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HOT STOVE LEAGUE OBSERVATIONS

If you listen to Rob Manfred, otherwise known as ‘The Idiot in the Baseball Commissioners Office’, major changes have to be made in the time it takes to play a game or the world as we know it will come to an end. There are several proposals coming out of the Commissioner’s Office designed to shorten the length of games.

Suggestions include ideas such as starting extra inning games with a runner on second base, reducing the number of innings from nine to seven, limiting catcher’s trips to the mound, etc., etc., etc. All of the suggestions, except one, would take miniscule amounts of time off the game. If you accept the fact that the fans, and who else’s opinion counts, want shorter games, requiring the pitcher to throw the next pitch in a reasonable amount of time is the only change that would accomplish a significant reduction.

A study done by Baseball Reference in 2010 found that the number of pitches per game had increased steadily over the past several years to 292. I did my own unscientific survey in 2017 and found that the number now exceeds 300 per game on the average.

At an average of 300 pitches per game, if just five seconds could be taken off the time between pitches, the average game could be shortened by 25 minutes. This would be relatively painless and, short of major changes in the way in which the game is played, makes the most sense if you accept the idea that the fans want a shorter game.

I have always felt that the tempest in a tea pot that is the pace of the game question is a problem dreamed up by the media and the baseball gods and that the average fan is content to leave the game alone.

The fans can’t be too upset with the length of games. The Commissioner’s Office reported this week that the Houston Astros were paid $438,901.57 per player for winning the World Series and the losing Los Angeles Dodgers got $259,722. per player. The Yankees, who lost to Houston in the ALCS, got $139,897.63 per man and there were 57 full shares. The Nationals, Indians and Red Sox, who were eliminated in the first round, got $36,000. per player. These figures, which are the highest in history, are based on gate receipts.

Fifty percent of the gate receipts from the Wild Card games, 60% of the receipts from the first three games of the four Division Series, 60% from the first four games of the two Championship Series and 60% of from the first four games of the World Series go into a pot which is divided among the ten teams that make the Playoffs according to their level of success.

In 1903, in the first World Series ever played, won by the Boston Americans, the players on the winning team, including Sanford’s own Freddy Parent, the Flying Frenchman, received $1,182. each.

This year, with the Los Angeles Dodgers facing the Houston Astros, the World Series itself drew 346,702 fans, an average of almost 50,000 per game. Of course, the fact that Dodger Stadium holds over 54,000 and Minute Maid Park holds over 43,000, contributed to the large attendance. The average game in the Series, by the way, took three hours and 42 minutes to play. (The fact that there were two extra innings games contributed to the length but Game 1, which the Dodgers won 3-1, took only two hours and 28 minutes balancing the average.)

Forbes Magazine reported that baseball, for the fifteenth year in a row, had record revenues, topping $10. billion in 2017, for the first time , compared to $9.5 billion in 2015. Overall attendance at ball games was 72,670,425, down 489,249, a loss of less than 7/10 of one percent, from last year. The New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, both of who had sub .500, disappointing years, lost over 300,000 in attendance each meaning that, on the average, the other twenty-eight teams had increased attendance. Twenty-three of the teams exceeded 2,000,000 in attendance and 28 averaged over 20,000 per game.

All eyes will be on the Winter meetings to be held on from December 10th to 14th at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort at Orlando, Florida. As of this writing, the Free Agent Market has been quiet but can be expected to heat up then. Doug Fister who gave the Sox some good innings down the stretch has signed with Texas for $4. million. The other Sox Free Agents of note are Eduardo Nunez, Addison Reed, Chris Young, Kyle Kendrick, Rajai Davis and Mitch Moreland. Of course, Davis and Moreland will probably not be back. Davis was a rental for the stretch run and Moreland does not seem to fit the Sox plans, particularly with Sam Travis available and the Sox looking to trade for a big bat.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, with a boat load of young talent and as much, if not more, power than anyone in baseball, didn’t seem to be too anxious to hire a Manager to replace the outgoing Joe Girardi. They had interviewed several candidates, including Rob Thomson, their current Bench Coach and Carlos Beltran this week. I thought that Beltran, who just played in the World Series with the Astros and had no experience coaching or managing, would be an odd choice for a team with so many young players.

They also interviewed Chris Woodward, the Dodgers current Bench Coach, who played for seven different major league teams, but has no big league managing experience; Henry Meulens, currently the Bench Coach for the San Francisco Giants who also served as batting coach there and Eric Wedge, who managed the Cleveland Indians from 2003-2009 and the Seattle Mariners from 2011-2013, and has won 774 and lost 846 as a Manager. His Indians won the American League Central in 2007 and took the Red Sox to seven games in the ALCS after beating the Yankees in the ALDS.

On Friday night it was reported that the Yankees had named Aaron Boone, who played for six different major league teams, hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history and has been working as a baseball analyst and color commentator with ESPN but also has no coaching background as their new Manager. Boone takes over a team that may have as much talent as the Astros and Red Sox and a young nucleus of players who already have a year of success and playoff experience under their belts.

It would also appear that the fact that the Yankees did not appear to be rushing the selection process means that they are not going to be doing a lot of shopping in the off season although they could use another starting pitcher.

I suppose most Red Sox fans were not surprised to see that the ‘Manager That Got Away’, Torey Lovullo, was named Manager of the Year in the National League after taking the Diamondbacks to the NLDS where they lost to the Dodgers. Lovullo took over a team that was 69-93 last year and led them to a 93-69 finish and a win in the Wild Card Game over Colorado before being swept by the powerful Dodgers.

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UCONN WELL REPRESENTED IN POST SEASON

The University of Connecticut, according to Baseball Almanac, has produced the small total of 16 baseball players who have made it to the Major Leagues since Walt Dropo, the first, played for the Red Sox from 1949 to 1952. Dropo hit .322 with 34 homers and 144 RBI’s in 1950 to win the Rookie of the Year Award. He beat out future Hall of Fame Pitcher Ed ‘Whitey’ Ford of the Yankees, who was had won nine games and lost just one, getting 15 first place votes to Ford’s six to win the Award. Chico Carasquel finished third.

Despite the rare occasion when UConn players make the big time, in 2009, the freshman class at the University included five UConn roster players who would make it to the big leagues. One of those, Mike Olt, who signed with the Texas Rangers and played in three seasons with the Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox was out of baseball before the 2017 season began. He hit just .168 in 135 games in the Big Leagues but had the distinction of being the first player in history to homer for both the Cubs and White Sox in the same season. UConn Head Coach Jim Penders, who has been in the position for 14 years and has been with the baseball program there for 26 years including playing as an undergraduate, has produced some strong teams and good players but the class entering in 2009 has to be the best.

The other four players in that class, Nick Ahmed, Scott Oberg, George Springer and Matt Barnes all played for Major League teams that made the Playoffs in 2017. In addition, Rajai Davis, picked up by the Red Sox from the Oakland Athletics on August 23, 2017, and who was with the Sox in the Playoffs, graduated from the University of Connecticut’s satellite at Groton, before going on to the Big Leagues.

The University of Arizona and the University of Virginia each had seven players on Playoff Rosters in 2017, with UConn, LSU, Rice and UCLA tied for the second most at five each. If you notice, all the other five schools are from much warmer climates conducive to longer playing seasons and more time for skill development.

Most people who follow the game will be familiar with what George Springer did in the post season and regular season. Drafted by the Astros, 11th in the first round of the 2011 draft, he made his Big League debut on April 16, 2014. Playing in 140 regular season games, the center fielder for the Houston Astros, hit .283 with 34 home runs and 85 RBI’s, made the All Star team and won a Silver Slugger this year. In the first round of the Playoffs he went 7-17, a .412 average, against the Red Sox but, in the ALCS, he was just 3-26 as Astros just got by the Yankees. In the World Series, he was a one man wrecking crew, batting .379 with 11 hits in 29 at bats, five homers and seven RBI’s and was named the Series Most Valuable Player.

Matt Barnes, a right handed reliever was a mainstay in the Red Sox bullpen all year. Like Springer, he was drafted in the first round, 19th pick, in the 2011 draft, by the Red Sox, and made his Big League debut on September 9, 2014. Despite appearing in 70 games during the season, striking out 83 in 70 innings, and compiling a 3.88 ERA, he was left off the active roster for the Playoffs after having back problems and missing much of August.

Nick Ahmed, drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of that same 2011 draft, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January of 2013 and made his Major League debut on June 29, 2014. The short stop and utility infielder played in 53 games in 2017, with 42 hits in 167 at bats for a .251 average. He has played in 301 games in his four years with the D’Backs and averaged .226. He did not make the D’Backs NLDS roster.

Scott Oberg, a relief pitcher, was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 15th round of the 2012 draft and made his debut with the Rockies on April 14, 2015. In 2017, he appeared in 66 games in relief and had an ERA of 4.94. The Rockies were eliminated in the Wild Card Game by the Diamondbacks but Oberg came in in relief, in the Wild Card game, with a runner on third and one out, in the second inning and struck out Paul Goldschmidt and J. D. Martinez to get out of the inning. He was then pinch hit for in the third as the Rockies went on to lose 11-8.

Rajai Davis, who made his Major League debut on August 14, 2006, after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, had played for Pittsburgh, Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland before coming to the Red Sox. He batted .235 between Cleveland and Boston in 2017 with 29 stolen bases and only got into one ALDS game and didn’t get to bat against the Indians.

In 2016, with Cleveland, he went 5-22 in the World Series against the Cubs and forced the Cubs into extra innings in Game 7, with a dramatic, two run, two out homer off Aroldis Chapman in the last of the eighth to tie the score at 6-6. He then came up in the last of the tenth, with two out and

the Indians trailing 8-6, and drove in Brandon Guyer with a single off Carl Edwards to make it 8-7 only to have the rally fall short and the Indians lost the Series.

UConn, like most of the New England State Universities, has not had as many players make it to the Big Leagues as many of the southern and western power programs but in 2017 and also in 2016, the school left its mark on the season, the Playoffs and World Series.

WHAT’S WITH THE RED SOX?

Has anyone but me noticed that, since the Red Sox cut their ties with Terry Francona after the 2011 season, they have finished either first or last in the American League Eastern Division every year? Not once have they finished in second, third or fourth, they either win it all or finish in last place.

From 2011 to 2012, they changed managers and went from third to last. (They replaced Terry Francona, whose team was 90-72 and lost the playoffs on the last day of the season, for Bobby Valentine. ) From 2012 to 2013, they changed managers and went from last to first and won the World Series. From 2013 to 2014, with the same manager, they went from first to last. From 2015 to 2016, with the same manager, they went from last to first. From 2016 to 2017, with the same manager, they finished first for the second year in a row, but fired the manager.

How can a team that wins its division half the time, be the worst team in the division the other half? There are personnel changes that affect a team’s performance from year to year. The retirement of David Ortiz was a good example. After it seemed he carried the Red Sox on his back for the division title in 2016, everyone wondered what would happen to the Red Sox without him.

Major personnel moves obviously impact a team’s ability to compete. For example, the Red Sox acquired pitching Ace Chris Sale for the 2017 season and he won 17 and lost 8 while Drew Pomeranz, another starting pitcher in his first full year for the Sox won 17 and lost 6. Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle would say, the 2017 Red Sox won the division again with the same record, despite the loss of Ortiz and the additions of the two left handed pitchers.

Terry Francona spent eight year as the Red Sox Manager. He won 744 games and lost 552, a .574 won loss percentage, went to the Playoffs five times and won two World Series and never finished lower than third. Bobby Valentine, who, despite his title of Manager, never really managed the team, won just 69 and lost 93 in 2012.

John Farrell replaced Valentine in 2013 and won it all. Farrell managed five years, went to the playoffs three times and won one World Series but finished last the other two years. In 2014, Farrell achieved the seemingly impossible, he took a World Championship team and made a last place team out of it. In 2015, he repeated as the worst team in the American League East and the following year, 2016, achieved the seemingly impossible again, he took a last place team to the division title.

In 2017, after being last two years in a row in 2014 and 2015, he won his second division title in a row and got fired.

In 2012, the Sox hired Valentine, who hadn’t managed in the big leagues sine 2002 when he led the New York Mets to a last place finish with a 75-86 record. In 2013, they hired John Farrell, who had managed the Toronto Blue Jays for two years and took them from a 85-77 record the year before he came to an 81-81 record and a fourth place finish his first year and a 73-89 record and another fourth place finish his second year. The only thing that kept the Jays out of last place in 2012 were Bobby Valentine’s Sox, who won only 69 to claim the cellar.

And while we’re on the subject of new managers, did anyone notice that the ‘Manager That Got Away’, Tory Lovullo, took the Arizona Diamondbacks from a 69-93 finish in 2016, before he came, to 93-69 and a trip to the Playoffs in his first year.

Now, we have Alex Cora, straight out of the World Series where he was a Bench Coach for the World Champion Astros, but who has never managed at the Major League Level and whose only Coaching experience at that level was his one year with the Astros. Like Farrell, he has a history with the Red Sox, having been a member of the 2007 World Championship team.

What did the geniuses at the top of the Red Sox organization do shortly after hiring a Manager with no managerial experience? They hired a Hall of Fame Manager, Tony LaRussa, to serve, supposedly, as an Assistant to Dave Dombrowski. In response to the inevitable questions about whether LaRussa was hired to help the inexperienced Cora, and who could help thinking that, given the timing, the Front Office denied any connection.

Apparently no one ever told John Henry and his Ownership team that, in this day and age, it’s the perception that counts and hiring LaRussa certainly created that perception. Isn’t it also surprising that, after 117 years in business, the Sox hired their first minority Manager while they are scrambling to rename Yawkey Way after the clamor about the racism of the Yawkey family?

Maybe that’s why your teams vacillate between first and last Mr. Henry. All form and no substance. If you had fired Farrell when he was giving you last place teams, you might not be in the position you are in now. Instead, you took the credit for not letting him go because of his medical problems and paid the price.

From_Beer_To_Beards_Cover_for_KindleTerry Francona has made a Playoff team of the Indians, Tory Lovullo has done the same with the Diamondbacks and you have had Bobby Valentine, John Farrell and now Alex Cora. I hope he works out for you. It would be a shame for the team with the third highest pay roll in baseball to finish last again next year.

A TRIBUTE TO OUR VETERANS

( This column appeared in papers around the country three years ago.  We should never forget the sacrifices they and our other veterans have made to keep America free. )

Sometimes, when you least expect it, something happens that makes you realize how lucky we are to live in this country. One of those things happened to us on our way to our annual visit to Spring Training baseball in Arizona this past March.

We had left our home in Maine on Wednesday and driven to the airport in Providence, Rhode Island where we stayed overnight to be ready for our morning flight the next day. Looking forward to our next two weeks of beautiful weather and baseball, we already felt lucky.

We flew from Providence to Baltimore from where we would fly directly to Phoenix. We had a two hour layover in Baltimore and decided to have lunch in a pub at the airport near our gate. We were sitting there, again feeling like we were pretty lucky to be living the good life, when we heard the sound of people clapping and it sounded like the clapping was coming from down the concourse but moving closer to us.

As we sat there, the applause kept getting louder and closer and closer and we realized that the applause was for a group of people moving down the concourse toward our gate. It was a group of World War Two veterans and their escorts who were making their way to their plane back to the Phoenix area after visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington as part of a trip to honor them for their service to their country. The trip was sponsored by Honor Flight Arizona, one of the many organizations throughout the country dedicated to recognizing their heroism and sacrifice in this manner.

The group of thirty veterans ranged in age from 88 to 97 and were escorted by family and volunteers from the Phoenix area and the Washington D. C area. They had been honored at a ceremony in Washington and had visited the War Memorial, Fort McHenry in Baltimore where the Star Spangled Banner was written and other military and tourist sites in Washington,

They ranged from people walking on their own to frail veterans in wheelchairs being pushed by others. They acknowledged the applause and cheering with salutes, interestingly enough they were saluting us while we were trying to salute them. It was obvious that they enjoyed and appreciated the recognition,

The group was on our flight and filled the front section of the plane. Because of their wheelchairs, they were slow in boarding but I have never seen people in an airport more patient with a delay. As people boarded the plane it seemed as if everyone wanted to talk to these heroes.

Once everyone was on the plane and en route to Phoenix, the pilot and staff acknowledged their presence and the entire plane full of people sang God Bless America. They also held a mail call. One man and woman in the group had actually met while both were serving in the Phillipines during the war and they had been married over 68 years.

With all the negativity in this country today, including the negative press about our own country, the sight of these veterans who made trips like the one my wife and I were embarking on possible by their unselfish sacrifice, reminds us of just how lucky we are to live in the Land of the Free. I felt proud to be on a plane full of people who obviously recognize the debt we owe to these heroes and grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of a small gesture to recognize that debt.

I am further honored that, after I showed this column to the Coordinator of the Honor Flight, he read the article to the Honored Veterans and the other passengers on the plane, while flying 30,000 feet above middle America to further honor these great Americans. He had asked me to read the article myself and I declined, not because I did not want to read it but because this was such an emotional experience for me that I doubted my ability to maintain my composure if I tried to read it to these great men.

When we arrived in SkyHarbor Airport in Phoenix, our plane was met by hundreds of flag waving, cheering people of all ages, including civilians, military personnel and other veterans, lined up throughout the route the veterans would take through the airport. A fitting tribute to these and so many thousands of other veterans who made the freedoms we take for granted possible.

Every day there are fewer and fewer of these people we owe so much to left. All Americans should take the time to consider what our lives would be like today had these men not put their lives on the line for us and preserved the way of life that we take for granted.

Carl H. Johnson

March 20, 2014

WHAT A SERIES!! WHAT’S THE COST?

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What else can you say after a baseball season that ended like that.

That’s the lead for a column I wrote after the World Series of 2011 when the Wild Card St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. I thought that that post season had had it all and would be a hard act to follow.

I used that opening again in 2014 when two teams that had barely made it into the Playoffs as Wild Cards met in Game 7 that year and thought I had seen it all. After this year’s World Series proved to me that there is no limit to the excitement and drama that a World Series can throw at you, I dusted it off again.

This year’s opponents, the Astros and Dodgers put on quite a show. Games two and five have to be rated as among the most exciting of all time. Both were extra inning games, Game 2, 11 innings and Game 5, 10 innings and both won by the Astros.

In Game 2, the Astros came from 3-1 behind to tie it with runs in the eighth and ninth and both teams scored twice in the tenth. The Astros took the lead back with two in the tenth and Charley Culberson homered in the eleventh to make it 7-6 but the Astros held on for the win. There were eight homers in the game, four by each team. All but one of the seven runs scored in extra innings was a result of a home run.

In Game 5, the teams hit another seven homers in a 13-12 slug fest, with the winning run scored against Dodger Closer Kenley Jansen on a walk off single by Alex Bregman which capped a rally that started with two outs and no one on in the tenth. In a game that had promised to be a pitchers’ duel between the two Aces, Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw, each team used seven pitchers in trying to stop the bleeding.

The Series marked only the second time only two games were won by starting pitchers despite the fact that Houston had Keuchel and Justin Verlander and Los Angeles had Kershaw and Alex Wood, four of the best starters in the game. Houston center fielder, George Springer, who had been a star player at the University of Connecticut, got the Most Valuable Player Award after hitting five homers and three doubles while batting

.373 and scoring eight runs and driving in seven. He was the first player ever to hit home runs in four consecutive Series games and his eight extra base hits and 29 total bases were also new records. He became the third player in history, along with Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley, to hit five homers in one series.

Game 7 was almost an antclimax as the Astros got off to a 5-0 lead, mainly on Springer’s double and two run homer in the first two innings. Astros’ starter, Lance McCullers, faltered but he and three relievers held that 5-0 lead through the fifth and then Charlie Morton, who hadn’t relieved in a game since 2008, closed the door on the Dodgers the rest of the way.

The Astros, whose payroll was $150. million dollars, according to Spotrac, an online service which tracks that type thing, paid less than the Major League average of $152. million per team. In getting to the World Series, they beat the Boston Red Sox with a payroll of $222.6 million, third highest in baseball, in the ALDS. They then went on and beat the New York Yankees, with a payroll of $224.4 million, second highest in baseball, in the ALCS and, as we now know, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a payroll of $265.1 million, the highest in baseball, in the World Series. The Astros worked their way up through the three highest payrolls in baseball, in reverse order, on their trip to the World’s Championship.

They won the Western Division regular season title and four of the other five regular season Division Winners all had higher team salaries than the Astros. In addition to the Red Sox and Dodgers, the other Division winners, in the National League, the Washington Nationals, winners in the East, had the seventh highest payroll at $189.3 million and the Central Division winning Cubs had the tenth highest payroll at $182.4. In the American League, the Central Division winning Cleveland Indians, had the eighteenth highest payroll at $139.2 million, the only Division winner with a payroll lower than the Astros.

Of course, it is not unusual for a team with the highest expenditure for salaries not to win the World Series. Since 2000, the team spending the most on players’ salaries has won the World Series only twice. The New York Yankees, in 2000 and 2009 were the only teams to be first in salary and win the Series. Only twice has the team with the second highest salaries won the World Series and those were the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and the 2013 Sox were the only team with the third highest salary level to win the Series. In eight of the 18 years, a team ranked 10th or lower in salary spending won the World Series.

It would appear that, in terms of success in baseball in the Post Season, the old adage ‘You get what you pay for’ does not hold true. The Dodgers have been the biggest spender for the past four years and have won their regular season division each year but lost in the NLDS twice, in the NLCS once and in the World Series once.

With virtually their entire starting lineup of position players locked in for at least another year in Houston and Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Game 7 hero Charlie Morton coming back, with the bulk of the bullpen also returning, the Astros are not going away for awhile.

The team that lost 111 games just four years ago has the potential to be the first repeat World Series winner of this century. Keeping this talented crew together will be an expensive proposition as Altuve becomes the first eligible for Free Agency next year and Springer, Correa, Gonzalez and others become eligible for arbitration over the next couple of years.

scan0002Their rise has been a Cinderella story though and has proven, once again, that there is no limit to the excitement that baseball and the World Series, the greatest event in sports, can provide.

ONE MORE LOOK AT EPIC GAME 2

Those of you who were born before the electronic information age and can still read and write, will recall the word ‘parse’. Parsing or diagramming a sentence were two of the ways that our teachers ensured we would leave school able to communicate, write, count, make change and do those other things necessary to get by in the world before everyone was plugged into a device, or devices, that ruled their lives.

For an example of parsing, take the sentence That game, on Wednesday, had everything. ‘That’ is an adjective modifying the noun ‘game’, which is the subject of the sentence. ‘On’ is a preposition and, with the noun ‘Wednesday’, forms a prepositional phrase and, as such, is set off from the rest of the sentence by commas. ‘Had’ is the past participle form of the verb have and ‘everything’ is a pronoun and object of the verb.

By now you are wondering what this has to do with baseball. Remember that sentence That game, on Wednesday, had everything? Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, between the Dodgers and Astros, (notice the prepositional phrase), is the real subject of that sentence and truly had everything. Since parsing a sentence involves identifying the component parts, I thought I would parse that game.

The Dodgers had won Game 1 of the Series, 3-1, behind their Ace Clayton Kershaw who was just a hair better than the Astros’ Ace Dallas Keuchel. ( Dallas against Clayton sounds like the start or end of a Jeff Foxworthy Red Neck joke, doesn’t it? )

In Game 2, Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the last 10 years, who had won eight games in a row, including three in the Playoffs, since being traded to Houston, on August 31st, started against the Dodgers’ 37 year old Rich Hill who had been playing Independent Ball with the Long Island Ducks a little more than two years ago.

You talk about two different styles. Verlander relies on his pin point control and velocity to win, often still throwing in the high nineties after throwing in excess of 100 pitches in a game. Hill has a curve ball that is almost unhittable which he throws from a quirky motion and which he relies upon heavily.

At the end of four innings, the Astros led 1-0, scoring in the third when Reddick singled, was sacrificed to second by Verlander, went to third on a single by Springer and scored on a single by Bregman. Hill had thrown 23 curve balls and the fastest he had thrown his fast ball was 90 miles an hour. Verlander, on the other hand, was routinely hitting 97 and 98 with his fast ball and had thrown 33 of them.

Dodger Manager Dave Roberts, who went to relievers earlier than any other Manager in baseball during the season, removed Hill from the game after just 60 pitches even though he had given up just three hits, one run and struck out seven batters. Roberts didn’t know it at the time, but his early removal of Hill would leave him with an empty bull pen in extra innings. The quick hook was in keeping with a trend begun by Tito Francona in the 2016 Post Season.

Pederson homered for the Dodgers to make it 1-1 in the fifth and Seager hit a two run homer in the sixth to put the Dodgers up 3-1. In the eighth, the Astros came back with one without benefit of a homer when Bregman doubled and Correa singled him in. Still behind 3-2 in the top of the ninth, Gonzalez homered to lead off the inning, tying the score.

In the last of the ninth, Houston’s Closer, Ken Giles, got the Dodgers 1-2-3 and the game went to extra innings and that’s where things really went crazy. The Astros struck first in the top of the tenth with back to back homers by Altuve and Correa to lead off the inning against Josh Fields to put the Astros up 5-3. Fields then gave up a double to Gurriel and was replaced by Tony Cingrani, who was the last reliever left in the Dodger bullpen, and he got out of the inning.

In the Dodger tenth, Yasiel Puig led off with a homer to make it 5-4. Giles got the next two outs but walked Logan Forsythe on a 3-2 pitch to keep the Dodgers alive. Enrique Hernandez then singled to right to drive in Forsythe and it was tied again.

Brandon McCarthy, a starter, came in for the Dodgers to start the eleventh. He gave up a lead off single to Cameron Maybin and Maybin then stole second. George Springer then hit the seventh homer of the game to put the Astros up by two again, 7-5.

To start the bottom of the eleventh, after Chris Devenski got Seager and Turner on sharp line drives, Charlie Culberson hit the eighth homer of the game to left center to make it 7-6 but Devenski struck out Puig to end the game and give the Astros their first win of the Series.

Houston used 16 players, including five pitchers, while the Dodgers used 22, including nine pitchers. Amazingly, the Dodgers scored six runs on just five hits but four of the five were home runs.

The game, which had started at 5:17 Pacific Time, 8:17 Eastern, ended four hours and 19 minutes later, 12:36 a. m. Eastern Time. The crowd of 54,293, at Dodger Stadium, did not seem to mind the length of the game despite the Dodgers losing and there were very few empty seats at the end.

This has been the year of the home run and strikeout, with all time records being set in each category. Many factors have contributed to the emphasis on homers and strikeouts. The expansion of the defensive shift and the proliferation of pitchers capable of throwing near and over 100 miles an hour are the most prominent.

Major League Baseball is concerned that the length of games will contribute to a loss of popularity and attendance. If the trend to emphasis on home runs and strikeouts along with its reduced emphasis on small ball continues, we may be headed toward a future that has even longer periods of boring play with occasional home runs the only excitement for the average fan.

Not every game can have eight homers and the exchange of leads this one provided. While scoring a run on three singles may not be as spectacular as a home run, baseball may find that it’s a better way to keep the fan support it needs to survive.

Let’s hope that today’s Game 5 and whatever follows will give us the kind of thrills Game 2 did to help us get through the three months until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.From_Beer_To_Beards_Cover_for_Kindle

PREDICTING THE PLAYOFF WINNERS

Predicting the results of the Major League Baseball Playoffs shouldn’t be a hard job. Take this year for example. The Yankees had a better regular season record than the Twins, who they met and defeated in the AL Wild Card Game, and the Diamondbacks had a better record than the Rockies and beat them in the NL Wild Card Game. Easy to figure out who’s going to win, isn’t it?

On the face of it, it would seem that, after a 162 game season, the thirty teams that make up Major League Baseball would have pretty much fallen in line as far as their relative strength is concerned. In addition, the individual teams from each division play each other 19 times during the season so you would think that their position in the final standings in their division would determine their success in the Post Season.

There are almost as many theories about how to predict, in advance, the winner of the Playoffs and the World’s Championship as there are ‘experts’ out there.

Many feel that the team to beat is the team that is peaking at the end of the season because their momentum will carry over into the Playoffs. The reverse of this are those that feel that a team that makes the Playoffs despite a so so record toward the end of the season will be due to get hot and has the advantage.

There are those that say that the team that clinches their Division or Playoff spot first has an advantage as they will avoid the pressure of a stretch run and will be rested and can get their best pitching rotation ready for the Playoffs. On the other hand, some feel that going down to the last day before clinching readies a team for the Playoff pressure.

A comparison of the Playoff opponents records against each other during the regular season is thought to be another indicator to be used in predicting success in the Playoffs. This year of the four Division Series winners, only the Houston Astros, who beat the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, had a winning record against their opponent in the regular season, winning four of seven games between the two.

In the other three Division Series’, the Yankees, who beat the Indians in five games, lost five of seven games to them during the regular season, the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks, after losing 11 of 19 games to them during the season and the Cubs, who beat Washington in five games, had lost four of seven meetings during the season.

If you think the Playoffs are a Prognosticator’s Nightmare, try predicting the World Series winner. In the 17 years since 1999, the team with the best regular season record in baseball has won the World Series just three times. The 2016 Cubs, who won 104 games, the 2013 Red Sox, who won 97 games and beat the Cardinals, who also won 97, and the 2009 Yankees, who won 103 games, were the only three teams with the best regular season records to win the World Series.

In two other years, 2004 when the Cardinals won a season high 105 games and 2003, when the Yankees won a season high 101, the team with the best record was the loser in the World Series. So the team with the best regular season record got as far as the World Series just five times in 17 years.

On the other hand, a team that made the Playoffs as a Wild Card, which means they finished second or third in their own Division, has won the World Series five times in that same 17 years and another five Wild Card teams have made it to the World Series and lost. In 2002, the Anaheim Angels won the World Series after getting into the Playoffs as a Wild Card, and, in 2003, the Marlins, in 2004, the Red Sox, in 2011, the Cardinals and in 2014, the Giants did the same.

In 2000, the Mets, in 2005, the Astros, in 2006, the Tigers, in 2007, the Rockies and in 2014, the Royals made it as Wild Card teams but lost the Series. In 2014, the two Wild Card winners both made it to the Big Show before the Giants beat the Royals.

In other words, a Wild Card team has been in the World Series 43% more often and has won the World Series 67% more often than the team with the best record.

It would seem that, if you were trying to predict the winner of the World Series after the Division Championship Series has decided which two will go to the Series, the team of the two that made it to the series with the best regular season record would be the most logical choice to win the Series.

For example, in 2016, the Chicago Cubs had the best record in all of baseball and a much better record than their opponent, the Indians, during the regular season. We all know that the Cubs beat the Indians that year for their first World Series Championship in 86 years.

However, in the 17 years since 1999, of the two that made it to the World Series, the team with the best regular season record, has won eight times and the one with the lower record has won eight times. In the other year, 2013, the Winning Red Sox and the losing Cardinals each won 97 games. So, if you predicted that the team with the best winning record would go all the way, you would have been right exactly 50% of the time, but, if you had predicted that the team with the worst record would win the Series, you would have also been right 50% of the time.

Of the four major sports, basketball, football, hockey and baseball, predicting the outcome of any Postseason matchup in baseball is the most difficult. The longer season in baseball and the parity achieved through revenue sharing, rules governing the draft and other methods all contribute to the heightened excitement and uncertainty that exists in baseball at Playoff time.

Almost any team that makes it to the Wild Card round has a chance to go all the way to the World Championship in baseball. That makes predicting the outcome so difficult and why people like myself, who predicted in this spot that the Cubs and Red Sox would face each other in the World Series this year, should keep their predictions to themselves.

Scan0001My advice to all those who feel that they have the ability to predict the outcome of the baseball Playoffs and/or World Series, in the future, is very simple. Write your predictions on a piece of paper, put it away someplace safe and, when it’s over and you weren’t even close, don’t tell a soul.