The New York Yankees led the American League Wild Card race by five games over Seattle as of the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. They could very well finish the season 10 games better than both the Mariners and the winner of the AL Central Division, and will still have to win a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play the best team in the American League, who will likely be from their own division.

I’m not one to make excuses for the Yankees. As a Minnesota Twins fan, I despise the Yankees more than most, and I’m a huge fan of the one-game playoff. But there’s nothing fair about a team’s postseason chances coming down to one game when that team has played a tougher schedule to a better record than all but one team in the league. It’s time for MLB to do away with divisions and go back to a division-less pennant race.

While Rob Manfred was repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth prior to the MLB All-Star Game, blaming the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout for not marketing Mike Trout, and calling for a discussion on ending defensive shifts, only the most interesting thing happening in baseball, he failed to address the most pressing issue facing the game. The one-game Wild Card could be played between the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the American League while the sixth-ranked team in the league gets a pass to the Divisional round simply for playing in a historically weak division. And that sixth-ranked team won’t even play the league’s best team.

Back in 1969, when East and West divisions were adopted by Major League Baseball, there were no Wild Card teams in the playoff format. And when just one team from both the American League and National League were awarded a postseason berth as a Wild Card for the first time in 1995 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled due to a player strike), there weren’t immediate issues.

But now that there are two Wild Card teams from each league reaching the postseason, either those teams need to play a three-game Wild Card series, or the league needs a good, old-fashioned pennant race. I’m for both.

I would recommend shortening the season to 154 games and adding a three-game Wild Card Playoff series to be played between the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in each league, regardless of division standings. There is no need for a team to play the same four teams 19 times every year. I’d be fine with MLB divisions remaining simply for travel and rivalry reasons, but 17 games against division rivals is still probably too many. Commissioner Manfred should shorten the regular season to the original 154-game length while adding at least four and up to six lucrative playoff games to the schedule.

Since the All-Star Game no longer determines which league has home field advantage in the World Series, a good, old-fashioned pennant race is the most reasonable and fair way to determine who plays who in the playoffs. The top three seeds in each league would benefit from up to five days off entering the playoffs while the two Wild Card teams are decided, and each league’s top seed would play the fourth-best team instead of the second-best team that happened to lose its division despite winning more games than other division champions.

So before Manfred even considers changing rules to the game regarding defensive shifts and pace of play, he should make sure the league’s best teams are rewarded for being the league’s best teams. Even if the Yankees were to win the Wild Card Game, if the playoffs began today, they’d meet the Red Sox in the Divisional Series instead of the ALCS. And if 2004 taught us anything, it’s that baseball’s best rivalry should be decided in the ALCS. Most importantly though, the league’s best playoff team should play the league’s worst playoff team in the divisional round, and that’s not the case as the MLB postseason currently stands.

Published in Opinion
%PM, %04 %876 %2017 %20:%Oct

The world needs more one-game playoffs

Target Field staff played a delayed feed of the national anthem on the Jumbotron while Brian Dozier homered to open the game and Eddie Rosario followed it with a two-run dinger, but despite missing nearly all the action, and the game becoming predictably uncompetitive, I still think the world needs more one-game playoffs.

The Minnesota Twins were the David to the Goliaths of the Major League Baseball Playoffs. ESPN’s Sports Nation staff ranked Minnesota’s roster last amongst the MLB playoff teams in all three areas -- lineup, starting pitching and relief pitching.

The Twins were huge underdogs not just to win the American League pennant, but the Wild Card Game. A $100 bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees would have paid $225. Those are the worst odds in the short history of MLB one-game playoffs. In the first American League Wild Card Game, a $100 bet on the Baltimore Orioles to beat the Texas Rangers paid $195.

Better yet, a $100 bet on that guy who had never boxed before against that guy who had never lost before would have paid just $40 more than a bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees. Apparently 50 million Americans watched that fight, which would be 15 percent of the U.S. population. The overnight rating for the American League Wild Card Game was 5.2, meaning Nielsen estimates 5.2 percent of households watched the game -- up 58 percent from last year.

So people watched because anything can happen in one game -- and did it ever. We saw baseball like never before because of the one-game playoff format. For better or worse, we saw how managers can affect a game -- something that isn’t the case over the course of a 162-game season -- or even a seven-game series.

Paul Molitor might win the American League Manager of the Year Award, but Joe Girardi was the better manager Tuesday. He made all the right moves. Girardi lifted starter Luis Severino after a third of an inning before his postseason ERA ballooned over 100 (it’s 81.00). When the Yankees badly needed to strand two runners in scoring position with just one out down three runs in the first inning, Girardi called on Chad Green, who struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro -- who didn’t touch a ball and probably should have been lifted for a pinch hitter at some point with three catchers on the Twins’ roster.

Molitor could have lifted Ervin Santana after a third of an inning, too. Santana was visibly struggling with his command, but instead of going to Trevor Hildenberger with two runners on, Molitor left Santana to allow the home run that tied it and sucked whatever mojo the Twins had stolen in the first half of the inning.

Girardi used his best bullpen pitcher (by the numbers at least) in the most dire situation while Molitor used his best bullpen pitcher, Trevor Hildenberger, to start the sixth inning down three runs -- with nobody on base! And instead of lifting Santana for Hildenberger, Molitor went to Jose Berrios, who like Santana, struggles to find his command early in games. Berrios predictably allowed a home run that put the Twins in a seemingly insurmountable three-run hole with the best of the Yankee bullpen yet to come.

Whatever mojo Molitor might have had in negotiating an extension with the Twins, he’s lost it in my opinion. When one game is your season, that game must be managed flawlessly. But that’s part of the beauty of one-game playoffs. Managers are faced with situations that don’t exist outside of a one-game playoff -- like removing your starting pitcher with one out in the first inning.

Anything could have happened on Tuesday in New York, but the better team won, as is mostly the case in MLB one-game playoffs. The favorite is 7-3 in MLB Wild Card Games, with those previously mentioned 2012 Orioles being the biggest underdog to advance. The 2014 Kansas City Royals were barely underdogs against the Oakland Athletics at +101, and the 2015 Houston Astros and Yankees were basically drawing even, but the Astros were playing in New York.

So if the better team wins the one-game playoff 70 percent of the time, the world needs more one-game playoffs. I’m not advocating the expansion of the MLB Wild Card format, but in a world where so much is wrong, one-game playoffs like that of the MLB and NFL Playoffs and NCAA March Madness provide wildly entertaining relief. I hope there’s a tie for a division championship or a three-way tie for a Wild Card spot next season.

--

If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

Prior to the Minnesota Twins taking on the New York Yankees to close out their regular season series in New York, I wrote that I thought the Twins were a better team than the Yankees in a five-game series. The Twins proceeded to be swept by the Yankees in a three-game series at New Yankee Stadium, proving me wrong and leaving an all-too-familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.

All-too-familiar Odds

That all-too-familiar feeling is the result of 12 consecutive playoff losses by the Twins, nine of which came at the hands of the Yankees. And with 12/1 odds to win the American League pennant and 20/1 odds to win the World Series, the Twins are the short stack at the Major League Baseball final table.

On paper, the Yankees are overwhelming favorites in the American League Wild Card Game. They’re playing at home, where they will have played their final seven regular season games and where they have hit 134 of their 235 home runs this season. So the Yankees will be comfortable, especially coming off a three-game sweep of the Twins at home.

All-too-familiar Pitching Matchup

New York will run Cy Young candidate Luis Severino to the mound against Ervin Santana -- a right-handed, fly-ball pitcher in an unforgiving ballpark for right-handed, fly-ball pitchers. And Santana has been susceptible to the long ball, especially in New York. He allows one every five innings at New Yankee Stadium.

Santana did show improvement over his career numbers at New Yankee Stadium (0-5, 6.43 ERA, 1.714 WHIP) in his last start, however. He went five and two-thirds innings allowing seven hits and two earned runs, but he did allow a first-inning home run to Aaron Judge that might not have carried out of Target Field. The Twins will need the Santana who showed up that day to have a chance at ending the Yankee playoff curse.

Despite the Twins having so few at-bats against Severino coming into the game, they showed an ability to at least make contact in an 11-3 loss two days after Santana’s start. All three runs were charged to Severino, as he struggled to put Twins hitters away over the course of three innings and 71 pitches. The Twins connected on 21 foul balls to extend at-bats against Severino. That patience will be a key to success again for the Twins, as the earlier Minnesota can get into the Yankee bullpen the better their chances will be to win.

All-too-familiar Youth

While the Twins are young, so are the Yankees. In fact, the Twins’ active roster has an average age of 28.1 to the Yankees’ 27.8, so the Twins are actually more experienced than the Yankees on average.

When it comes to playoff experience, though, the edge goes to New York -- big time. The Yankees have 14 players on their active roster with playoff experience to the Twins’ six. The Yankee players with playoff experience are more likely to get into the Wild Card Game, too.

Of the 14 Yankees with playoff experience, seven of them are position players. Of the Twins’ six players with playoff experience, just Joe Mauer and Jason Castro are position players. Mauer is 10-for-35 in the playoffs. Castro has just one hit in 14 playoff at-bats.

Yankee players have 466 playoff at-bats and are hitting .253 as a team in the postseason. Their starter in this game, however, has not pitched in the postseason, but Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman have.

The Twins can call on closer Matt Belisle and, perhaps, Glen Perkins, for bullpen arms with playoff experience. Perkins might not make the Wild Card Game roster, though, so no lead is big enough for the Twins on Tuesday in New York.

All-too-familiar Recipe for Success

So if the Twins can score early and often and get into the Yankee bullpen, keep the ball in the ballpark and play clean defense, and score runs like they have since the All-Star Break (5.67 runs per game is second only to the Cubs), they can end the Yankee playoff curse. At least an incorrect call on a double down the third base line won’t be their undoing this time.  

--

If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

With the Minnesota Twins collecting just their fourth walkoff win of the season at Target Field, Wednesday night, they are two games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. They could now become the first team ever to make the playoffs having lost more than 100 games the previous year.

The Twins have a 60 percent chance to make the playoffs given that seven of their last 17 games are against the hapless Detroit Tigers. I wrote about how these Twins could be the biggest underdog overachievers of all time, but now the team doesn’t look like overachievers. What once was a -68 run differential is now +8. Everything’s coming together like it did for the Twins in 1987 and 1991.

The Twins traded their All-Star closer and got better! The Twins lost All-Star slugger and third baseman Miguel Sano to injury and got better! The Twins lost the designated hitter with the highest on-base percentage in baseball, Robbie Grossman, and got better! So not only does Paul Molitor deserve an extension with the Twins, he should probably win the AL Manager of the Year award.

I was not a supporter of Paul Molitor’s when Ron Gardenhire was let go by the Minnesota Twins. In fact, I had Ozzie Guillen and Rusty Kuntz ahead of him on my dream list of managers.

I didn’t like Molitor’s first lineup, and there are few I’ve agreed with since, because batting your best home run hitter in the leadoff spot has never made much sense to me, especially with two players with on-base percentages in the top-10 in baseball (Joe Mauer and Robbie Grossman). Dozier gets himself out on the first pitch a lot, and that’s not helpful to his teammates when leading off a game.

I do appreciate Molitor’s willingness to move everyone else around the lineup, though. The rigidity I expected has never been the case, and Molitor has even platooned players effectively, namely Max Kepler. He’s also managed to get Grossman plenty of at-bats without using him in the outfield.

Most impressive is what Molitor’s done with a baby-faced bullpen and over-the-hill starting rotation. When he badly needed someone to step into the rotation and eat some innings, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine gave him 44-year-old Bartolo Colon. That was enough to satisfy me, and it has been enough to satisfy Molitor so far.

Right now, I think these Twins are better than the New York Yankees in a five-game series. They’ve been better in a three-game series thus far this season, and will have a chance to close the three-game gap between them and the Yankees starting Monday in New York. Here’s how the potential playoff preview lines up:

Game 2: Monday, Sept. 18 at 6:05 p.m. CST

A battle of the aces -- Ervin Santana versus Sonny Gray. This should be a good one. Santana tossed six innings of shutout ball to give Eddie Rosario the chance to win it with a walkoff homer deep into the Minneapolis night.

Sonny Gray has been great for the Yankees, but the Yankees haven’t been great for him. In five of his eight starts, the Yankees have managed just one run or less of support despite Gray’s sterling 2.66 ERA since the trade from Oakland.

Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6:05 p.m. CST

Jose Berrios takes on Twin-for-a-game Jaime Garcia. Garcia has struggled mightily since the trade from Minnesota. In fact, he hasn’t pitched six innings since his first and last start in a Twins uniform.

Berrios, on the other hand, is coming off his best start of his career. He might have not gotten a win in Kansas City, but he pitched his best in yet another high-pressure situation early in the game. With the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, Berrios got a double-play grounder off the hot bat of Whit Merrifield. He went on to complete seven innings, allowing just two runs.

Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. CST (ESPN)

Two players who’ve seen their seasons turnaround in the second half -- Bartolo Colon and Masahiro Tanaka -- close out the season series. Both pitchers are coming off ugly starts, though.

Tanaka allowed seven earned runs over four innings against a tough Texas lineup, but he had won four consecutive starts prior visiting Arlington.

Colon was even worse in Kansas City, failing to complete two innings and allowing six earned runs. He too had been great in his four previous starts, though.

If the Twins are to overcome the history of failures against the Yankees in the playoffs (1-9 in their last 10 postseason games), playing at Target Field might help, despite a better record on the road this season (39-32). The Yankees will enter the postseason on a seven-game homestand ending Oct. 1.

The Twins finish the regular season with a three-game series against Detroit ending Oct. 1. The American League Wild Card Game is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 3 with a time to be determined.

--

If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information