first game loss, are probably still the favorites in the NLCS, but the Giants should not be counted out. The Giants chances rest not on an anything can happen in a short series kind of optimism or solely upon their excellent starting pitching, but primarily on a match-up of skills that may make the Giants uniquely positioned to beat the Phillies.
The Yankees limped into the post-season playing poorly during September and losing a division which they had led for much of the second half, but looked like a very different team during their first round sweep of the Minnesota Twins. A major part of their post-season success has been that Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, at least in the first round, exceeded most expectations and put many doubts to rest.The two pitchers turned in very strong outings during the Yankees sweep of the Twins. If they continue to pitch like this during the next two rounds, the Yankees will be very tough to beat.
Tim Lincecum is not only a great pitcher, but he is the kind of player that makes baseball such a great game. In a sport where even in this alleged year of the pitcher, big sluggers and big power pitchers still dominate the game, the 5’11” and skinny Giants star stands out even more. He is a throwback, not in the sense of poorly shaven white player who plays sometimes too aggressively, but to an era when players, and particularly pitchers, did not always look or act like jocks. With his long hair, west coast attitude, drug bust and mellow demeanor, Lincecum feels like a player from the 1970s or early 1980s, albeit one with some of the nastiest pitches on the planet.
The Yankees beat a tough Angels team in the ALCS, moreover, largely because some of the highest paid players in the game including, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter played great baseball However, they also won for other, albeit more quotidian, reasons. The Yankees beat the Angels because they played fundamentally sound baseball and were smarter on the bases and in the field then their opponents. It doesn’t take a high priced free agent, although Vladimir Guerrero was one, to know not to get doubled off first base on a soft line drive to right field. Players who make less then ten million dollars a year should be able to throw to first and catch throws to first cleanly. These and other mistakes were a big part of the Angels undoing.
The problem with the current playoff structure, if a problem exists at all is not that wild cards do not confront enough barriers, but that winners of the league’s weakest division are rewarded for seasons that are often clearly worse than those of the wild card winner.
When the ALDS opens today in the Bronx, it will be the latest installment in the now familiar baseball series called “Can the Yankees make it out of the first round?” Before missing the playoffs last year, the Yankees had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three consecutive years, part of a seven year streak of making the playoffs but not winning the World Series.
It seems that one thing most baseball observers understand about the post-season is that having two dominant starters is the key to winning the World Series. Two dominant starters, because of the extra days of rest, can start almost half of there team’s games and carry their teammates to championship. We know this because this is what Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. Spending too much time trying to figure out what happened in other recent post-seasons is, apparently, not worth our time.