Wayback Wednesday: ten years ago tonight

I still remember when the Cardinals first sniffed World Series success in my lifetime. I was one when Don Denkinger flubbed his way to officiating infamy in 1985, and three when the Cards succumbed to the Twins two years later. But 2004, that was a fun summer. St. Louis steamrolled its way to 105 wins, took out the Dodgers with relative ease in the NLDS, narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of division rival Houston Astros in the NLCS, then were summarily flattened by the Boston Red Sox in a quick four-game World Series. I was even in the bleachers at old Busch Stadium for game 4, where the Cardinals went out with a whimper, losing 3-0 to the Red Sox, who had just reeled off eight straight wins beginning with an unprecedented comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS and following it up with the Cards.

Boston Red Sox Vs. St. Louis Cardinals: 2004 World Series Game Four

The following season proved to be fun, as well. The ’05 Redbirds coasted to 100 wins and seemed to be on pace to make it back to the World Series; the second-best NL team, in Atlanta, finished with a mere 90 wins, and St. Louis would face the 82-80 NL West champion San Diego Padres in the NLDS. They handled that with ease, but the 89-win Astros surprised the Cards in 6 games in the NLCS.

By 2006, the championship dream shared by the “MV3” (1B Albert Pujols, 3B Scott Rolen, and CF Jim Edmonds) seemed to be fading. Rolen missed roughly two-thirds of ’05, and Jim Edmonds would end up playing only 110 games in ’06. Chris Carpenter and Pujols also made short trips to the disabled list, as well.

There was some turnover on the pitching staff, as well. Woody Williams left for San Diego after the ’04 postseason run, while Matt Morris departed for San Fransciso following the ’05 campaign. Holdovers Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan combined for 65 starts, but Marquis’ 6.02 ERA didn’t do the slumping offense any favors. The team limped to the finish line at 83-78, barely allowing the Padres to retain their distinction from the previous season as the worst division champ and postseason contestant in a full season in MLB history. As September waned, it felt as though the Cardinals would likely need to enter a rebuilding phase after another unsuccessful attempt at a World Series title.

Compounding the team’s problems heading in to October was the fact that closer Jason Isringhausen, who was an integral part of the team’s postseason runs the two prior seasons (2.55 ERA and 86 saves from 2004-05), had been up and down all season, before finally heading to the DL in mid-September. Rookie reliever Adam Wainwright was thrust in to the closer’s role on September 7, but only had the chance to close out five games prior to the season’s end.

pujols

The Cards skipped past the Padres in the NLDS yet again. The pitching suddenly seemed to click; the Padres only hit .225 and scored 6 runs in the four-game series. Carpenter and Suppan were the only pitchers to allow any runners to score at all, in fact (though Carp’s were over two starts and 13 1/3 innings, while Suppan took the sole loss in game 3, only lasting 4 1/3 innings).

 

Unfortunately, the path to World Series glory would have to go through New York.

The ’06 Mets possessed a fearsome, if not over-the-hill, starting rotation. Fortunately for the Cardinals, injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez–both of them starting pitchers with substantial postseason experience–wiped the duo out of the Mets’ postseason plans in the last week of the regular season. Tom Glavine was still in the rotation, though, and had just posted a sub-4.00 ERA with 15 wins at age 40. Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran would combine to provide significant offensive firepower, hitting .285 combined, with each player contributing at least 26 HRs and 114 RBIs. Jose Reyes also joined the fun, leading off and hitting .300, and generally making pitchers nervous by swiping 64 bases during the season.

The teams split the first two games at Shea Stadium, but the Cardinals gave the home-field advantage right back, dropping one of the three games at brand-new Busch Stadium, heading back to New York with a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 went the home team’s way, meaning the Cards and Mets would square off in a winner-take-all Game 7.

Both Jeff Suppan and Oliver Perez would turn in solid quality starts, each lasting at least 6 innings and allowing only one run apiece. Entering the final frame, in fact, the game was still knotted at 1-1, the two bullpens having done their respective jobs accordingly. In the top of the 9th, Aaron Heilman struck Jim Edmonds out, but allowed Scott Rolen to single. Then this happened:

 

Of course Yadier Molina homered. He hit .216 during the season, and managed all of six HRs. But his timely tater to left put St. Louis up 3-1 with only three outs to go.

Tony LaRussa brought in his new closer to finish out the biggest game of his career. Wainwright would be facing the bottom of the Mets order. Jose Valentin, hitting .217 in the series, led off with a single; Endy Chavez, .154 in the NLCS, moved him over to second with a single of his own. Waino buckled down and retired pinch hitter Cliff Floyd and Reyes in succession. Unfortunately, he summarily walked Paul Lo Duca, which brought Beltran to the plate with 2 outs and the bases juiced. Any hit would likely tie the game; any extra-base hit would almost certainly win it for the Mets.

Fans in St. Louis may have fonder memories of Beltran now, after spending two All-Star seasons here in 2012-13, the latter of which included a trip to the World Series. But in 2006, he was one of baseball’s most fearsome hitters, particularly to Cards fans. Playing for the division rival Astros in ’04, he’d helped his club sweep the Redbirds in the regular season’s penultimate series, helping Houston leapfrog Philadelphia for the NL Wild Card, um, title in the final week. In the ‘stros’ near-miss in the NLCS, Beltran produced a ridiculous slash line of .417 / .563 / .958 with 4 HRs and 4 SBs; Cardinals pitchers walked him 8 times (only once intentionally). He also scored 12 of his team’s 31 runs in the series.

With all that baggage–Beltran was hitting .308 in the present NLCS, as well–it was hard not to be a little scared as a Cardinals fan. Rookie closer, bases loaded, noted slugger at the plate… it was almost too much. But Wainwright rose to the occasion and established a name for himself in his first full season with the big league club with a sick 12-to-6 curveball that absolutely froze Beltran:

 

Two reasons that make the nostalgia of that clip even more beautiful:

  1. Waino would follow up that performance with one slightly less apprehension in the World Series

2. Wainwright and Molina are still important pieces on the team, now one decade removed from some of their first big league success

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Unfortunately, we don’t get to cheer on our Redbirds this postseason, but at least we can remember some past postseason glory tonight.

And hope that the Cubs lose to the Dodgers again.

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Even Bruce finds it odd

A great deal of coverage has been given to the apparent even-numbered year (ENY) dominance of the San Francisco Giants. Prognosticators aplenty wondered, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, if the Giants would win the World Series this season prior to April. It was too coincidental, after all, when in 2014 they won their third title in five seasons, adding to the Commissioner’s Trophies they claimed in 2010 and ’12. Of course, they followed that up this year by narrowly surviving a second-half swoon–they were 57-33 at the All-Star break and 30-42 thereafter–to claim the National League’s second wild card over the St. Louis Cardinals on the regular season’s final day.

What’s even more unusual is that they followed up each championship with a postseason miss in the subsequent odd-numbered year (ONY). And while they finished just barely on the outside looking in during the ’11 and ’15 campaigns, they limped to the finish at 76-86, well out of contention. That season was marked by unexpectedly poor pitching from starters not named Madison Bumgarner–Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and Ryan Vogelsong combined to go 27-41 with a 4.78 ERA. And with Bumgarner going 9 and shutting out the defending NL champion Mets, it looks like this could be another ENY to remember.

Wild Card Game - San Francisco Giants v New York Mets

What makes this trend so unusual is that, it hasn’t been going on for just a few years. Instead, it seems to have followed manager Bruce Bochy since he took his first job with the San Diego Padres in 1995. Students of the game might remember he managed them to an unexpected 98 regular season wins into the 1998 World Series, where they were unceremoniously swept by one of the greatest teams ever assembled, the 114-48 New York Yankees.

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So Bochy’s four World Series appearances stretched across 21 seasons (I’m excluding 2016) all came in ENYs. Unusual coincidence, right? Perhaps not.

I compiled a Google Sheet using Bochy’s managerial record as of October 6, 2016, according to baseball-reference.com. At the bottom, I split up Bochy’s respective tenures with the Padres and Giants by ONYs and ENYs, as well as his entire 22-year career. The results, you will see, are staggering. Some thoughts on what I see:

  • Bochy’s average winning percentage is 45 points higher in ENYs vs. ONYs.
    • Because the ’95 season was shortened by 18 games due to the players’ strike, it’s tough just to average the wins from each 162-game season together, but it works out to nearly 7 1/2 wins more per ENY than ONY.
    • That total was nearly 9 wins more per ENY during his dozen seasons with the Padres, which added up to finishing, on average, more than one position higher in ENYs than ONYs.
  • He has managed exactly three postseason games (all losses) in an ONY–the 2005 NL Division Series, in which the 100-win Cardinals dispatched the 82-win Padres in three games.
    • Interesting side note 1: Three NL East teams finished with better records but still missed the postseason that year.
    • Interesting side note 2: If not for the universally dreadful play in the NL West that year, Bochy’s team would have very likely missed the postseason altogether–they do, after all, hold the distinction of the worst regular season record ever to advance to the postseason in a non-strike-shortened season (to see why I needed that qualifier, see: ’81 Royals).
  • His teams have played seventy (70!) in ENYs, including last night’s wild card victory over the Mets.
  • Greatest win total for an ONY: 88, in 2009. That number has been at least equaled in six ENYs (1996, ’98, 2006, ’10, ’12, and ’14).

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Before I created this spreadsheet, I wondered if perhaps some of his ONYs were simply unlucky, the victim of a dominant division foe and stronger wild card contenders. But his overall winning percentage as well as postseason performance in ENYs compared to those in the ONYs indicate there’s something more than just luck. Perhaps it’s part of his strategy, to overuse players (pitchers in particular) who are doing well, burning them out after a lengthy postseason run, thereby harming any results the following, but allowing the player(s) enough time to recover for the next ENY.

If you think of it that way, it’s an interesting strategy that pays off if it works. He’s won three World Series titles in San Francisco after an abysmal ENY in ’08 (72-90). That kind of hardware haul allows a manager and his players some breathing room when it comes to dealing with management, local sports media, and fans.

Conversely, by going for broke every other season, missing the ultimate prize stings even more when failing to contend for the postseason the next year. After a pair of successful ENYs (’96 and ’98) in San Diego, the team held a fire sale and finished under .500 in the next two (’00 and ’02), and won only one of seven NLDS games in ’04 and ’06.

Following that last unsuccessful postseason run, incoming CEO Sandy Alderson permitted Giants general manager Brian Sabean to interview Bochy for their job. Bochy, of course, got the gig and, while he took it on the chin the first two years with San Francisco, he quickly transformed them in to the ENY juggernaut we know today.

Even though the Cubs basically wrapped up home-field advantage in the National League by Memorial Day and sauntered to 102 wins, their NLDS match-up with Bochy’s late-clinching Giants, beginning Friday evening at Wrigley Field, should prove immensely entertaining, if for no other reason than the inevitable championship feeling that Bochy’s club has this season.

The case to abolish the 2nd wild card

Prognosticators have been lumping the Cardinals in the 2016 wild card hunt dating back pretty much to last October, and despite a couple of minor rough patches for the Cubs that have temporarily given St. Louis and Pittsburgh a glimmer of hope, the NL Central has, to date, sorted out largely as expected, with Chicago pitching and slugging their way to the best mark in baseball with just over a quarter of the season left to play.

As a fan of the Cardinals, it’s been a maddeningly frustrating season. The offense, aided by baseballs that may or may not be juiced, has scored 4.93 runs per game in the 2016 campaign, a significant improvement over the 3.99 they averaged a year ago, despite no major free agent additions among position players. And while it should be no surprise, given the league-wide increase in offense, that the pitching staff and defense aren’t performing as well as the 3.24 runs per game allowed in 2015, they’re allowing 4.40 per contest this season, and are likely just 2-3 games away from surpassing the 525 runs allowed all last year.

Yet for all the defensive miscues and lapses, pitching woes, and general lack of run production against superior teams, at the start of play today, we, as Cardinals fans, can take solace that our Birds find themselves a half-game ahead of Miami for the NL’s second wild card. With a couple of good series, or a swoon by the Marlins, Dodgers, or Giants, St. Louis would have themselves in position for the winner-take-all wild card game come October. And I’m not so sure I like the idea of that.

Baseball’s postseason has always been more exclusive when compared to the other major professional sports leagues in the US. The NHL has allowed more than half of its teams to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs dating back to the 1920s; the NBA has, likewise, allowed over half of competing teams to qualify for the playoffs throughout its entire history. Even the NFL, which has had a 12-team playoff  since 1990, when 28 franchises comprised the league, allows a slightly greater proportion (37.5% to 33.3%) of teams to compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

Because it allows so few contenders to compete for the Commissioner’s Trophy every October, it’s evident that MLB values the emphasis on and importance of its grueling six-month long regular season. The scenario from 2015, in which the teams with the second- and third-best records in MLB as a whole qualified for the NL’s two wild card spots, was an aberration and highly unlikely to occur again for some time. This season, it’s entirely possible that one of the wild card teams will finish with fewer than 85 wins–the Marlins’ .517 winning percentage works out to 83.75 wins over 162 games, while the Cards’ .521 comes to 84.4 wins. In the AL, the Red Sox are on pace for a slightly more respectable 88 wins, but even the Yankees, who were cast as sellers leading up to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, are within 3 games of the second wild card.

Of course, any number of teams can catch fire in September and ride their hot streak to a wild card berth, but that scenario downplays the importance of the marathon that is baseball’s regular season. While I would love for the Cardinals to get hot over the final seven weeks, objectively speaking, it devalues what began back in April and raises the question as to why baseball even plays as many games as it does in the first place.

I created a table comprising the number of wins for wild card teams from the beginning of the wild card era (1995) through last season, including the teams that would have qualified for the second wild card from 1995 through 2011, had such a double-consolation prize existed. In both leagues, the second wild card (or wild card runner-up) has averaged about 89 wins. To get there, the Cardinals or Marlins would need to play their final 45 and 46 games, respectively, 11 and 12 games above .500, which doesn’t seem all that impressive until you consider they’re both currently only a few games above average.

Overall, I’m fine with rewarding the best team to not win their division with a chance to vie for the trophy. Over the course of 21 seasons, the 42 teams to have won the (first) wild card averaged better than 93 wins, and at least one wild card team regularly outpaces an inferior division champion over the 162-game schedule. Meanwhile, not making it to 90 wins doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy (sorry, fans of perennial cellar-dwellers!); of the 42 second wild cards or wild card runners-up, only 16 of these teams have won 90 or more. Given that teams have six months over which to prove their title-worthiness, it seems absurd to give them a chance to upset a superior club in the one-game playoff.

Commissioner for a day: MLB edition

If you’re an avid sports fan, chances are you’ve made a comment at some point about how, if you were in charge of a sport or league for just one day, you change x. Granted, it’s fairly unrealistic that I might ever expect to become commissioner of Major League Baseball; if I were to somehow achieve that position, there’s some pretty strict checks and balances in place that would preclude me from enacting the sweeping changes I’d like to see made.

But, hey, here in fantasy-land, even FDR never had it this good. I’ve compiled a list of changes I would make to MLB under the iron fist of my rule, before benevolently stepping aside after 24 hours on the job.

Inter-league play

A few years ago, I would have swiftly abolished inter-league play. I used to think the idea of playing division opponents 18 times a season was pretty cool, but now I’m not so certain. I mean, as a fan of a team that’s been more successful than not over the past 20 years, you’d think I’d love watching my team beat up on inferior opponents. But while that’s all fun, an 837-650 record (.563) against a division that, until the past few years, has been more lightly-regarded than others in baseball doesn’t always translate to postseason success. Since 1996, the Cardinals have a winning record vs. the NL Central 15 times against one .500 record (2010) and four losing records (1997, 1999, 2006, and 2008).

I would actually expand inter-league play, such that every team would play at least one series against each of the other 29. The NBA, NHL, and MLS all match up every team for at least one game every season (the NFL, of course, can’t unless it wants to play a 31-game schedule, but I hear they’re having enough difficulty getting players to sign on for 18). Furthermore, fans will be able to see teams from the opposite league every other season, rather than once every six years. Cardinals fans, wouldn’t it have been cool to see Albert Pujols and the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California visit Busch Stadium in 2012 or 2013 instead of waiting all the way until 2016? Imagine the vitriol we could have summoned in the year or two after he spurned us! Now, it’s just general indifference… the Cards have made the postseason every year without him, he sucked (by his lofty .300/30/100 standards) for a couple of years to make us happy, and, most importantly, the Angels were swept out of their only postseason appearance in his four seasons by the Royals in 2014.

My other argument for increasing the number of series between the AL and NL is so that it’s just more equitable. One of the difficulties in handicapping a team’s postseason chances is that, even over 162 games, not all records and statistics are equal. When MLB began inter-league play in 1997, each division squared off against its opposite for all contests; this format continued through the 2001 season, before baseball decided to at least rotate the annual divisional match-ups. I wondered how NL East teams felt, having to play the Yankees every year while the NL Central got to beat up on the generally-abysmal Twins, Royals, and Tigers (not that the Pirates were any better over that stretch).

The designated hitter

If you’re going to expand the number of contests between the two leagues, I may as well establish the same set of rules for both leagues. Pretty much the only difference between the AL and NL anymore, now that there’s 15 teams in each league and umpires work for MLB and not just one league or the other, is the DH. And as a fan who grew up watching National League baseball, I cannot and will not support the abomination that is the designated hitter.

Imagine if Shaq, .527 on his career from the charity stripe, got to select any teammate to shoot free-throws. Yes, it would have put a stop to the Hack-a-Shaq strategy pretty quickly if Kobe, .837 for his career, shot for him. But FTs are a part of that game, so it’s absurd to give a player a pass because he isn’t as good at that part of the game as he should/could be.

Let’s say you’ve got another player who’s superb in the field but dreadful at the plate? Let’s create a designated fielder position (or a second DH, as it were), so that we can keep him in the game for the full 9 innings, while still allowing another player to hit for him.

To me, the absurdity of those two scenarios outweighs any “but the pitcher’s an automatic out” sniffling you hear from American League fans. Likewise, the talk of injury concerns with pitchers hitting is even more foolish. It came up when Adam Wainwright ruptured his Achilles leaving the batter’s box last season, but the truth is that pitchers are infinitely more likely to get hurt pitching than they are batting or running the bases. Just because they specialize in throwing the ball doesn’t mean they’re not as athletic as their teammates (for the most part).

Really, football is the only major sport that allows players to only play on one side of the ball/puck. In hockey and basketball, regular substitutions are made, but players who don’t contribute on defense in those sports are held in slightly lower esteem because of it. Soccer is more akin to baseball, insofar as a player can be substituted in and out of a game only once. As with basketball and hockey, forwards in soccer often need to assist on defense. Furthermore, a recent trend in the sport makes use of the ability of wide defenders to overlap midfielders on the flanks to help out on offense.

I also find the postseason strategy surrounding the DH silly. “Oh no, are we going to risk playing our long-ball-mashing-poor-fielding DH in the field when we travel to the NL city? Or should we play our light-hitting-solid-fielding 1B instead?” If the choice wasn’t there, then the DH would have been exposed years ago and, despite his steroid-aided ability to rake, would probably be playing in a men’s slow-pitch league back home.

Last note, on a more personal level: it reminds me of my youngest sister playing t-ball and throwing a fit because she had to play in the field if she wanted to bat. I was in my first or second year of playing baseball, remember trying to reason with her, to show her the logic of being required to play on both offense and defense. So, yeah, the American League is like my preschool- or kindergarten-aged sister was ca. 1992.

Season length

One hundred sixty two games is a lot. Too many, especially when players aren’t allowed to take amphetamines or steroids to assist their performance and focus anymore. So baseball can either legalize “greenies,” or decrease the schedule length so players aren’t completely worn down when the postseason rolls around. For almost the entire first six decades of the 20th century, both the AL and NL played a 154 game schedule.

While that seems reasonable, it doesn’t quite achieve my goal of reducing the length of the regular season by one week (six or seven games) and giving teams more days off throughout the season. The 2015 season lasted 26 weeks (give or take a day) which means roughly every four weeks a given team would play every day in the week. Reducing the schedule to 25 weeks with six games a week and an additional two days off for the All-star break (e.g. Monday-Wednesday open) yields a 148-game schedule.

I suppose the loudest complaint here would come from players chasing single-season and career records. After all, Cal Ripken, Jr.’s 2,632-game “iron man” streak would take about 16.25 162-game seasons to break, but a full season and a half longer (17.78) with a 148-game schedule. But you know how many players played every game last year? One–Baltimore’s Manny Machado. Furthermore, only 83 position players exceeded 148 games played–not even three per team.

Postseason

Part of the reason for decreasing the length of the regular season is to ensure that the Fall Classic doesn’t spill in to November. The World Series should always end in October. That said, I do want to expand the postseason. But before you post angry comments threatening my family, allow me to state I am in no way advocating for the watered-down b.s. you see in the NBA and NHL.

Rather, I’ve decided I don’t mind the second wild card, but would like to see that series expanded to a quick best-of-three set. End the regular season on a Sunday, reserve Monday in case you need any single-game playoffs to determine which team advances, have the wild card games Tuesday-Thursday, then begin the division series with games 1 and 2 Friday and Saturday. This way, you place the winner of the wild card series at a disadvantage against its LDS opponent by forcing them to play, potentially, five games in five days (or nine in nine, if they play Friday-Sunday to end the season, Monday in a playoff, Tuesday-Thursday in the wild card series, and Friday-Saturday in the division series).

As for the remainder of the postseason, I understand the need to schedule the games the way they are with TV and ticket sales, though I’m not a huge fan of the break between the LCS and World Series if both league champions win the former in four or five games. In 2015, for example, the Mets played their final NLCS game when they destroyed the Cubbies on October 21; they had five full days off before beginning the World Series on the 27th. Now imagine if the Royals had finished off the Blue Jays that same night–five days with seemingly endless conjecture about the World Series. True, it’s not as insufferable as the two weeks between the NFL’s conference championships and the Super Bowl, but it does seem like too much downtime for a sport that plays practically every day for six months.

Ultimately, though, by concluding the regular season a week earlier, the postseason also wraps up safely by Halloween, even in preserving the current format with breaks between series and travel days.

The All-star game

No “rules I’d change” post is complete, of course, without undoing the most horrific deed Bud Selig enacted while holding the post: home-field advantage in the World Series tied to the All-star game result.

2002 was a great summer. Star Wars Episode II and Spider-Man were popular choices at the box office; St. Louis’ own Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” plus Eminem’s “Without Me” and “The Middle” from Jimmy Eat World, were blowing up the Billboard Hot 100; and baseball’s Midsummer Classic bore no impact on that season’s World Series.

Until, that is, Joe Torre (AL) and Bob Brenly (NL) ran out of pitchers after 11 innings in a 7-7 tie. They decided, along with Selig, to call the game if the NL failed to score in the bottom of the 11th, which is precisely what happened, despite Tom Hanks’ warnings to the contrary a decade prior.

In a prime example of duorum injurias non recte, Selig decided that the winning league of the All-star game, beginning in 2003, would be awarded home-field advantage in the subsequent World Series. As I first chronicled a couple of months ago, the team possessing home-field advantage has won the World Series (now) 30 times since 1969, against 16 series losses. I admit, the alternating method employed prior to 2003 wasn’t perfect given the dominance of the home-field team, especially beginning with the so-called expansion era in 1969, but tying the reward to the performance at the All-star game is every bit as arbitrary.

For starters, employing fan voting for roster spots can, in some instances, detract from the quality of players starting the game and, in theory, the overall quality of the game. Some fans vote solely for players on their favorite team, some vote for the biggest names regardless of their play on the field during the first few months, and some stuff the ballot box by creating numerous email accounts and voting an obscene number of times for their favorite players despite said players’ lack of merit on the roster.

On the other hand, you’ve also got players competing in the game who know full well their team isn’t going to be making any surge for the postseason. And, frankly, I wonder how many players actually have it running through their mind that, “hey, I need to get a hit here because my team could potentially earn home-field advantage in the World Series” and not “hey, I need to get a hit here because that’ll make me look better than Clayton Freaking Kershaw.”

Simple solution: the team with the best record playing in the World Series is awarded home-field advantage. The easy way to circumvent the logistical problem with tickets, hotel room blocks for media, etc. is to ensure they’re available for all potential dates in advance. That means all teams still in the postseason (except, of course, for the one with the worst regular season record) can put tickets for games 1-7 on sale and refund fans when they go unused.

It’s really no different than what would happen for a team advancing to the LCS–and being logistically prepared to host at least two World Series games, should they be so fortunate–only to lose the championship series and cancel any ticket sales and reservations. You’re essentially just expanding the number of days on which the World Series could be contested in certain cities. Best of all, there’s a reward for the team which fared better during the regular season at a time when, as recent history shows, home-field advantage matters quite substantially.

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That feels like enough for now. Others came to mind as I was typing, but fortunately we’ve still got a couple of months until pitchers & catcher report.

An update on postseason home-field advantage

With the conclusion of both league championship series last week, the winning percentage for the home team during this postseason got closer to the historical average of 54% (or.540) that I mentioned in this post.  This was due almost exclusively to the home team in the ALCS between the Royals and Blue Jays winning five of their six contests, thereby flipping the winning percentage of the home team on that side of the bracket from a measly .364 (4-7 record) to a more accurate .529 (9-8).

In the NLCS, with the Mets winning all four games–two at Citi Field and two at Wrigley, that league’s home team winning percentage stayed at an even .500 (5-5 to 7-7).  Of slightly greater interest is the fact that the Mets were the first NL team with home-field advantage in their respective series to actually win said series this year.

Through the LCS round, home teams possess a cumulative record of 16-15 this postseason, a .516 winning percentage.  If the home team wins all seven games this World Series (a Royals championship), that stretches the advantage to a .605 winning percentage.  Conversely, seven home losses (therefore, a Mets title) spells a .421 winning percentage.  A 4-2 record by the home team this series would bring the record to 20-17, a .541 winning percentage.  Pretty cool, eh?

Colby

Late in July 2011, prior to that season’s trade deadline, there were cheers across Cardinal Nation when General Manager John Mozeliak traded beleaguered CF Colby Rasmus, the franchise’s 2005 first round draft pick (#28 overall), to the Blue Jays in a three-team swap also involving the White Sox that netted Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski, Edwin Jackson, and Corey Patterson for St. Louis.  Patterson was a dud as a fill-in for Rasmus, who never lived up to the high expectations of a former #1 prospect, but all three pitchers played important roles in the Cardinals’ run to World Series glory.  I remember joking at the time that I hoped other players would vote Rasmus a full playoff share of the champions’ earnings for his “addition by subtraction” contribution to the 2011 team.  Incidentally, while he never has managed to figure out how to hit consistently in the regular season–he’s a career .245 hitter with fairly high strikeout numbers and around twenty home runs each year–he just might be in the process of making a postseason name for himself.

The Cardinals’ 2009 run ranks pretty low on fans’ lists of recent memories from October–notably, trade deadline-acquisition Matt Holliday’s fumble in left field that put a Dodger in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the ninth, rather than an out away from a 2-1 victory.  Lost in that painfully short run, which had followed two disappointing campaigns in 2007 and 2008, was Colby Rasmus’ performance in the three-game series.  He had three doubles in nine at-bats, and had driven in what would have been the game-winning RBI in that ill-fated Game 2.  Overall, he hit .444 while his teammates combined to hit .245.  Two years later, he was ushered unceremoniously out of St. Louis, having failed time and again to live up to the team’s lofty expectations.

By 2015, Rasmus landed in Houston.  The Astros, expected by many experts to succeed a few years down the road, exceeded expectations from April through August and recovered from a mostly-horrific September over the final week to sneak into the playoffs as the American League’s second Wild Card.  They traveled to Yankee Stadium for the winner-takes-all Wild Card game and shut down the Yankees, 3-0.  Now three games in to their ALDS series with the Kansas City Royals, which Houston currently leads 2-1, Rasmus is playing exceptionally well once more.  His home run to lead off the 2nd in New York proved to be the game-winner, and he is presently 4/7 with one double, two home runs, four RBI, and an astoundingly-patient five walks.  Added together, in the seven games of his postseason career, he is 9/19 with seven extra-base hits (four doubles and three home runs), 6 RBI, and eight walks against only three strikeouts.  That’s pretty damn solid.

As an extra jab for my fellow Cardinals fans out there: since 2012, his first full season away from St. Louis, Rasmus has played in four postseason games (and counting), and is 5/10 with three home runs and five RBI.  Albert Pujols, who famously decreed as far back as 2009 he only cared about winning, over the same time frame, has only played in the 2014 ALDS, a three game sweep for the Angels at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, going 2/12 with one home run and two RBI against the eventual AL Champions.  And, more importantly, Colby is closer to moving on toward the LCS and, ultimately, the World Series than Albert has been since leaving St. Louis.

Update, 10/15/2015: Soooo… Rasmus went 0/3 with 3 strikeouts; the Royals won 7-2, but with Johnny Cueto pitching the way he was, it’s not as though he alone prevented the ‘Stros from winning.  True, striking out is about the worst way to go down, but it’s not as though he had runners on in front of him (led off the 2nd, came up with 0 on and 1 out in the 4th and 7th) all day long.  Combined with a 2/4 performance with 1 HR in Game 4, Rasmus is still 11/26 in his postseason career with 5 HRs.