Divisional series get underway
In three of the divisional series that begin this past weekend, the first two games were split evenly. That implies two things: that we're in for some nice, competitive October baseball this year, and that home field advantage just ain't what it's cracked up to be. Only the Milwaukee Brewers took full advantage of being at home, beating the Diamondbacks twice at Miller Park. Oh-oh -- That trash-talking former National, Nyjer Morgan, is going to start bragging again...
This evening, the Texas Rangers withstood a couple late-inning rally attempts by the Tampa Bay Rays, and prevailed 4-3. Rays' starting pitcher David Price had six solid innings, and then gave up a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, during which the Rangers scored four runs. It was yet another win by the visiting team in the postseason. In Detroit, the Yankees took an early 2-0 lead, thanks in large part to former Tiger (!) Curtis Granderson, who hit an RBI triple, and then scored a run. Now it's the bottom of the third, and the Tigers tied the game, 2-2. The four National League teams resume playing tomorrow night, and all four AL teams will play as well.
Unfortunately, many millions of Americans will not be able to watch the divisional playoff series once again this year, because Major League Baseball has an exclusive contract with Turner Broadcasting System, which means you have to pay for your cable TV or satellite dish service. What about the "Postseason TV" alternative? It only costs $3.99 for the divisional series, or $5.99 for the divisional series and the National League championship series. I object, as a matter of principle (besides being a cheapskate): championship games for the National Pastime (!) ought to be made available to all Americans. Otherwise, baseball will resume the long decline vis-a-vis other sports that began in the 1960s and lasted until the late 1990s.
Granderson picked as AL MVP
Yankee outfielder Curtis Granderson was chosen as the American League Most Valuable Player for 2011. (Maybe that's what motivated him to hit that triple!) Hat tip to David Pinto at baseballmusings.com. Many people speculated that Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander might get the award (he was David's choice), which would have been unusual for a pitcher, but not unprecedented. How ironic that those two former team mates and MVP candidates are facing each other in the ALDS game tonight!
End of the Red Sox dynasty?
Over the past ten years (2001-2010), only one team has won the World Series more than once: the Boston Red Sox. Four other teams have played in multiple World Series: the Yankees, with one win and two losses, and the Phillies, Cardinals, and Giants, each of which were 1-1. The dominant record of the Red Sox makes their collapse in September even more striking. Somebody had to take the blame, and that person was Terry Francona, who will not be managing the Boston Red Sox next year. There were rumors of discipline issues, drinking beer in the locker room, etc. If so, that's clearly a lapse of managerial duties.
That makes two years in a row that the Red Sox have not made it to the postseason, while the Rays have made it in both 2010 and 2011. So is this the end of what seemed to be a Red Sox dynasty, rivalling the great Yankee teams of decades past? Much depends on whether Theo Epstein remains as general manager. According to MLB.com, the Cubs may be interested in hiring him. John Henry, the owner, might lose patience after spending all that cash to get Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and other stars over the past couple years. I have been surprised at how the Red Sox managed to stay dominant even while undergoing major changes in their roster since their last world championship in 2007. (Where did Dustin Pedroia come from?) I would expect big shakeups and perhaps even house cleaning as part of a long-term "rebuilding" in Beantown next year.
Expanded MLB playoff?
A few months ago Commissioner Bud Selig stated that some kind of expanded MLB playoff format was "inevitable," which seems like an appalling idea to me. I think the baseball postseason is stretched out too long already. But if they do it the way that Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell suggests (the article appeared in print, not online), it may be a great idea. There would be one additional wild card team in each league, and the two wild card teams would play each other in a one-game "play-in" to qualify for going to the divisional series. That would have the twin benefit of giving more cities hope to make it to the postseason (Boston? Atlanta?), while forcing the wild card teams to work extra hard to make it to the next round. The one glaring defect in the current eight-team playoff format is that too many wild card teams make it to the World Series. From 2002 until 2007, every World Series included a wild card team, and in 2002, both teams were!
Adios to Sun Life Stadium
It was fitting that two Nationals players who used to be Marlins -- Livan Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez -- were there to bid adios to the Marlins' original home, along with a few retired Marlins. To my surprise, the Marlins chalked up a record of 776 wins and 720 losses (.519) during their 19 years at Joe Robbie / Pro Player / Dolphins / Dolphin / Land Shark / Sun Life Stadium; that works out to just under 79 home games per year, implying that there have been an average of two cancelled games per year, no doubt due to weather. See MLB.com. Adios to rained-out games as well!
More minor tweaks: "After further review" of various photos, I made the lower deck of
Dolphin Sun Life Stadium a little steeper, and also added a proposed football-only alternative diagram in which the field would be lowered by five feet, allowing for about eight additional rows of seats along the two sidelines. The diagram takes into account the possibility that two or three rows from each end zone side might have to be removed for the sake of good sight lines.