If The Freak can get San Francisco into the Playoffs, he could wreak havoc in October.

If "The Freak" can get San Francisco into the Playoffs, he could wreak havoc in October.

In a September in which playoff races are looking pretty dead and all but settled, there is one race between two very different teams that gives us a reason to keep paying attention.

Currently, barring a miraculous comeback, the San Francisco Giants are about to take down the Colorado Rockies and cut their deficit in the Wild Card to 2 1/2 games.  So really the only relevant question that remains in either league is which one of these teams is going to take the last playoff spot and play in October (although since the regular season ends in October this year, I guess that’s not a great question).

The Giants have what every good postseason team needs to have when it counts in its excellent starting pitching with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and the resurgent Barry Zito.  If the Giants make it into the playoffs this is certainly a team to look out for because of how difficult its going to be to beat them in a short series.  Unfortunately for San Francisco, their great pitching is offset by an offense that at times can be almost completely non-existent.  Pablo Sandoval has been a huge part of the Giants’ offense throughout the year, and if guys like Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina can provide some support, then they might just have a chance to make a deep playoff run, but it’ll take an offensive output that we have yet to see on a consistent basis from this squad.

The Rockies, on the other hand, are looking to bring back “Rocktober” from the ’07 season, when they went on a tear up until they were swept in the

One of the most consistent hitters of the past decade, Todd Helton would love one more shot at postseason glory

One of the most consistent hitters of the past decade, Todd Helton would love one more shot at postseason glory

World Series by the Boston Red Sox.  What they have going for them is the same thing that every Colorado team always has going for it in their offense, which can score in bunches.  Their lineup has a great balance of speed, in players like Dexter Fowler, average in Todd Helton, and power in basically anyone who has ever played in Coors Field.  All that makes them pretty dangerous and got them back into the NL West race with the Dodgers up until this recent slump.  Again though, the Rockies pitching staff isn’t exactly one of the most spectacular in the league, although it is vastly improved from where it has been at times in the past.  Ubaldo Jimenez is their ace, and with Jason Marquis and I guess Jorge De La Rosa as the next two in their rotation.  Jimenez got shelled by the Giants tonight, and that’s not a good sign for Colorado. 

So for now, there really is only one show in town if you are an MLB fan and the NL Wild Card race is it.  Looking at the remainder of the schedule, it could become even more interesting if both teams can get hot and put some pressure on Los Angeles, but for now we’ll assume that the Dodgers will avoid the collapse and win the NL West.  Meanwhile, somewhere in the bowels of his personal offices in Milwaukee or the MLB main offices in New York, Bud Selig is looking for ways to make the last three weeks of the regular season go faster.  Playoff baseball could not come soon enough this year.

 

MLB: At least we dont have Michael Vick!!!

MLB: "At least we don't have Michael Vick!!!"

Since the advent of the wild card berths into the Major League Baseball playoffs in 1995, many baseball fans have had reason to cry foul as their team was denied the wild card while a team with a worse record got into the playoffs by virtue of playing in a weaker division.  Most would argue that this is a sign of parity in the league and that these teams are few and far between.  However, if the season were to end today, both the Texas Rangers and the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays would finish with better records than the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, quite conceivably as a result of having to play teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mariners more often than the Tigers.  There is a simple solution to this: Eliminate one division from each league and have 2 wild card teams, that would be determined by best overall record, regardless of what place a team finished in their respective division.  

The basic setup for the 4 division system is simple enough, in fact, this is what it would probably look like:

AL East: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit

AL West: Los Angeles, Texas, Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City, Milwaukee (Note: The Brewers would be moved back to the American League in order to have 15 teams in each league, which is the way it should be anyway, but that’s another topic entirely)

NL East: New York, Philadelphia, Florida, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

NL West: Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego

See? That wasn’t that hard.  Now obviously we run into 3 key issues under this system. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to all of these problems.

Problem #1: The West divisions are spread out a LOT more than the East.  Is that fair?
Solution: No, it’s not. That’s why MLB will redraft its schedule and create a balanced schedule where every team in both leagues play each other 11-12 times every year and interleague play, which has really lost its novelty anyway, will be eliminated from the schedule, because how many extra fans really were going to that Nationals-Royals series in the middle of a week, anyway?

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Problem #2: Two of the divisions have 8 teams, but the other two divisions only have 7, what gives?!?
Solution: This isn’t a new problem, just look at the standings today, where you have a four-team AL West and a six-team NL Central.  This creates a unique opportunity for Major League Baseball to expand to 32 teams, though.  I would suggest Charlotte or Nashville for one team and Las Vegas or Portland for the other.  These are all cities that have showed interest in having pro sports in a greater capacity.  Also, by adding the two Western teams to the league, you can shift a team (I would suggest the Brewers since they played in the AL East before division realignment) back into a division that would be less difficult on them with respect to travel.

Problem #3: The balanced schedule is economically unfair to small-market teams who will have to place more money into travel costs that could otherwise be used on acquiring players. Isn’t this just a way for the bigger clubs to push the smaller ones around?
Solution: Yes, this is why two things would need to be put in place in order to preserve the competitive balance of the game. First would be an increase in the amount of revenue sharing between clubs, so as to offset the slight increase in travel expenses.  Second would be the institution of a salary cap system that operates like the NFL’s, one that increases on a yearly basis and has probably been one of the major reason that the NFL is by far the most balanced league out of the major American sports.  This will put teams in position to be more competitive and will lead to increased attendance for teams that are struggling, thus creating record revenues for MLB.  (Note: Of course, I say this without doing any true research, but fundamental economics would suggest #2 and #3 as true. This is also one of the first times I have actually applied my major to something, so now I can’t say I’ll never use that economics degree.)

So there you have it, in a nutshell.  Of course I say this all while assuming that baseball will not kill itself via syringes and tainted records, but until that happens, MLB and its commissioner-in-hiding Bud Selig should seriously consider division realignment, lest we run into another 2006, where a team that played about .500 all year wins the World Series and gives great merit to the argument that the the MLB regular season doesn’t matter.

Instant Replay Becomes Part of Major League Baseball

By: Sean Speirs

     Major League Baseball’s Commissioner Bud Selig has finally surrendered. 

     This Thursday, our nations past time will catch up with every other major national sport and include instant replay technology.  This new move is set to last through the rest of the season and post-season (while ideally being re-evaluated during the winter off-season).

     What’s the catch?  Instead of a “play-by-play” instant replay that one may see in an NFL game, the MLB’s instant replay will be used strictly for disputed home run calls, such as over the outfield fence foul balls and fan interference with potential home runs.

     In an interview with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Selig admits that he is “old fashioned”.  “I love the sport the way it is,” Selig said, “but the time has come for this [instant replay].”

     Unfortunately, for some baseball teams who lost because of radical home-run calls, the “time” for change has come a little too late.

     The heavy demand to include some sort of instant replay in baseball has been ongoing, and in retrospective, could have been useful in certain games in the sports’ past.  However, due to some die-hard baseball fans (including Selig) and umpires in the World Umpires Association, the sport’s pure and old-fashioned regulations were to be untouched.

     However, in mid-May of this baseball season, umpires began to call too many mistakes concerning disputed home runs hit by Mets Outfielder Carlos Delgado on May 18th and Yankees Third Basemen Alex Rodriguez on May 21st.  In these particular instances, it was not until these umpires watched the tapes after the game where they noticed that their official rulings were wrong.

     Whether or not this little technological boost will make a difference in baseball, only time will tell.  What is for sure though is that Selig is not looking to expand instant replay past home run calls (such as for pitches and tag-outs).

     “My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play,” he said to Nightengale.

     So while behind-the-plate and foul-line umpires can sigh in relief, the MLB should still remember (an be a little ashamed) that it was the last national sport to bring in instant replay to assist officials. 

     Although baseball games may be a little longer with the new instant replay process (crew chief umpire waits for an “overturned” call on a disputed home run by a retired umpire/supervisor who is watching a broadcast video feed of the game in a media office), officials are human and cannot be perfect.

     When all is said and done, instant replay in the MLB is bound to shake up the nostalgic feel of baseball, just not as bad as how the use of anabolic steroids already changed the sport.

     At least Selig is starting to understand the accessible technology around him.

     To the MLB: Welcome to the 21st Century…It’s About Time.

By Sean Speirs

IMAGE FROM YAHOOSPORTS.COM

With Summer upon us and the never ending Basketball Playoffs almost over (what…you thought this would be a basketball column after last nights amazing comeback by the Celtics?  Don’t waste your time here and read a much funnier account of anything that I could do), America’s Pastime takes front and center in the sports world. Just recently, I have started watching a couple of games a week, mainly New York Mets games unfortunately. And I must say, this season just seems weird. Everything seems upside down. The Florida teams are over five-hundred and contending for division leads and the two Chicago teams are now at the center of the baseball universe by having the two best teams in baseball. Big name stars such as David Ortiz, Jake Peavy, Travis Hafner, Rafael Furcal, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, and Albert Puljos have or are currently on the disabled list. Big market teams like the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the Dodgers are all struggling and underwhelming fans.

But disappointment should be expected, because if everything played out the way it was expected, why would people watch?

But I have been struggling more and more to find a reason to watch baseball this season. The game just seems slow and boring. Now that the Yankees are finally playing down to their pitching, there is nobody to hate anymore (even though Hank is doing his best George Steinbrenner impersonation).  The injuries are piling up and every pitcher seems to be unable to grasp the concept of holding a lead (or at least every Mets reliever…all three of them who came in after Johan Santana pitched seven shutout innings yesterday afternoon, let in a run, with Billy Wagner blowing his third straight save by giving up two runs in the ninth.  I thought he was supposed to be good.  What gives?)

And yet it goes deeper than that…

I know this article is probably 3-6 months too late (I don’t even remember when the Mitchell Report came out, it just seems so long ago, but still so present), but after the steroid scandal rocked the baseball world, the sport just hasn’t been the same for me.  Baseball lost so much credibility after the steroids scandal, I just don’t know anymore if my boyhood heroes were clean, and that bothers me. 

I remember watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battle it out for the home run record in the summer of 1998 and believing that these two players were not just ordinary human beings but super-humans capable of extradorinary feats of stregnth (sort of like Frank Costanza’s perfect world model for the Festivus celebration). 

This story always stuck in my mind.  My parents went away on a vacation when I was in Middle School to Paris and when he came back, the first thing he told me was that when he was in the airport, multiple people came up to him and asked him for his autograph thinking he was Mark McGwire.  Now, my father is not nearly as big as McGwire but his face looks similar and he was wearing a Cooperstown shirt (for all those who don’t know what Cooperstown is, its the Baseball Hall of Fame).  I always thought that was so cool and my father and I joked about it constantly. 

Now though, after it was revealed that McGwire possibly used steroids (and its not like his testimony in Congress was reassuring), that story embarrasses me because it connects my father to a disgraced baseball player and a dark time in the sport. 

The titans of baseball just don’t seem legitimate.  I mean, look at these guys.  They’re almost as big as football players, and in some cases, much bigger (I’m talking to you C.C. Sabbathia).  Maybe its the evolution of the athlete, but I don’t buy it.  Thats the thing I used to like about Baseball, these average looking guys would go out and destroy people with their intensity and sheer talent.  Now, the talent level is down, the testerone level is up, and the average fan can no longer connect to the star player on their team.  These guys are no longer average joe’s just playing some ball but highly pampered athletes with designer drugs. 

Mr. Selig, please do something!

But I guess baseball will come back strong.  There have always been scandals.  Pete Rose gambling on games, the White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, and the Cocaine scandal of the 1980’s are just a few. 

Still I don’t know if baseball can recover from this and remain credible. 

BEARD

PS- And in a theater near you this summer: the NBA where “Scumbag ex-refs have more credibility than the Commish Happens”… I mean WOW, who would’ve thought that David Stern would’ve screwed this up?  Really?  You can’t do better than this?  Scumbag ex-ref is embarrasing you!  You gotta focus and keep your eyes on the prize!