Allegany Communications Sports
So now the baseball season is over and the withdrawal has begun. No game last night, no game today, no game tomorrow, the next day or the day after that, and we can go on and on for 146 more days until Opening Day returns.
Oh, and daylight saving time ends Sunday at 2 a.m. Blecch!!!
The Texas Rangers are the world champions for the first time. They entered the postseason as the American League’s No. 5 seed with “just” 90 wins and the traditionalists will tell you they’re champions only because of the expanded postseason format, and that the three teams that won 100 or more games, the Atlanta Braves, the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers, were victims of the expanded postseason format.
Yet the Rangers swept the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays, swept the 101-win Orioles and swept the defending champion Astros in Houston to win a seven-game ALCS and reach the World Series, where they beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in five. Texas went an MLB-record 11-0 on the road in the postseason. Yowza!
So any team to be able to come out of that gauntlet standing alone at the top the way the Rangers did deserves to be champion. And for those who still believe the Astros were a worthier team to represent the American League in the series, guess what? They won “just” 90 games as well, winning the AL West on a tiebreak. Had the Rangers been able to flip just one of those games their way, they would have been the AL’s No. 2 seed, not the Astros.
Being more of a baseball traditionalist than not, do I like this expanded postseason format? I like all of the October baseball that comes with it, but I do believe it somewhat waters down the importance of the 162-game season. Not that we should expect to see anything less than the 162 and this current format since MLB owners know nothing if not greed (and they know that), so we shouldn’t hold our breath for any changes in the near future.
That said, when MLB does expand to 32 teams as it wants to do, maybe it can devise another format that doesn’t force the top-seeded teams to endure a week of inactivity coming out of the regular season. Baseball is routine and inactivity is no friend to routine. Not to make any excuses for any of the top seeds that were eliminated once they were able to play, but it clearly made a difference in how they performed.
Speaking of one of those top seeds that was swept in three games in the Division series, does it take any sting out of the early exit for the Orioles because the team that swept them, the Rangers, are now the world-champion Rangers?
No, not really; nor should there be any sense of vindication because, after all, the Orioles lost in three. The Rangers were a buzzsaw — they went on a late-September roll to reach the postseason and they swept the Rays in the opening series — and the Orioles happened to be one of the four teams that found themselves in the way.
Rather, the Orioles, particularly general manager Mike Elias and (for lack of a better word) ownership, should bookmark the loss to the Rangers and carry it with them through the winter so they will be mindful of what it takes to win in the postseason, beginning with a larger run differential.
Of course it all begins with pitching, but it’s pretty easy to figure out if you outscore the majority of your opponents with consistent run production, you’re going to win more games than you lose, particularly in the extended tournament that now decides the World Series champ. If the Orioles aren’t content to simply reach the postseason, which they say they are not, there has to be more beef in the offense, whether it comes from within or out of the organization.
There’s also the matter of a top-of-the-rotation starter and a closer for the back end of the bullpen with Felix Bautista on the shelf all of next year with Tommy John recovery. Of course, there’s also the matter of arbitration-ready players and, oh, yes, the stadium lease that has yet to be signed by Orioles ownership (there’s that word again), so perhaps this isn’t the time to make out the Christmas list just yet.
Of course, Elias likely already has and it begins with the club’s free agents, Kyle Gibson, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks, all of whom, with the conclusion of the World Series, have been dropped from the 40-man roster.
We’ll have all winter to discuss what’s going to happen there, with the easiest guess being that none of them will be back. In fact, we’ll have all winter to do a lot of things except the one thing we’d like to do the most.
Didn’t you hear? No game today.
Pitchers and catchers report in 104 days.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT