Archive: October, 2023
The 2023 World Series begins in a little over an hour as I type this. It's not the World Series I anticipated, far from the one I wanted, and the second consecutive one featuring a team that would not have made the postseason at all under rules that existed before 2022.
Depending on your point of view, this consequence of expanded playoffs is a travesty or a brilliant jewel of success. Or, I guess, you're indifferent; I do realize there are people out there that just don't get worked up over baseball.
Once in a while, a less successful team bests a bigger season winner and advances past them. It happens, especially in short series, and is a fun aberration from time to time. But it's no longer an aberration, it's a feature. And it should change.
You'd think this view would mean I am rooting against the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series this week. Well, no, I'm rooting for them. Because their opponent is the Texas Rangers, a team I've spent a lot of years disliking and rooting against. This week I'm a Diamondbacks fan, a partisan for my former home state. Nevertheless, their pennant is something less than deserved, a bit tainted by being a sixth-seed in a postseason format that rewards mediocrity over excellence.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred likely sees this as a feature rather than a bug in his new system. But his focus has always simply been on revenue; competitive issues just aren't important to him. Which means there's a small chance the system can be tweaked to improve things.
I've opined on this before, so rather than rehash all the details of my pre-2022 suggested playoff plan I'll skip to the end.
The principal problem with the current setup is that two of the division winners—the winningest ones—sit around for a week after the season ends while everyone else plays in "Wild Card games," even the other division winner who is not a Wild Card team. Which is doubly unfair. The secondary problem is that Wild Card teams are not penalized for not finishing first and there's a good chance that, as was the case in the last two National League Championship Series, the last two standing will be WC teams. If you're going to allow teams in the postseason that haven't won anything, make it a disadvantage.
So, oddly the way to fix this that might make it palatable to Manfred and company is to add yet another playoff seed. Make it four Wild Card berths rather than the current three and have them play one-game-and-done advancing games the day after the season ends. Then the next day have the victors play each other. The winner of that game then advances to the Division Series as the LONE Wild Card entrant to the main playoff tourney, which begins THE NEXT DAY. Also, the Division Series, which has been a best three out of five format since its inception, is expanded to best four out of seven, just like the League Championship Series and World Series. This allows Manfred to retain his extra playoff games—even gives the possibility of a couple more—and thus the TV revenue he so lusts after, as well as the hype potential of another WC berth, while at the same time restoring some balance and fairness to the competitive side of the postseason.
All three division winners get placed on the same footing. WC teams are disadvantaged not just by having to run a mini-gauntlet of winning two extra games before making the Division Series, but by having no off days after the season. Division winners have two off-days (perhaps three for one of them, depending on how the TV schedules work out) instead of the five-plus they currently suffer through. Two days is enough to catch your breath and reset your pitching rotation, but not enough to get stale and lose your timing at the plate.
Right now the lesser clubs are advantaged in the DS. Somehow the hated Houston Astros have not been hurt by it either last year or this, but every other "favorite" has looked bad against upstarts. The Goliaths are meek vs. the Davids.
In the history of postseason baseball, there have been 16 teams to make the playoffs with a season win total below 90 and advance beyond one round by defeating at least one 90+ win team, be it in the LCS or Wild Card game/series. Five went the distance to become World Series champs. Five. That goes back to 1973, the first time such a team got in—and to date the one with the fewest wins, the 82-80 New York Mets. But the Mets won their division in an era when teams played 60% of their games within their own division, so they got where they got plenty legitimately. With Wild Card teams there is no schedule equity.
The Diamondbacks are the fourth Wild Card team under 90 wins to win a pennant. If the system stays the way it is, look for a whole lot more of them going forward.
Stupid Manfred.No Comments yet
The Plan: Fascism 2025
So went the introduction to the outstanding 2004 science-fiction show Battlestar Galactica, which chronicled the struggle of a human race from elsewhere in the galaxy struggling for survival after their worlds were wiped out by AI robots that had become pissed off at their creators.
Just change "Cylons" to "Republicans" and you have a description of the modern GOP.
The show was awesome. And dark. And eventually, in the end, had a fairly happy ending where humans and Cylons resolved their differences. I'm hopeful the United states will also have a happy resolution to its current shitshow, but I'm less hopeful that we'll get there without a BSG-style violent upheaval.
But let's look at the text. "The [modern Republicans] were created by [Americans.]" We (that's the collective "we," of course) created this problem. We voted in Ronald fucking Reagan in 1980, whose administration started down this road to normalizing selfishness and overt hatred of our fellow citizens. We permitted Newt Gingrich to rule Congress ten years later and model even more overtly asshole behavior. We reelected George W. Bush after his incompetence abetted 9/11 and his reaction to it was massively counterproductive. We kept sending Mitch McConnell back to the Senate. We let the "tea party" send representatives to Congress. And we allowed Donald Trump to ascend to the presidency. All made possible by propaganda outlets we have permitted to not just exist but flourish.
We created the modern Republican base. They evolved to master the ability to manipulate enough rubes to make violence and bigotry of all kinds acceptable to far too many of us. And they have all now rebelled against the very U.S. Constitution they pretend to revere. There are more and more MAGA-whackjob copies popping up in all kinds of offices, often indistinguishable from each other.
And they have a plan.
Unlike the Cylons, the Republicans have made their plan public. And it's scary. Cylon-level scary.
Funded by the right-wing "think tank" The Heritage Foundation, which is funded mostly by the Kochs, “Project 2025” starts with firing tens of thousands of government employees that form a backstop against authoritarian rule and replacing their positions with cultish obedient flunky jobs. The civil service was revamped under Jimmy Carter to enhance career professional continuity and lessen political bias in disruptive turnover; the Trumpublican Plan would turn it entirely into a political arm of EmperorPresident Palpatine. The Justice Department is, naturally, a high priority for The Plan, because everything the modern GOP does is in some fashion or other illegal and prosecutable and they can't have pesky things like the law getting in the way of their power. And the FBI has a thing about combating misinformation; since misinformation is the GOP's primary communication tool, the FBI can't be allowed to do that, so raze the DOJ is right there in The Plan.
The Plan also seeks to control the access of the press to the government, saying the new administration should stop giving the press corps space to work at the White House. It seeks to reduce (in advance, presumably, of eliminating) the role of the Senate in confirming executive positions. It would eliminate environmental protections, put a stop to using renewable energy and expand fossil fuel use, and accelerate a climate change crisis that, without drastic intervention, will wreak havoc on the population of the planet in a very few years' time all for the sake of industry profit and putting a boot on the neck of "woke."
We see progress toward their authoritarian fantasy coming true by the elevation of Mike Johnson to Speaker of the House of Representatives. Johnson's full-on MAGA Trumpist ideology—plus selective bible-thumping, not a Trumpy thing but a huge part of theocratic wannabe authoritarians' agenda—promises to make for a truly destructive period of Congressional ineptitude.
2024 is just around the corner. Everyone needs to be registered to vote and ready to send a loud and clear message. Republicans need to be not just defeated but trounced in the elections a mere 53 weeks from now. If not, we're in for real trouble. Cylon apacolypse trouble. We created this, but we can still change course and rectify things if we show up and act.
As Commander Adama once said, “Sooner of later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things you've done anymore."No Comments yet
The baseball playoffs are in full swing, so I am, of course, preoccupied with them over the more important things in the world. I mean, I'm paying attention to all the Congressional chaos and I have deep, deep concerns about the fascist plans of the so-called Republican party, but I'll save that stuff for another post.
Right now, the playoffs.
I've never been a fan of the Wild Card concept. I think winning a division should mean something, and the existence of even one Wild Card team in a league devalues the accomplishment. Having said that, I realize it's never going away. Rob Manfred and company want the extra playoffs and the TV money that comes with them. And I admit, despite the competitive inequities, I do enjoy having more baseball. So as long as we have them, the format needs some refinement.
Before last season, when the current playoff format began, I wrote a piece for that other website that is no more proposing a playoff system that would be more acceptable. Obviously, no one in Manfred's office listened to me, because it's not what we ended up with. I'm reproducing it below just to get it back on the Interwebs and reiterate the point. (Though in retrospect, it's not the playoff expansion that will hurt teams' TV contracts, it's cord-cutting.)
But the system as it stands now has problems. To wit, the division winners are not rewarded for finishing first. Two of them do get to rest up for a week or so and nurse little injuries and set their pitching rotations, but they also lose momentum. And the excessive number of days off doesn't give that much downside to the Wild Card clubs. So, let's cut out some off days. There should be zero off days between the WC series and the LDS. Then tighten up the calendar during the LDS; the first day all four series are on, then they alternate. That's obviously for TV, and it's hard to argue with that; I have no solution. But fewer off days are better in that a team can't jumble its pitching rotation. A WC team should have to use their top two or three starting pitchers in the WC round, then immediately travel to the LDS town with no off day. So, assuming the now-customary four-days rest rotation, their top two pitchers would not be available for LDS Game 1 or 2. If the WC series went the distance, neither would their third starter. But if there's an off day between LCS 1 and 2 then the ace can go in Game 2; not nothing, but not as much of a handicap.
And the third division winner gets no recognition at all, they're on the same footing as the WCs. Not cool. Thus, even though it involves creating yet another Wild Card team, I much prefer my proposal from two years ago. (Of course, if MLB expands soonish as it appears it wants to, the system would be screwed again as expanding from 30 to 32 teams likely means a realignment from six divisions of five into eight divisions of four. Perfect for zero Wild Cards, e.g. the best way, but problematic for having any at all.)
December 8, 2021
Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have a lot on their plate right now. The lockout continues with no apparent progress and the matters under alleged discussion are many. One of those matters is the structure of MLB’s playoffs.
Manfred was so enthralled by the extra round of playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 season that he wants that system to be the norm from here on out. He doesn’t seem to care that it only made sense to do it that way in 2020 because of the short season played that year; 60 games was not a fair test of a team’s mettle, so making the playoff tournament pool bigger was a way to compensate. So what, Manfred seems to think, it meant a bigger influx of TV money! MORE TV MONEY! BWAAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!! In the tiny mind of Manfred, there is no balancing argument, no down-the-road obstacle that would counter this. It’s merely “more playoffs = more TV money.” No doubt with the evil laugh, too.
He’s probably wrong, of course—the way he wants to set things up, the regular season would be so further devalued that teams’ individual broadcasting contracts would inevitably shrink, relatively speaking, and there would be no net gain of TV money. (To say nothing of the fact that today’s cable/satellite broadcast model is fast becoming obsolete.) But that’s a long-view argument that can’t penetrate the commissioner’s meager and myopia-addled perceptive powers. He’s going to insist on more playoffs and the union is going to give them in some fashion in order to reach agreement on other issues. The question is, what form will they take?
Manfred wants essentially the 2020 model: Three division winners and three second-place finishers and one Wild Card (or just four Wild Card teams regardless of division/finish, unclear which he proposed) in each league, where the club with the top record gets a bye on the first round and everyone else plays a best-of-three series to advance to the second round, which we now know as the Division Series. This is terrible, as it makes winning your division unimportant. With the exception of the bye team, whether you finish first or not is just a matter of seeding; it is a more widespread reintroduction of the problem that the addition of the second Wild Card slot in 2012 successfully rectified—finishing first has to be substantially better than finishing second or lower. More broadly, the regular season must remain important and not merely a warmup for the playoff tournament.
If we are to be saddled with more playoff teams, the only way in which I’d be OK with it is if finishing first is maintained as a matter of significant import. We have a six-division structure and not enough clubs to comfortably break into more, so six first-place teams is the most we can have (with a two-team expansion, MLB could break into eight divisions of four, but that’s off in the future a ways and wouldn’t help with this anyway). With the four Wild Card clubs (two in each league), we have ten playoff teams, a full third of the MLB complement, but for Manfred that’s not enough. He wants fourteen.
Can this be accomplished? 14 clubs in the tourney while still retaining the importance of first place and the full season? Not entirely, no, but adding more Wild Card slots can still be done without totally FUBARing things. Right now each league has a Wild Card game as a play-in to the Division Series. If we limit additional Wild Cards to that tier, we’re still in the same general realm of acceptance.
Rather than make division winners play in this new introductory round, you leave them be. Win your division and be guaranteed a seed in the Division Series, just like now—three division champs and a single Wild Card club play on from that point. Before that, though, instead of having two Wild Card teams play for that one Division Series berth, you could have four.
As we know, in 2021 Boston hosted New York for the American League Wild Card entry to the Division Series, while Los Angeles hosted St. Louis for the same in the National League. With additional Wild Card teams in play, this is what we’d have had in ’21:
|AL EAST||AL CENT||AL WEST||NL EAST||NL CENT||NL WEST|
Unlike what Manfred wants to do, in our case the four Wild Card teams in each league would get pared down to one before any division winners get involved:
|AL WC 1||AL WC 2||NL WC 1||NL WC 2|
|SEA (90-72) @ BOS (92-70)||TOR (91-71) @ NYY (92-70)||PHI (82-80) @ LAD (106-56)||CIN (83-79) @ STL (90-72)|
|AL WC 3||NL WC 3|
|ALWC 1 winner vs. ALWC 2 winner||NLWC 1 winner vs. NLWC 2 winner|
Then things proceed apace with the Division Series and League Championship Series as we know them now.
You can do this with single-game Wild Card games, three per league total, or you could make it a best-of-three series first round and then a do-or-die single game. Single games would be best, as that only adds one day of idle time for the division winners, but Manfred would whine about how he wants more TV money than that. So to get him to stop throwing his baby tantrum, we say best-of-three for WC 1 and WC 2, then single deciding game for WC 3, giving MLB a “Wild Card Week” between the end of the season and the Division Series (season ends Sunday; day off Monday; best-of-three Tue-Wed-Thu, 2-1 home/away format with no travel days; single-gamers Friday; LDS starts Saturday). The drawback is that doing best-of-three means the division winners all sit on their hands for six days (more if any off days get shoehorned into the WC round). That’s not a good thing, though some might welcome it; any hot-streak momentum might go away, but being able to reset pitching rotations regardless of how down-to-the-wire your season was would be appealing, as would extra rest for any banged-up players.
But, you say, all that downtime for division winners makes things uneven and unfair! Well, under the current system division champs wait up to four days already, and even Manfred’s way has two clubs waiting around for a week; doing single-games for all the Wild Cards would have division winners idle for only a few days. But that really doesn’t matter. If we really cared about equity and fairness and what’s good for the sport, we wouldn’t be adding more playoff teams to begin with. No, this is nothing but an attempt at a cash grab, and that needs to be acknowledged. Accepting that, we mitigate the fair and equitable thing by keeping the regular season and finishing first as meaningful as we can and make it a true disadvantage to advance as just a Wild Card team.
A better compromise would be to do all Wild Cards as single-elimination, win one and move on, and make the Division Series best-of-seven instead of best-of-five. Then you still get your “extra” playoff teams, you don’t have anyone sit around for an entire week, and you get your added games for playoff TV. Either way the World Series starts nearer to the end of October (in 2021 it would have started October 30 instead of October 26).
The whole thing is, of course, colossally dumb. But so long as Rob Manfred is Commissioner of Baseball, the best we can hope for is to limit the scope of the dumbness and keep as much integrity in our great game as we can in the face of his myopic agenda.No Comments yet
The season is over. Bring on the postseason.
The baseball season is done, and Your Seattle Mariners finished in disappointing fashion. But not surprising, right? I mean, the way the year started did any of us really think they'd make the postseason? There was real hope after that fantastic August, sure, but they never got smarter about things. Anyway, there's lots of points to make in a future 2023 Mariners dissection post, but tonight I'm going to look ahead to the ’23 postseason, which begins in about 9 hours.
Tomorrow's full slate of games is courtesy of Commissioner Manfred's new Wild Card Series, which, OK, I don't really support, but it's here so we'll roll with it. Doubtful it'll ever go away now that it's in place. I'll save my screaming into the wind rants about such things for the Designated Hitter rule and the Manfred Man zombie runners in extra innings (thank god there are none of those in the post).
Anyway, here's the bracket:
My rooting interests, such as they are, are:
In the AL (a) for Toronto, just because, y'know, yay Canada (although nothing against Minnesota, so that one can go either way for me); (b) against Texas, so go Rays despite your ugly, ugly ballpark; (c) against Houston in the ALDS (obvs) and (d) for Baltimore other ALDS. The nightmare scenario is the Astros and Rangers both advancing.
National League (a) for Milwaukee, but not with much fervor; (b) for Miami, just because the Phils won last year's pennant when they didn't deserve it; (c) probably against the Dodgers in a kind of support-the-underdog way, though I imagine LA will walk all over whoever they draw in their NLCS; and (d) against Atlanta, though likewise they'll probably win big.
Mostly I just hope for dramatic games and series. And/or humiliating losses for the Astros and Rangers.
Now, for those wondering which team to root for based on their connection to the Mariners—i.e. Karen—or for those who subscribe to the Seattle version of what Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko used to call the "Ex-Cub Factor," here are the playoff teams featuring former Seattle Mariners. (Royko described the ex-Cub Factor, or ECF, as a debilitating pathogen that is inescapable for any team once three ex-Cubs are on the roster: "When there are three, this horrible virus comes together and multiplies and becomes so powerful it makes the other players weak, nearsighted, addle-brained, slow-footed, and lacking in hand-eye coordination." Even if a team has less than three, it might not be safe: “A team with no ex-Cubs probably has the edge on a team that has even one.” Adapting the Cubs' futility of Royko's day to the Mariners' haplessness of, well, nearly their whole existence, you can apply the formula to ex-M's.)
Baltimore Orioles (1)
- Adam Frazier (2B): Frazier spent one year in Seattle, 2022, when he posted an unremarkable line of .238/.301/.311. He did slightly better this year in Baltimore, .240/.300/.396.
Houston Astros (2)
- Kendall Graveman (RHP): The Undertaker was great in short relief for the M's in 2021 until he was dealt (with Montero) to Houston as the trade deadline approached. He moved on to Chicago, then was traded to Houston again almost two years to the day later. He had an OK year between the White Sox and Astros.
- Rafael Montero (RHP) : This guy was gawd-awful for Seattle. Then he was good as an Astro last year, this year he regressed to resemble the guy we knew as a Mariner. Not as bad, but bad enough: ERA over 5.00 and WHIP above 1.500.
Minnesota Twins (1)
- Emilio Pagán (RHP): Pagán came up in the Mariners' farm system and had a decent rookie campaign in Seattle in 2017. He was then traded to Oakland for a lousy corner infielder. This is his second year in the Twin Cities and he's done quite well in short relief appearances.
Tampa Bay Rays (1)
- Shawn Armstrong (RHP): Armstrong only played in 18 games with the M's (2018-2019) and was pretty bad. He was great out of the Rays' bullpen this year, though (52 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.904 WHIP).
Toronto Blue Jays (2)
- Erik Hanson (RHP): Traded to the Jays after last season for Teoscar Hernández, Swanson had himself a pretty good season as a setup reliever north of the border. He still hasn't been given the chance to close, but he's good enough to do it.
- Yusei Kikuchi (LHP): Yusei's second year in Toronto was significantly better than his first; he posted career-bests in basically everything. Which isn't to say he was the kind of ace he was back in his Seibu Lions days in Tokorozawa, he still only managed about five innings per start and served up too many homers, but he more than held his own as a mid-rotation fixture.
Texas Rangers (0)
- No ex-Mariners active here, although infielder/outfielder Brad Miller is on their Injured List.
Atlanta Braves (0)
Los Angeles Dodgers (2)
- Kolten Wong (2B): As predicted, Wong caught on with another team shortly after the Mariners released him this past August. As predicted, he was much better with the new team than he was with the M's (.300/.353/.500 in 20 games with LA).
- Chris Taylor (IF/OF): In just one of many lousy trades made by the Mariners, Taylor was dealt to LA in 2015 for a guy named Zach Lee. Who? Exactly. Taylor has been a solid utility player for the Dodgers ever since, even making the All-Star team in 2021. This year his numbers aren't anything special, and he still strikes out too much, but you never know when he's going to deliver the big hit.
Milwaukee Brewers (4, 1 active)
- Carlos Santana (1B): Santana started the year as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but was traded to Milwaukee near the trade deadline to shore up a Brewer lineup plagued with injuries. He did OK (.249, 11 HR).
- Jesse Winker (OF, injured): Winker had a terrible season, batting under .200 and spending the bulk of it on the shelf. He hasn't played since just after the All-Star break.
- Abraham Toro (IF, inactive): Fatty Tuna spent most of the season in the minors, getting into only nine Major League games in 2023. He's not likely to be on the playoff roster, but could be used if someone gets hurt.
- J.B. Bukauskas (RHP, inactive): This guy made one relief appearance with Seattle before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Brewers. He spent most of the year in Triple-A and is unlikely to be on the playoff roster.
Philadelphia Phillies (1)
- Taijuan Walker (RHP): A two-time Mariner—traded first to Arizona with Ketel Marte for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, then after returning years later to Seattle traded again to the Blue Jays for minor leaguer Alberto Rodríguez, Tai signed as a free agent with Philadelphia prior to this season. He had a serviceable year in the Phillies' starting rotation, but nothing to write home about other than posting a career high in innings pitched.
Miami Marlins (1)
- J.T. Chargois (RHP): After a decent half-season in Seattle, J.T. was traded to the Rays for Diego Castillo. He moved downstate to Miami this year and put up OK numbers as a middle reliever.
Arizona Diamondbacks (3, 2 active)
- Paul Sewald (RHP): Traded from the M's to the Snakes this past July 31st, Sewald saved 13 games for Arizona, but his ERA and WHIP got considerably worse in the desert (2.93, 1.023 in 43 IP as a Mariner, 3.57, 1.472 in 18 innings as a Diamondback).
- Ketel Marte (IF/OF): Perhaps the best of today's Diamondbacks, Marte's year wasn't as good as his All-Star campaign of 2019, but still plenty good. He gets on base, hits for average, hits for occasional power, can steal a base once in a while, and can play a decent middle infield or center field. Ketel was last with the M's in 2016 and the trade he was in (with Taijuan Walker for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura) was one of those good-for-everybody deals.
- Kyle Lewis (OF, inactive): Mister Streaky was Rookie of the Year in the truncated 2020 season as a Mariner, and I'd bet real money had that been a regular-length season that he wouldn't have been in the top three. He won the award based on a fantastic three week stretch that preceded three weeks of futility. He followed that up with two injury-hampered seasons, got dealt to Arizona for C/OF Cooper Hummel, was briefly hurt again after a disappointing first few weeks of this season, then came back and was optioned to Triple-A. In the minors he tore the cover off the ball. Called back up to Phoenix mid-season, he stank again. Sent back down, he raked again. The Snakes have five outfielders on the active roster, so odds are there won't be room for Lewis unless they go deep into the tournament and/or someone gets hurt.
So, depending on how you reckon things, the Diamondbacks or the Brewers have the most ex-Mariners. Or the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Blue Jays tie with two each. I have a kind of weird desire to see Kolten Wong have a spectacular playoff run, just to prove he's better than he got much chance to be here.1 Comment