Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is without a doubt the most exciting time on the sports calendar where absolutely nothing happens. Literally it is a group of men reporting to the first day of work. They just show up and nothing, publicly, happens. There are no games, no monumental moments, just people walking in the door. Usually the free agents have been signed and introduced to the team and public, the draft picks have been around for almost a full year, nothing special is going on. Pitchers and catchers reporting is the most anticlimactic moment possible in sports, and yet baseball fans mark it down on their calendars every year.
We’re here. Now what do you want us to do? (www.dodgersphotog.mlblogs.com)
It is not what is happening, rather it is what could happen. This could be the first step teams take towards winning the World Series. This is the day baseball tells the world that summer and warm weather are coming soon. Players know this is when all their off-season work will begin to show. Umpires too. Fans know the sounds of baseball will soon return to their lives. The crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, the roar of the crowd, the static on the radio. The smells of baseball will return too. The fresh cut grass, hot dogs, beer, the smell of your glove. Every day until Halloween you can escape for a few hours and lose yourself in the game. Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is anticlimactic, however what will follow is not.
Teams with large payrolls are not guaranteed to win championships. In sports the more talented the player, the more expensive their services become once they reach free agency, thus teams with large payrolls are filled with players who are, or at one time were, extremely talented at their chosen profession. The road to a championship requires a commitment to excellence, and for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers that journey was just beginning.
The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight explores the transition of the Dodgers from the disastrous ownership tenure of Frank McCourt to the new ownership of Mark Walter. Knight explores the team on the field, in the front office, and the world around them. Major League Baseball understood the value of ensuring the transition from McCourt to Walter went smoothly and acted in the best interest of baseball.
*Spoilers beyond this point.*
Knight does an excellent job of examining the players on and off the field. The Dodgers to securing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term was critical to the health of the team. If Kershaw was able to walk away from the Dodgers, like Zack Greinke eventually did, the immediate future for the team would have been about building towards division not World Series titles. Los Angeles’ front office knew their fans would turn on the team if Kershaw was allowed to walk. Resigning Kershaw was as much a baseball move as it was a public relations move. Contrasting the focus and dominance of Kershaw was the explosion of Yasiel Puig. The willingness to sign a relatively unknown talent was a risk, however the excitement Puig brought with him to the Dodgers out weighed the risk in the eyes of the fans. Puig’s experience with his teammates and the insight Knight provides shows the difficulty many Latin American players have in adjusting to life in the United States, especially Cuban players. Puig’s near instant success meant he found some of the pitfalls that caused other superstars stumble. While electrifying on the field, Puig’s antics off the field and in the clubhouse rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. This left manager Don Mattingly with the delicate job of keeping Puig happy while not alienating the rest of the team. This challenge was made even more difficult as the Dodgers showed little faith in Mattingly, who never felt secure in his job while in Los Angeles. This constant balancing act in the clubhouse made performing on the field more difficult than normal. The internal drama was overshadowed as the ownership regime of Frank McCourt came crashing down all around Dodger Stadium.
The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse (Simon & Schuster)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, Frank McCourt owned a parking lot in south Boston. He attempted to buy the Red Sox and move them to a new stadium that he would construct on his parking lot. When this plan failed he turned his attention to the Dodgers. McCourt had bigger dreams than bank accounts, but was able to purchase the Dodgers with loans he secured by putting the parking lot up as collateral. Eventually the loans went unpaid and the parking lot was seized. Ultimately the Dodgers were sold to McCourt for a parking lot in south Boston.
McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground. He had little interest in the team beyond how they could make him richer. As his personal life went up in flames he attempted to hold onto the Dodgers through a television deal that would pay him enough to remain owner after his divorce was finalized. Major League Baseball was forced to step in to prevent the deal. His divorce turning nasty and dragging on, McCourt was ordered to sell the team. The Dodger fan base was skeptical of new owner Mark Walter. However, Walter was only interested in winning. Signing fan favorite Andre Ethier to an over priced contract was more of a public relations deal than a smart baseball deal. Walter understood he had to win back the fans after many had rightly walked away under McCourt. Winning was the most important thing, money would solve some problems but not everything.
The early building blocks of the perennial contender the Dodgers have become were laid in 2013. Molly Knight examines the circumstances surround the team during this critical time, yet she also helps the reader understand why the rebirth of the Dodgers is so important to baseball. She does an excellent job of exposing the personalities on the team that made the team successful and struggle. Sports teams are often not seen as being made up of people, but Knight makes you see the quirks and craziness that each player brings to the Dodger clubhouse. Molly Knight’s work in The Best Team Money Can Buy is as critical to the understanding of baseball’s current state as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Money does not guarantee championships, as baseball cannot be bought and sold, but it does not hurt.
After a little time to reflect on the great World Series we just watched, we can now answer the question, which bullpen would run out of gas first. The Dodgers bullpen could bend no more and finally broke against the Astros in Game 7. Houston cruised to a fairly unthreatened 5-1 victory to secure their first World Series Championship. The Astros lineup continued to hit and Charlie Morton pitched the game of his life in relief. The 2017 World Series was thrilling; hitting, defense, and great relief pitching was on full display throughout the Fall Classic.
George Springer was the easy choice for Most Valuable Player, yet this year’s World Series did not have the sense that a single player was carrying either team. If Los Angeles had won Game 7, the choice for which Dodger should be named the Most Valuable Player would have almost certainly come down to who performed the best in Game 7. The constant back and forth between Houston and Los Angeles made no lead safe. Five of the seven games were decided by one or two runs. The lack of a single blow out meant both teams were fighting it out until the final out in every game.
The rebuild is complete, Houston has its first World Series Championship. (Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images)
The differences between the Astros and the Dodgers over the seven game series was miniscule. However, Houston’s bullpen was able to bend without breaking and the Astros lineup never cooled off. Every game came down to a few plays and the ability to make a catch, move a runner over, or get a batter to chase a pitch out of the zone. It would be easy to pin the blame on the loses in Game 3 and 7 on Yu Darvish, however there is plenty of blame and what ifs to go around throughout the series. Dave Roberts lifting Rich Hill after 4 innings in Game 2 and 4 ⅔ innings in Game 6, were both questionable moves. The Dodgers lost Game 2 in 11 innings, if Hill pitches just one more inning maybe the Dodgers bullpen can hold the lead. The Dodgers did win Game 6, but did they push their already tired bullpen one bridge too far heading into Game 7? We will never know the answers to the what ifs, and there is a chance that Dave Roberts made the right moves. Second guessing is what people outside the clubhouse do best, yet if those same second guessers were put in charge of a team they would not have all the answers.
A team cannot run out the clock in baseball, they have to play until all 27 outs have been recorded. The 2017 World Series showed in exciting fashion that a baseball game is never over until the final out is made. Few World Series are as closely matched as this one. Hope you enjoyed the drama, because next year’s version of the Fall Classic is not guaranteed to be as exciting as this one.
Congratulations to the Houston Astros, 2017 World Series Champions.
The World Series is close. Game 4 was the biggest blowout of the series so far, 6-2 Dodgers. Timely hitting in the late innings seem to be how games have been won and lost. Yes, both teams have to score runs to win, but more directly both teams need their pitching staffs to prevent runs from scoring, especially the bullpen. Pitching will win the 2017 World Series.
Both teams have pitched 37 innings through the first four games of the World Series. Houston has used nine pitchers, allowing 18 runs, 22 hits, 12 walks, 32 strikeouts, with a 4.38 ERA, and 0.919 WHIP. The Dodgers are hitting .176 with an .252 OBP. Los Angeles has used 12 pitchers, allowing 15 runs, 31 hits, 11 walks, 30 strikeouts, with a 3.41 ERA, and 1.135 WHIP. The Astros are hitting .226 with an .282 OBP.
Houston must bridge the gap between the starter and Brad Peacock to win its first World Series. (Brett Coomer/ Houston Chronicle)
Both teams have had moments of greatness on the mound and at bat. Ultimately the World Series will be decided by how the managers use their bullpen. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has relied on fewer pitchers, but for more innings per pitcher, while Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has relied on more pitchers for fewer innings per pitcher. It will come down to whether the Astros bullpen tires out before Roberts pulls a pitcher too soon and replaces him with someone who is ineffective. Both approaches could work, but only one will win the series.
Houston is averaging more than six innings from its starters. Once the game goes to the bullpen, A.J. Hinch is riding the hot hand. Hinch is relying on Chris Devenski (3 ⅓ innings), Will Harris (1 ⅔ innings), and Brad Peacock (4 innings) to finish games. Harris and Devenenski are the bridge from the starters to Peacock. Unfortunately for the Astros Ken Giles has not helped, a 27.00 ERA in only 1 ⅔ innings has hurt Houston. This late in the World Series it is doubtful the Astros can give him more chances to figure it out. The Astros bullpen is a little shorter due to Giles struggles, but they are not alone in potential bullpen issues.
The Dodger bullpen has a cast of many to bridge the gap between the starter and Kenley Jansen, but is there a week link? (Matt Slocum/ AP)
Dave Roberts is sticking with the formula that got Los Angeles to the World Series. Dodgers starters are averaging less than 4 ⅔ innings per start, less than 5 ⅔ innings if you remove the disastrous start by Yu Darvish in Game 3. Los Angeles is relying on its bullpen for more outs. Brandon Morrow (4 innings), Tony Watson (2 ⅔ innings), Kenta Maeda (4 innings), and Kenley Jansen (4 innings) have been the workmen keeping the Dodgers close. Los Angeles has seen Brandon McCarthy (18.00 ERA in 1 inning pitched) and Josh Fields (infinite ERA) not perform when called upon, and with each out being so precious there is little reason to expect them to pitch again. The Dodgers too have a shortened bullpen in the now best of three series.
Defense wins championships, while this is true, at least in part, in the 2017 World Series bullpen management and usage will decide the victor. The Dodgers and Astros are playing a great team World Series. No single player has carried either team. How each bullpen performs will dictate if Houston gets its first ever World Series championship or if Los Angeles gets to relive the glory of 1988. Time will tell, but the key to winning lies within the bullpen. Every time the call to the bullpen is made, the entire World Series could be able to change.
The playoffs are when the best from every sport is on full display. The best teams play each other, which often leads to games full of drama that only further entices new fans to continue watching. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has hidden some of the best games of the year from many fans in how it broadcasts the playoffs. Avid fans miss out on great games, but baseball also misses the opportunity to draw in new fans as the majority of games before the World Series are broadcast on cable networks.
The airing of playoff baseball on TBS, Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, and ESPN has shut out many people from watching great baseball. Yes, plenty of people have access to all or some of these channels to watch the games, but those who do not have to make a choice. They can find a radio station broadcasting the game (personally I love listening to baseball on the radio), go to a restaurant, bar, or friend’s house that is showing the game, or generally miss out except for updates. Going out several nights a week for a few weeks gets expensive quickly, thus pricing many more people out, thus radio or the updates are the most likely options for many people. I am fully aware, as I have stated many times, baseball is a business. Major League Baseball signed contracts with these broadcasters for enormous sums of money for the rights to these games. However, there needs to be a balance between television revenue and making the best weeks on the baseball calendar available to all fans. Broadcasters like ABC (which owns ESPN), NBC, and CBS might have passed on the rights to broadcast playoff baseball. Fox will once again broadcast the World Series, yet it is a shame that for some they will not see a single game of baseball on television from the last day of the regular season until Game 1 of the World Series.
Major League Baseball continuously stresses the importance of growing the game, reaching a younger and more diverse audience. Reaching out through promotions like Players Weekend, programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), and highlighting some of the best players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Altuve are great, but Major League Baseball hurts its own efforts to reach a larger audience by hiding the playoffs from those who choose to not have cable or satellite television and/or those who cannot afford it. If I can only watch sports on the basic channels and the majority of the games I see are football, why would I wait for weeks to see a few games at the end of October when the NFL season is in full swing? Even during the regular season the availability of baseball games is rather spartan.
Major League Baseball has signed contracts with broadcasters and for now can do little to change how the playoffs are broadcast. However, at the end of these contracts a hard look must be taken at whether only premium channels get the games before the World Series is the best for the future of the sport. Major League Baseball should be paid handsomely for the product it provides to broadcasters, but there could be a middle ground where baseball is paid well, yet does not shut out many fans and potential fans from the best games of the year. Baseball needs to be the sport of everyone, not just those that can afford television packages. No one likes blackout rules.
Under the original playoff system the best team in each league met in the World Series. If that system were still in place the pennant race in both leagues would be nearly over. The Houston Astros lead the American League by 6 games and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League by 12.5 games. It is early August. The rest of the season would be rather boring unless at least one of these teams takes a nosedive. Barring the unthinkable, it would almost seem like a waste to wait until October to play the World Series. Houston and Los Angeles have demonstrated their dominance over their respective leagues during the first two-thirds of the season.
Thankfully baseball no longer goes straight from the regular season to the World Series. Instead a potential snooze fest of a season is shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. The Red Sox and Indians lead their respective divisions, with the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Rays, Mariners, Angels, Orioles, Rangers, and Blue Jays within five games of either their divisional lead or a Wild Card spot in the American League. In the National League, the Cubs and Nationals lead their divisions with the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, and Diamondbacks within five games of their division lead or a Wild Card spot.
The Dodgers hope to celebrate a World Series victory in October. (Noel M. Vasquez/ Getty Images)
Baseball is better when 18 teams are in the running for the playoffs, not just two- exciting playoff races are one way to grow the game.
One of the critics of each playoff expansion, from Championship Series to Divisional Series to Wild Card, has been that the best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. No doubt this is true. The Braves of the 1990’s should have won more than just one World Series. The Indians of that era should have at least one World Series title to their credit. Meanwhile, the Miami (Florida) Marlins won two World Series, both times as the National League Wild Card.
Sandy Alomar and the Indians were the better team during the regular season, but came up short in the World Series. (www.si.com)
In many ways this unpredictability in the World Series is good for baseball. Think of the billions of dollars the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have spent over the last decade to win four world Series between them. Large payrolls don’t guarantee World Series victories, nor does a World Series title guarantee success the next season as the Red Sox can attest. In basketball, it’s an easy bet that any team with LeBron James will play in the NBA Finals. In football, the Patriots are usually a solid choice as long as Tom Brady is healthy. It does not work that way in baseball. If it did every World Series would be Mike Trout and the Angels and/or Bryce Harper and the Nationals. How many World Series appearances do they have combined? Zero.
18 of the 30 Major League teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. Are some teams delusional about their chances and were buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline? Absolutely. However, baseball as a whole benefits when the majority of teams are still playing hard with two months to go instead of rolling over and waiting for next year. The Astros and Dodgers should play each other in the World Series, but like most things in life and baseball this is not guaranteed.
Single season records can be reached without the need for a career filled with success. Players only need to have a single magical season to reach these marks. Think Roger Maris in 1961 or even a career year like Mark Fidrych in 1976. The toughest record to beat now may be the single season hits record. Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in 2004, finally topping George Sisler’s single season record of 257 hits that had stood since 1920. There have been 530 individual efforts where a player collected at least 200 hits in a season. Many players have had multiple 200 hit seasons, with Ichiro and Pete Rose holding the record with ten 200 hit seasons.
200 hits in a single season is not a rare accomplishment. We’ve seen, over the last several seasons, a handful of players collecting 200 hits. However, the Houston Astros have the talent to potentially do something no team has ever done by having four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season. Only three times in Major League history has a team had three teammates collect 200 hits in the same season, but never a fourth. The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1991 Texas Rangers had three teammates collect 200 hits. Teammates who are able to consistently hit and get on base does not necessarily translate to success. The 1963 Cardinals finished 2nd in the National League, 6 games behind the Dodgers for the Pennant. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. The 1991 Rangers finished 3rd in the American League West, 10 games behind the Twins. Success in baseball is a team effort. Simply having a third or more of your lineup hitting all season does not mean you can be lackluster elsewhere.
Jose Altuve is Houston’s best hitter. 200 hits a season is close to automatic. (Elaine Thompson, STF)
The 2017 Houston Astros could be the first team to have four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season thanks to the ABC’S. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Jose Altuve is a hitting machine, for whom not collecting 200 hits in a season would make it a down year. Altuve has collected at least 200 hits in three out of five full seasons in the Majors. Bregman has hit at every level in college and in the minors and should continue to develop into an outstanding consistent bat in the Houston lineup. Bregman played in only 146 minor league games after being drafted by Houston out of LSU. Starting at A Ball, Bregman batted .259, High A .319, AA .297, and AAA .333. Bregman can hit and he is starting to settle in with the Astros. Correa is a do it all super star in the making. Entering his third full season in the Majors, Correa continues to improve his strikeout to walk rate. Correa is still learning to hit at the Major League level and his strikeout rate should continue to decline. George Springer is an everyday player who can reach 200 hits simply by cutting down on his strikeouts and focusing on hitting singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences. In 2016, his first full healthy season in the Majors, Springer hit 29 doubles and 29 home runs with 88 walks and 178 strikeouts. If he can combine plate discipline to draw more walks and cutting down on his big swings to strike out less, perhaps down to 125 times a season, that may translate to 50 more balls in play each season. Springer collected 168 hits against those 178 strikeouts. 50 more balls in play could mean collecting 200 hits.
Alex Bregman is still getting comfortable in the Majors, but he has shown from college through the minors and in Houstn that he can hit. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The ability to hit and get on base will become slightly easier as opposing teams may prefer to face Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and/or Springer than give up crushing scores to the big bats behind them in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann can all launch a baseball over the fence with cautionary frequency. Every night at least two of the three power bats will be protecting Houston’s hit parade. Every night is a new nightmare for opposing pitchers. They’re faced with either a swift destruction from power or the drowning quicksand from a constant stream of singles here and doubles there.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has had George Springer leading off, setting the stage for Jose Altuve batting third and Carlos Correa batting fourth. Once the speed and contact have put the pressure on opposing pitchers Hinch has had Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and/or Evan Gattis batting fourth or fifth in nearly every game. Alex Bregman has most often worked to reset the stage by batting eighth, but he also has the second most at bats in the Astros lineup batting second or sixth. Bregman appears to be the utility batter for Houston as he can help the Astros turn the batting order over or he can fill in to help set the stage for Altuve, Correa, or the power of Beltran, McCann, or Gattis.
Is there anything Carlos Correa can’t do on the diamond? (Brace Hemmelgam/Getty Images)
There are three major factors that may hamper the quest for four single-season, 200-hit teammates for the 2017 Astros. First is the relative youth of Bregman, Correa, and Springer. Slumps and growing pains are often a matter of when, not if, especially for younger hitters. Every batter struggles at one point in their career in some way, past success does not guarantee future success. Second, injuries. The Major League season is a 162 game grind that breaks down even the strongest and toughest players in the world. The Astros are not immune to injuries and missing even a week or more could put 200 hits out of reach for a player. Third, Houston currently has an 8 game lead in the American League West over the Angels and the Rangers. Any sized lead can disappear over the next four months, but with each passing day the Astros make it a little more difficult to be caught. If the Astros run away with the West, A.J. Hinch could decide to rest his players down the stretch, meaning losing at bats and potential hits to rest them for the playoffs.
George Springer can hit plenty of home runs, but his greatest value for the Astros might be getting on base ahead of Houston’s sluggers. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)
There are plenty of ifs peppered in the scenario of the Astros having four teammates collect 200 hits in 2017. The Astros’ core is young, the years of tanking have finally provided Houston the draft positioning to get the team they sought all along. A young, dynamic team that is built to win both now and in the future. The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer may never collect 200 hits in a season, but 2017 seems to be the first real opportunity for them to make a run at this particular landmark record. The hit parade in Houston is fun to watch and so far has resulted in plenty of wins for the Astros. The hits record would be nice, but the Astros are only concerned with winning their first World Series.