OK, Nationals fans. It was ugly and dispiriting for most of the year. Every bounce went the other way. They led the National league in errors. If they had the bases loaded and nobody out, they’d figure out a way of stranding all of them. It was so bad, I was waiting for a headline like Strasburg tosses no-hitter, Nats lose 1-0.
The absolute low point was reached at 10:26 pm, ET on Wednesday, August 7th. The Atlanta Braves entered the 9th inning at Nationals ballpark with a 12-game winning streak, a 6-3 lead and, adding insult to injury, had escaped without repercussions after drilling Bryce Harper repeatedly in the series.
A Harper double and a Jason Werth walk gave the 29,000 fans a glimmer of hope. Then Ian Desmond struck out looking and Anthony Rendon fanned swinging. Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run. He stung the baseball the opposite way toward right field; Harper and Werth in full sprint as the line drive shot out over the infield. It would end up falling into the glove of Jason Heyward. Game over.
The once mighty Washington Nationals had fallen six games below .500. The National League Eastern Division was put away for good that night. The tomahawk chops at Nationals Ballpark made for a painful reminder of the utter failure of a season gone dreadfully and inexplicably wrong.
Inexplicably, because there wasn’t a single starter in that Washington lineup you’d want to get rid of. Adam LaRoche maybe but there’s that stylish defense of his at 1st. And last year he carried the club offensively for an entire month. Rendon and Lombardozzi at 2nd. How lucky are we? Desmond at SS. Perennial all-star. Zimmerman scary at 3rd defensively and offensively anemic at the time- but the cornerstone of the franchise, regardless. The outfield of Harper, Span and Werth- untouchable. Even struggling at the plate, Span’s defense in center is gold glove quality. Wilson Ramos. Power, smarts and feel for handling our pitchers.
And who would you knock off the pitching staff? Dan Haren is the most likely answer because if he hadn’t literally been the worst pitcher in the entire sport for the entire first half of the season, the Nats would have been contending all along. But the rest of them? Really, folks, this is one of the top 5 pitching staffs in the game. And when he’s the “good Haren” he looks like he can throw a no-hitter.
But in the midst of the misery of that humid August night when they were whipped by their arch-rivals, the Baseball Gods seemed to awaken. They may be Gods but, in the end, they must abide by the rules of the universe, and specifically- the statistical theory called Regression toward the Mean. From our friends at Wikipedia:
…the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.
Statistics really do mean something in baseball. If a player has averaged X amount of production in pitching and hitting stats, over a 162-game season and accounting for their aging, the result is invariably within 10-15% of their career average.
Ryan Zimmerman is Exhibit A. Jason Werth is Exhibit B.
Zimmerman was showing the worst power numbers of his career. Until September. The man has hit 9 homeruns in his last 11 games. He now leads the club in that department. Nine homeruns is an insane amount for a month, much less a week and a half. That’s a pace to hit 132 homeruns over a season. Zimmerman’s Regression to the Mean has been absolutely breathtaking.
Jason Werth’s story spans three years. His first year as a National, Werth hit .232 with 20 homers and only 58 RBI’s. His injury plagued second year saw his average climb to .300 but only 5 homers. In his 3rd year is currently in third in the battle for the National League batting title. He has been the best offensive player in the game for over two months. He’s hitting .323, with 23 homers and 71 RBI’s. Werth’s Regression to the Mean is complete now.
Since the stinging loss to the Atlanta Braves August 7th, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the sport. They were 54-60 after the sweep. They have now gone 24-9. They were 6 games under .500. They are now 9 games above .500 at 78-69. They have won 7 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 18 of their last 23.
For a team that won 98 games last year, clearly, Regression to the Mean was due and is in full swing.
To Nat’s fans- a note of caution over the next 15 games. So yes, they have gone 24-9 since the Atlanta sweep, but remember that after each of the 9 losses, the conventional wisdom was that the season had just ended. Some of the 9 losses were ugly. So ugly they obscured the winning tempo that was beginning to build. We almost didn’t see it, even as it was happening. Baseball and its 162 game marathon have a funny way of doing that to you.
But the trend is unmistakable now. The Nationals have found themselves but only at the very last possible, friggin’ moment. They will not win out. They can afford to lose probably three games at most. Do not panic when one of those three losses happen. The other 12 wins will have us “crashing the party,” in one of the most inspiring turn-arounds since the 2011 World Champion, St.Louis Cardinals.
And if they don’t get to the playoffs, rejoice that you got to see this kind of drama and heart and grit and pressure in the middle of September. Most ball clubs don’t get to the cooler temperatures of autumn with much of any hope at all.
They’ve clinched the National League East. God only knows what’s ahead. But we sure know what’s behind. One of the most interesting, historic, crazy-insane regular seasons you could imagine. Here now, the ten most significant or just plain weird moments of the 2012 Washington Nationals most excellent campaign. In chronological order and all in the written word:
Bryce Harper’s 1st Game in the Big Leagues, 4/28/2012, Los Angeles, California
The One, The Kid, the Run-Until-He’s-Tagged-Measure-Testing, Laser-Throwing, Eyeblack-Oozing Baseball Cyborg* makes his 1st appearance in a major league baseball game. The injury-racked, sputtering offense had forced Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo to call up the 19 year-old after just a brief stay in Triple A. The teenager takes his position in Left field, looking all around the ballpark at Chavez Ravine, visibly drinking in the entire scene. He goes 1 for 3 with a booming double, a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the 9th and fires a throw from left field so wicked and powerful it nails the runner while the disbelieving umpire, unable to accept what his eyes have just seen, calls him safe.
*Incredibly long Bryce Harper nickname, courtesy Federal Baseball.com
Cole Hamels Hits Harper, Rookie Steals Home, 5/6/2012, Washington, D.C.
Sunday Night Baseball. The national spotlight shines on Philadelphia Phillies lefty ace, Cole Hamels, as he faces the teenage phenom and promptly smacks him in the middle of the back with his first pitch. Jayson Werth singles to left and Harper never stops running. Nobody goes from 1st to 3rd with a ball hit to left. Harper does and is now 90 feet from home. He’d been told earlier in the game that Hamels has a slow throw to 1st when he checks runners. He sees his opportunity. Hamels throws lazily to 1st base for a second time. The TV camera catches a stunned, wide-eyed look on Werth’s face.
The Kid has just stolen home. WHAT? He’s called safe, pops up and gives a glance at Hamels as he heads back to the dugout. Hamels later admits he’d hit the kid on purpose as an old-school welcome to the Bigs. Harper shows the world what he’s made of. Don’t get mad. Get even.
Strasburg and Harper Take over Fenway Park, 6/8/2012, Boston, Massachusetts
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, both students of the game and its history, are amped up, playing their first game at revered Fenway Park. And the future unfolds before our very eyes. Strasburg strikes out 13 confused Red Sox hitters. Red Sox beat-writer, Gordon Edes says it all:
Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters…
But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.
Throw-Back Day and the Dancing Deer, 7/5/2012, Washington, D.C.
The San Francisco Giants and the Nationals are decked out in 1924 uni’s in a celebration of the last time a Washington baseball club won a World Series. Matt Cain, owner of a perfect game earlier in the season, dominates the Nats taking a 5-1 lead into the 7th inning. He gets two outs. Then Ian Desmond homers. Then Danny Espinosa homers. Cain is taken out. Lead cut to 5-3. And then this happened in the bottom of the 9th inning, duly noted on this blog three months ago:
Three rookies up to bat, all in a row. Pinch-hitter, Tyler Moore, on the verge of striking out opens the frame with a solid double to the gap in center. Steve Lombardozzi bunts and the pitcher botches it and now it’s first and third with nobody out. The stadium is going nuts. Bryce Harper comes to the plate again. As a deafening, spontaneous chant of “Let’s go Harper” reaches its boisterous crescendo, Harper is steeped in the moment and raps a base hit- game tied 5-5.
Ryan Zimmerman is intentionally walked to load the bases and still no outs. The anticipation is as thick as the humid Washington air. Michael Morse is up but he hits a grounder and the Giants get a force at home. One out, game still tied. Adam LaRoche comes to the plate and hits a double-play grounder. They get the out at second but the shortstop sends a low throw to the Giant’s 1st baseman. It glances off his glove and wouldn’t you know it- Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old and the representative of all that is young about baseball, dashes in for the winning run.
As they celebrate LaRoche’s walk-off error, it appears the players surrounding him are running in circles doing deer imitations, waving hands over their heads to simulate antlers. Turns out Gio Gonzalez had designed a LaRoche walk-off celebration during a long ride on the team plane. LaRoche, an avid hunter, would launch imaginary arrows at players circling him like ripe deer. Explaining to reporters after the game, LaRoche says he thought he bagged one just before he was tackled by teammates.
The Houston Astros: And We All Fall Down, 8/6/2012, Houston, Texas
A veritable circus of errors dooms the lowly, loveable Astros:
Nobody out, top of the 11th inning of a 4-4 game. There’s hardly anyone in the stands because this is the Houston Astros- the worst team in baseball. There is not a camera angle possible that doesn’t show a sea of empty seats. It’s so quiet and dead in the stands that everyone in the stadium can hear the wailing cry of a single infant seated with its parents somewhere close to home plate.
Washington National’s centerfielder, Roger Bernadina singles to right. And now the fun begins. The Nationals’ new catcher, Kurt Suzuki, attempts a sacrifice bunt to try and get Bernadina to second. Suzuki screws it up and instead of bunting on the ground, he pops the ball up. A tiny, little, baby pop-up.
Houston 1st baseman, Steve Pearce, moves toward the ball at the same time as the pitcher, Wilton Lopez. The ball eludes them both and drops softly to the ground. Lopez can’t seem to locate it between his legs. Pearce literally pushes his own pitcher out of the way like a linebacker and picks up the ball.
Inexplicably, Astros 3rd baseman, Matt Downs, seemingly thinking maybe he has a play on the ball, dives over the fallen pitcher and succeeds in partially interfering with the 1st baseman’s desperate throw to 1st base. The ball flies over the head of Houston 2nd baseman, Jose Altuve and well into right field.
Bernadina sees all the madness and takes off, easily passing 2nd base and headed to 3rd. Houston right fielder, Brian Bogusevic sees Bernadina completely ignoring his own 3rd base coach’s pleas to stop and sprints for home. Bogusevic’s throw is airmailed over the catcher’s head, Bernadina scores and Suzuki, who had moments ago tried to make an out by bunting the ball in the infield, is now securely at 3rd.
The Shark’s Amazing Two-out, Extra-Innings Catch , 8/7/2012, Houston, Texas
The Nationals and the Astros had battled all night. The Astros enter the bottom of the 12th, trailing 3-2. MLB.com takes it from there:
Roger Bernadina glided back toward the fence, trying to make a play on a ball that would decide the game one way or the other.
Washington held a one-run lead over Houston with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 12th. If Bernadina catches Brett Wallace’s line drive, the Nationals win. If he can’t get there or he drops the ball, both runners could have scored and the Astros would have walked off.
He kept striding back to the corner between the bullpen fence and one of two big, green pylons. Reliever Craig Stammen stood right behind the fence, where the ball was headed, screaming, “You’ve got room! You’ve got room!”
Bernadina didn’t have much room, but he jumped toward the corner, disappearing from the sight of everyone in the Nationals’ dugout. He nabbed the ball, collapsed to the ground and held his glove high. He made the catch and saved the game, preserving Washington’s 3-2 win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night — the second straight four-hour, extra-inning game between these clubs.
Dancing in the Rain, 9/8/2012, Washington, D.C.
It’s the day Washington decides Stephen Strasburg is done for the season. The Nats play a sloppy, unfocused, error-filled game. The Miami Marlins lead 6-5 as Washington goes to the bottom of the 9th. The Baseball Gods decide it’s time for rain. Lots and lots of rain. After a 2-hour and 33 minute delay, Jason Werth comes to the plate and promptly launches a game-tying homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, the Marlins use five infielders to try and escape a bases-loaded jam. Corey Brown lofts a soft single that just eludes Miami right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, scoring Ian Desmond with the winning run.
Gio Wins 20th Game, Celebrates with a Face Plant, 9/22/2012, Washington, D.C.
Cy Young award-contending Washington ace, Gio Gonzalez, reaches the pitching milestone but not before tripping on the mound in the middle of a pitch in the 7th inning. The baseball flies to the backstop. Gio lands on his face, spread-eagle on the ground, motionless for several long seconds while trainer, manager and players convene to see if he’s alright. Turned out to be mortification not injury. Gio gets up, his teammates laugh and he doffs his cap to the adoring crowd. Later, Ian Desmond remarks, “A perfect 10. I’m just glad he didn’t mess up his hair.”
Werth Gets His Philadelphia Revenge, 9/26/2012, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
From the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg:
So now we’re in the top of the ninth. The Phillies have closed within one run. The crowd is back into the game. A Nats loss here would lower their division lead to just three games. What fun for the Philadelphia crowd. The Philadelphia television broadcast is filled with audio of fans heckling Jayson Werth, especially after he walks into the on-deck circle. So he fields a foul ball, and pretends to toss it to the crowd, then thinks better of it and gives the ball to the Nats dugout.
The boos rain down. Philadelphia fans have their target for the unfairness of life’s charade, and they fill their role with gusto, in the form of saying “BOOOOO” really loud.
Werth’s take: “I was going to flip the ball. There was a group of kids. Behind the kids there were these unruly middle-aged men that to me appeared to be snarling. It’s the ninth. Who knows. I kind of got the sense that maybe they were intoxicated. I was going to flip it to the kids, and then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t, because of the people right behind the innocent little children there.”
There were only two possible things that could happen next. Werth could strike out, and the fans could celebrate, and wave their arms in triumph, and be filled with genuine feelings of joy and elation that this hairy man had been shown, had been defeated, had been denied. Or Werth could single in two runs, filling the Nats fans watching at home with similar feelings of joy and elation, that this hairy man had made up for so much past frustration and pain, had transferred those feelings to the enemy.
Nats ended up winning 8-4.
Best Baseball Headline Ever: National’s Morse Hits Invisible Homerun, 9/29/2012, St. Louis, Missouri
It’s the very 1st inning in a pressure-packed game at Busch Stadium. The bases are loaded and Michael Morse smacks a shot to Right field. The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog again offers a hilarious take on the MASN broadcast of the bizarre events that unfolded:
…on Saturday night Michael Morse hit a grand slam that was called a single and then changed to a grand slam, but the umpires weren’t satisfied, so they sent everyone back to their original places, and after running the bases in reverse Morse then fake swung and hit a fake home run which Bob Carpenter fake called in his real voice.
There it goes!!” he said, as nothing happened.
“Are you kidding me?” F.P. Santangelo asked.
”Right field, it is deep!!” Carpenter continued, as no ball went into no outfield where it was not watched by any outfielder and no fans threw their hands up in frustration. “SEE. YOU. LATER. Grand Slam, the Nationals are on top by four.”
The Redskins remind me of a 3-year old with a shiny new toy who plays with it so obsessively, the thing is broken and doesn’t work anymore after a few weeks.
It could be worst, though. If they could figure out how to do it, RGIII would also catch passes, block and play in the secondary.
Unfortunately for the kid, he ended up with the Washington Redskins; a team that is proof that no matter what apparent good fortune has landed in their laps, crap still travels downhill, directly from owner, Daniel Snyder and the Father-Son Shanahan coaching duo. The Rebuilding Century continues. Except, of course, these are the Redskins. They have nothing to rebuild with til the year after next with no 1st round draft picks next season (traded for RGIII). They will continue to be in the 2nd year of an $18 million reduction in their salary cap for violating the NFL’s rules on signing free agents during the lock-out last year.
Last week, receiver, Josh Morgan, drew a personal foul to end the Skins chances at a comeback in St. Louis. And this past Sunday…a late personal foul cost them again…this one apparently incurred by Redskins offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Unlike Morgan who at least faced the music after the game and talked to reporters, the Redskins did not make Kyle Shanahan available to the press after the contest. Here’s the message this sends to the team. The players are accountable. The coaching staff is not.
Starting at his own 2-yard line, RGIII had driven the Skins to the Bengals 19 yard line with enough time left for several shots at the end zone. They ended up losing 36 yards. How do you accomplish such a thing? Here’s how: a 15-yard sack, a 5-yard off-sides penalty and young Kyle’s personal foul. On their last play of the game, RG faced a 3rd and 45.
Contemplate that for a moment. 3rd and 45.
“Daddy, please don’t make me go out there and talk to those mean reporters.”
There is no doubt the Redskins picked up a franchise player in RGIII. If he physically survives the beatings he will be taking week after week, he will have been worth every one of those #1 draft picks. The Skins are now averaging over 30 points on offense every game. At quarterback- mission accomplished.
I do find it striking how differently the Redskins treat their star player than, say, how the Washington Nationals protect Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals are guarding their investment by ending his season early, convinced their long-range planning will yield a bounty of future stellar seasons from Strasburg. The Redskins? With the Shanahan family clinging to dear life for their jobs if they have another abysmal season- Sunday showed how much they care about RGIII. They will keep running him out there until he ends up in the ER.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between long range and short range planning, between Ted Lerner and Daniel Snyder- between class and crass.
Tim McCarver, the one time Cardinal catcher and now color commentator for Fox Sports said it best moments after one of the most improbable and dramatic games in the history of the World Series: How did that happen?
Down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th and 10th innings and each time depending on a pair of 2-RBI desperation hits before the game-ending, walk-off homer in the 11th by a guy who nearly cost them the game by dropping a pop up earlier in the contest, the St. Louis Cardinals are not just the comeback kids. They are Lazarus, Jason and Dracula rolled into one- anything that’s ever come back from the dead.
The last day of the regular season, the single most dramatic evening to ever close out a baseball season and memorialized here, seems now like just the appetizer for the main meal that was served last night in the Cardinal’s 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers. It was on that last day of the season that St. Louis completed its comeback from 10 and a half games back on August 25th to take their place in the playoffs.
Baseball is often humbling. But it is also a vehicle for redemption. When Cardinal 3rd baseman, David Freese, dropped that easy pop up in the 5th inning and the Rangers capitalized and took the lead, he looked for all the world like the goat. And when he was down to two strikes with two out in the bottom of the 9th, he was looking like a cooked goat. Except he tripled. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had tied the game.
That they would do the same with Lance Berkman one inning later with two strikes and two outs is, of course, insane. And when Mr. Freese stepped up in the bottom of the 11th and hit his walk-off homerun to force a deciding game 7 Friday night, well, it was, as usual with this sport, stranger than fiction.
I would be very surprised if the Rangers recover from one the most devastating losses in the history of the Fall Classic. When Red Sox 1st baseman, Bill Buckner, had a ball go between his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, everybody knew what would come in game 7. And like the Mets, I have a feeling these Cardinals are also a team of destiny.
Before the game, the Cardinals carted out every conceivable living hero in their storied history; Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Stan Musial. It took that, and probably the ghosts of every other Cardinal who ever played, plus 50,000 screaming, towel-waving fans, several dollops of fate and a pinch of outrageous fortune to pull this thing off.
Twice, they’d put up the plastic in the Rangers dressing room and put out the cold champagne and prepared for the presentation of the championship trophy. And twice they took down the plastic and carted the champagne away. Definitive proof that in the greatest sport ever devised, it is always the final out that’s the toughest.
From his point of view, former Washington National’s manager, Jim Riggleman, preserved his dignity and self-respect. He’ll have many years to enjoy the Pyrrhic victory from the sidelines because it will be a cold day in hell before he manages in the big leagues again.
“Talk to me about a new contract or I quit,” is not an advisable form of dealing with any boss. They generally don’t take kindly to ultimatums. Really, what Riggleman was complaining about- and why he’s not likely to work in baseball again- is that he was chafing at the very reality of what it is to be a major league manager. He wanted a sense of job security and support from the Nationals. But there are managers with multi-year deals who get canned all the time. There are few managers, no matter how long their contract, who aren’t one 10-game losing streak away from unemployment. It’s the nature of the business and if he can’t live with the tenuous nature of being a big league manager, he did the right thing to leave the Nationals and the game.
What was wrong was putting his self-interests ahead of the team. Nat’s GM Mike Rizzo is completely right about that. The hottest team in baseball has a huge distraction to deal with now. I think they’ll be alright. A new interim manager will take over but it’s the players who perform and they have now discovered how to win. After taking 11 of their last 12 games and getting above the .500 mark for the first time in six years– Mr. Riggleman’s bizarre approach to trying to win job security has certainly been a buzz-kill.
But this team has survived losing Stephen Strasburg to Tommy John surgery; being without its best player, Ryan Zimmerman, lost to injury for nearly two months; lost its starting 1st baseman to injury and responded by putting Michael Morse in the position and promptly becoming the best hitter in the game.
Losing a nice man who was probably, at best, an average manager—well, unless he was suiting up and taking the field—and he wasn’t….they’ll survive Mr. Riggelman’s exit as well.
Ok…it’s officially summer, there’s no news now that Anthony Weiner’s resigned and we won’t know whether Congress will cause the next Great Depression by not extending the debt ceiling for another 40 days or so. Time to talk baseball.
The sport is reportedly considering a realignment that ranges from minor to big-deal. A number of plans have been floated- all of them involve baseball going to a pair of 15-team leagues with a couple more wild-cards to make it a total of ten teams that get into the playoffs every year.
The simplest and most obvious suggestion is moving the Houston Astros from the National League Central Division to the American League West. The AL currently has 14 teams, the NL-16; a glaring and silly inconsistency that should have been corrected long ago. Putting Houston in the AL West creates a natural rivalry between Houston and the Texas Rangers.
But as long as we’re going to be thinking about realignment- why not go all the way? Blow up the whole thing!
I propose a version of a geographical realignment, the kind that former National’s GM, Jim Bowden’s been talking about. I don’t think he’s gotten this specific. I’ve seen some pretty weird proposals but here’s the one that makes the most sense- go ahead, Selig, try to poke holes in it.
We start by blowing up the American and National Leagues. They’ve served their purpose for over a hundred years now and besides, with interleague play- the leagues are not what they used to be. The “junior” league, the American League, by the way, is only junior by about two years. They both basically started at the turn of the 20th century.
In order to really stoke up regional rivalries and save millions of dollars in travel- here’s the realignment for Major League Baseball’s new Eastern and Western Conferences.
The Eastern Conference’s Northern Division would be a powerhouse featuring some of the already existing greatest rivalries in the sport and creating a couple of new ones.
New York Yankees
New York Mets
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
That’s right; both New York’s in the same division. It worked once with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants- it’ll work again with the Yankees and the Mets. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry continues unabated and now the Bosox would be able to avenge Bill Buckner’s game 6 World Series error every time they take on the Mets.
So, New York Yankees, you think you can buy your way into every playoff? Meet the Philadelphia Phillies. Mets/Phillies? They already duke it out every year. The money division. The power division. The glory division. That’s the Eastern Conference’s Northern Division. The Toronto Blue Jays? Hey- they’re North and you need five teams per division and they already have an established history playing the Yanks and Red Sox.
The Eastern Conference’s Southern Division is obvious:
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Right away you’ve got the Washington-Baltimore regional rivalry and create a new Florida rivalry between the Marlins and Rays. The Braves already have NL East history with both the Nats and the Marlins. Tampa and Baltimore already battle in the AL East. Finally, the poor Orioles get out from under the shadow of the Yankees and Red Sox.
The third group in the Eastern Conference is the Central Division:
You’ve got the battle for Ohio and the existing rivalry between the Tigers and Twins. Then there’s Pittsburgh. It’s not possible to put the Phillies and Pirates in the same division but they’re not now and nobody cares.
Moving on to the Western Conference’s Midwest Division– it’s got the nicest symmetry of them all:
Chicago White Sox
St. Louis Cardinals
Kansas City Royals
How beautiful is that? The Cubs and White Sox battling for the hearts of Chicago. Milwaukee which is kind of a Chicago market anyway, throws a nice wrinkle into it. And then you have the Cards and the Royals battling for Missouri. Cubs, Cards and Brewers already fight it out in the NL Central so there’s familiarity.
And now off to the Western Division of the Western Conference. I know, it sounds redundant and you could call it the Southwest Division except you have to put Seattle in there so you can end up with an all-California Division:
You have your new Texas rivalry. You’ve got Arizona and Colorado who already face off in the NL West and then the Seattle Mariners. You could swap them out for San Diego but then you’d break up the neatness of our final grouping- the Western Conference’s California Division:
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Angels
San Diego Padres
You’ve got your classic Dodgers-Giants match-ups. You have your Bay area rivalry between the Giants and A’s, and a secondary battle for Los Angeles between the Dodgers and the Angels. If you swapped the Padres for the Mariners, you’d call it the Pacific Division and the other the Southwest division. But it all fits so well when you have five teams from California- they need to be in the same division.
So there you have it, my bored baseball friends. The ultimate geographic realignment of major league baseball; institutionalizing no less than 11 regional rivalries.
There would be two wild-cards from each conference putting ten teams into the playoffs. The wildcards play each other in a quick 2 out of 3 game set that starts the day after the end of the regular season to minimize the downtime for the division winners.
Then you’re left with your 8 teams. You have to keep it a 5-game series for the round of 8 or else you’d be playing baseball in late November. Regular season records would actually mean something- home field advantage to the team with the most wins through the year.
Stop this stupid business of home field advantage to the league that wins the All-star game. Best record plays at home under all circumstances (except for the Wild Card teams- there has to be a perk for being a divison winner).
The DH rule will have to be permanently put in place for all of baseball because you’d have to go to one system or another. The player’s union would never allow elimination of the Designated Hitter and as much as that would suck for basic game strategy, it would be a necessary evil.
Thanks in advance for considering, Mr. Selig, and best of luck with your deliberations.