October 12, 2018
On both the American and National League sides, the divisional series came and went almost before you knew it. Whereas last year, two of the four such series went a full five games and only one involved a three-game sweep, this year no series went beyond four games, and two of them involved sweeps. Not good news for the TV networks that depend on advertising revenues from MLB postseason games: TBS and Fox Sports. The last time that only 14 games were played in the first round was 2014, and the last time that fewer games was played was in 2009: 13 games. Since my records begin (2002), the average number of games in divisional series is just a tad under four, i.e., 16 games total.
Another peculiarity of this year's divisional series (and also those of last year) is that in all four cases, the deciding game was won by the visiting team. Given the fact that they all ended after Game 3 or Game 4, that's just another way of saying that the team with the initial home field advantage ended up winning, as expected. Besides 2017 and 2018, the only other year in this century in which the visiting team's clubhouse was the one that got the ritual soaking in beer and champagne in all four cases was 2009. That happened three times in Nationals Park: 2012, 2016, and 2017.
Where were we? Oh yes, the Yankees forced David Price into an early exit in ALDS Game 2 last Saturday, thereby splitting the first two games in Boston. Two years ago I wrote "David Price['s] performances in recent postseasons (Detroit 2014 and Toronto 2015) have not exactly lived up to the expectations he set during his earlier years with the Tampa Bay Rays." Well, you cou can add Boston 2016 and 2018 to that list. Price was replaced during the second inning after giving up three runs (a home run by Aaron Judge and one by Gary Sanchez), and that was all the Yankees needed in a 6-2 win.
It seemed the Yankees had the momentum heading back to New York, but then the Red Sox came back with a vengeance, trouncing the Bronx Bombers on Sunday night by a score of 16-1. Amazingly, there was only one home run, by Brock Holt, but more importantly, Holt completed the very first cycle (single, double, triple, homer) in the history of MLB postseason games. That was the most runs scored by a team in any postseason game since the Cardinals beat the Rangers 16-7 in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Wanna guess the last time a team scored more than 16 in the postseason? ALCS Game 3 in 2004, when the Yankees beat the Red Sox 19-8! I think we all remember what happened next...
But anyway, the Red Sox took an early lead in ALDS Game 4, as Rick Porcello outdueled the Gentle Giant C.C. Sabathia, and were ahead 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. For some reason their closer Craig Kimbrel got all jittery, walking two batters, hitting another one, and giving up a hit to make it a 4-3 game. I expected Boston's rookie manager Alex Cora to take him out, but Kimbrel stayed and got the job done, barely. And so the Red Sox advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 2013, when they won the World Series.
After the Dodgers shut out the Braves in the first two games of the NLDS, there wasn't much the Braves could hope for as the series shifted to Atlanta on Sunday. But the Dodgers' pitcher Walker Buehler gave up three walks (one intentional) and a single in the second inning, and then rookie phenom Ronald Acuñ hit a grand slam to give the Braves a sudden 5-0 lead. That changed the whole atmosphere of the series, and fans in Atlanta (or the suburbs thereof) could finally enjoy themselves. The Dodgers came back with two runs in the third and three in the fifth to tie the game, but then Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer in the sixth, and the score stayed 6-5 until the end of the game.
But the elation in Atlanta didn't last long. The Dodgers score a run in the first inning, and only a clutch pinch-hit two-run single by Kurt Suzuki (a former Washington National) kept the crowd animated, as the Braves briefly took a 2-1 lead. But the Dodgers scored two more in the sixth, and three more in the seventh (on a home run by former Oriole Manny Machado), and they held on to win, 6-2. Having won the National League West Division for the sixth year in a row, and making it to the the NL Championship series for the third year in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers are favored to win their second straight pennant as the next phase begins in Milwaukee tonight.
Having lost to the L.A. Dodgers in the playoff game to decide the NL West championship, the Colorado Rockies bounced right back and paid the same "favor" to the dazed and confused Chicago Cubs, who expected to cruise through at least the early phase of the postseason. As the NL Divisional Series began in Milwaukee, the home team had a 2-0 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the Rockies staged a late rally to send it into extra innings. But in the tenth inning, a single by former Royal Mike Moustakas scored former Marlin Christian Yelich, as the Brew Crew triumphed 3-2. In Game 2 they won 4-0, and in a big embarrassment for fans at Coors Field in Denver, they beat the Rockies 6-0 on Sunday. Yet another quick exit for a team with high hopes and not much else.
FUN FACT: In both of their recent postseason appearances, the Brewers were eliminated by the eventual World Series champions: in the 2008 Divisional series, when the Philadelphia Phillies went on to beat the Dodgers and then the Rays, and in the 2011 League Championship series, when the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Texas Rangers.
The Astros dominated the Indians in the first two games of the ALDS in Houston, and things only got worse as the series shifted to Cleveland for Game 3. George Springer hit two home runs in Progressive Field, with his team piling on with six more runs in the eighth inning and one in the ninth. Final score: 11-3. So the Astros are in a good position to defend their American League pennant, and perhaps their World Series title as well. Before last year, they were a wild card team in both 2005 and 2015. In the former year they made it all the way to the World Series, ultimately getting swept by the Chicago White Sox, and in the ALDS of the latter year they lost to the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.
Tonight the National League Championship Series got underway in Miller Park, in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sheltered from the frigid air outside. Gio Gonzalez, who was pitching for the Nationals just two months ago, faced the Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw. Remarkably, neither pitcher lasted even four innings. The Brewers are ahead 5-1 in the top of the fifth... Gio's record in postseason games is spotty (see October 13, 2017, for example), but maybe with a new team he'll do better. I hope so!
I made a few more tweaks to the Riverfront Stadium diagrams (which had just been updated on August 17), most obvious of which is that the Ohio River is now shown in the upper right corner. The lower-deck diagram now has more detail in the concourse area, showing the inclination of the access ramps. In the 2001 diagram, the location of Great American Ballpark (under construction) is more accurate, the grandstand in right center field extends for one more section (about 20 feet), and the fence in front of the bullpens in right field now has a slight bend; previously, it was straight.
Finally, there is a new diagram, labeled "the site today," showing the street layout where Riverfront Stadium used to stand. Eventually, I plan to do likewise for all other MLB stadiums that have been demolished.
Courtesy of Mike Zurawski, here is an article about the possibility of a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in the Ybor City section of Tampa. (That would be across the bay from their current home in St. Petersburg.) One of the main concerns (aside from who's going to pay for it) is making sure that the roof is high enough to avoid awkward bounces by balls hit at a high trajectory. See tampabay.com.