Imperfect Games

By Larry Dierker

MLB Game

MLB Game

Yesterday I tweeted:  A little Drama in the NL tomorrow.  And the fifth wheel turns out to be legit.  I fear the time when a weak division-winner has a worse record than the wild-card teams who only get one game to do or die after six months of work.

Nobody called me on it — and if someone did, I could say that the Indians are not a weak team.  But it is a fact that the Yankees (with 100 wins) and A’s (with 97), won more games than the Tribe. Outside of New York and Oakland, I doubt many fans even noticed.

But what if the Indians had won 81 games instead of 91?

They would still be Central Division Champions, and the media would be crying “foul!” in every major-league city.

Then there would be a one-game playoff between two exceptionally good teams, while a mediocre team could advance by winning one five-game series. With all the off-days in the postseason schedule, that team could use only three starting pitchers — like what the Padres did against the Astros in 1998 — to have a shot at winning the pennant.

In the National League

The Braves are like the Indians — no pun intended.  They won 90 games to capture the Eastern Division.  Meanwhile, the Rockies and Dodgers each won 91 games, and they will have to win a game today to make the playoffs.  Again, it doesn’t seem to be an outrageous injustice.  But a team with 91 wins will be left out, while a team with 90 wins will play a five-game series.

This flawed format might keep baseball alive in a few cities that would otherwise turn to the gridiron.  I don’t think it’s worth it.    My guess is that MLB – if they’re forced to address this issue- would add another Wild Card rather than subtract one.  If you follow the money trail, the TV networks would make the decision for them.

This is important to me because the integrity of the game means more to people who run the marathon from the middle of February through the first of October.  It really wears you down.  Having run that race many times, I know how it would feel to be unfairly cast aside.


That’s issue #1 with me…

But it’s #2 on my list of injustices.  #1 is all the off-days.  Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of professional baseball is the schedule itself.  During the season, there is one short break for the All-Star game.

That’s it.

To win a playoff spot, a team must have depth.  It must have five starting pitchers — not three.  The team must keep winning games when key players are injured.  Finally, the fact is, it’s a war of attrition.

The playoffs are not.  There will be some lively discussions about the rosters of this season’s playoff teams.

Most teams will carry fewer pitchers because, with all the off-days, fewer relievers are needed.  Every team must decide whether to keep two or three catchers.  During the season, most teams favor the two-catcher system.  If one goes down, they can call another catcher up the next day.

Not so in the playoffs.  You cannot change your roster during the series.  You can switch after winning a series, but if you lose a catcher in the first game, you have to hope your other catcher doesn’t get hurt too.

The rosters for postseason usually differ from the typical regular-season slate.  It’s almost like two different sports.  Baseball for the marathon, and TV baseball. Who wants to see the fourth and fifth starters anyway?  (You can’t get to the playoffs without them).

The roster issue also encourages shenanigans…

When I managed the Astros, we put a few players on the disabled list before August 31.  Then we brought up a few guys from Triple-A at the same time. On August 31, we had to submit our playoff roster.  It included the active roster, plus any players on the disabled list. That gave us a bigger pool of players to select from at the end of the year.

Say we brought up a lefty reliever, and he pitched well in September.  If the team we ended up playing in round one had a lot of left-handed hitters, we might choose him for round one, then go back to another righty for round two.

My position is that the playoffs should more closely resemble the regular season; that you should have to use your fourth and maybe your fifth starter.   And I think a team should be able to call a player up in the middle of a series in the event of a serious injury.

The Oakland A’s tried to fudge on Mike Andrews in the 1973 World Series.  After he made two errors in game two, owner Charlie Finley forced him to sign an affidavit that he was injured, and Finley tried to replace him.  Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened, determined that Andrews was not, in fact, hurt, and reinstated him.

So, you could fudge on injuries under my system too!

In fact, now that the disabled list in only ten days instead of fifteen, many teams use injuries to tinker with their rosters during the regular season.

I suppose there will always be loopholes.  I prefer the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle.  Take your active roster into September and replace players who are injured throughout the season and postseason. If a maneuver seems fishy, get another doctor’s opinion.

Perhaps I take these things too seriously.  If my own money were on the line, my opinion might change.

Baseball, as it is played by analytics, is made for television and younger audiences with shorter attention spans – an audience that prefers power hitters and power pitchers. Perhaps we have entered a new era.  We had the Dead-ball era, then the Live-ball era, now we have the Power-ball era.

I still like to see the ball put in play more often…

More fielding, fewer strikeouts, fewer home runs, more stealing, and strategic bunting.  I prefer the National League, where managers use their bench players more often and have to make hard decisions when the pitcher’s spot comes up in the late stages of a close game.

And I would prefer the playoffs to resemble the regular season.

Call me a dinosaur.  Call me a curmudgeon.  I’m old enough.

Just don’t call me stupid for preferring chess to checkers.