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One Trick Pony
2004-10-07 15:25
by Mike Carminati

Closer Joe Nathan had never pitched more than two innings for the Twins. As matter of fact, he hadnít pitched more than one inning in an appearance since June 9 and had only four outings all year that went over one inning long (in 73 appearances). He hadnít gone at least three innings in an outing since 2000 when he was a starter for the Giants (and back then he had a 5.21 ERA). So why did his manager, Ron Gardenhire, consider bringing him out for the third straight inning yesterday, in the twelfth inning of a tied ballgame on the road? Gardenhire didnít even have anyone ready in the bullpen to relieve him.

The Twins manager is sure to get blamed should the Yankees win this series for overusing his closer. But did he suddenly go beserk? Was he conducting a science experiment? A psychological one? Did he have a bet with Will Carroll?

Or is he just another victim of Division Series-itis? Thatís the disease that afflicts a team when it must get the upper hand in a best-of-five series.

While, the Yankees were pulling out the improbable win, the Red Sox and Angels were playing a close nip-and-tuck game out west. It eventually turned into a blowout as the Sox scored four runs in the ninth. But the juxtaposing of the two close games demonstrated how fragile a teamís World Series hopes are.

As the AL series go into a one-day hiatus, the two losers in game one are headed in different directions. The Yankees tied their series in the second game, in what may be considered the turning point of the series. The Angels fell two games back and may soon exeunt the postseason. With the Braves and Dodgers getting beaten badly in the first game of their series, they are in similar positions today. However, given the pitchers they are sending to the mound, they seem far more likely to follow the Angelsí path than the Yankeesí.

One thingís for sure, the second game of the series, which in seven-game series is just another step in the progression, sort of an Act I scene ii to the series. It is the end of the first part of the series, before the teams regroup in the lower-seeded teamís home. In a five-game series itís almost the denouement. Itís like that sketch on Sesame Street when they are building a story with just a beginning and an end with no middle. That leaves a less than awe-inspiring story for the first round of the playoffs. Itís just the arbitrary preamble to the epic battles of the seven-game series to follow. Is it any wonder that improbable wild card teams often survive this round and springboard to the World Series?

So whatís to be done? Of course, the only solution is to expand this round to seven games. But not only does MLB not want to deal with the consequences of adding the extra games plus the open travel dates (e.g., do they extend the postseason or shorten the regular season? And if itís the latter, how is it done, by resurrectingógasp!ótrue doubleheaders or even worse returning to 154-game schedules?), but they donít even recognize it as a problem. Who cares if opens the door to more upsets? Everyone likes the underdog anyway. Who cares if it makes a mockery of the whole playoff system? Címon, this is the sport that determines homefield for the World Series via an exhibition game peopled mostly with players from non-playoff teams.

So whatís going to make them change their minds? I canít imagine what that would be. An act of god? The only thing that motivates the powers that be in MLB is, you guessed it, dough-ray-me money. Maybe if the Brewers ever had a prospect of making the playoffs and Bud could derive some extra income from an expanded round of playoffs, maybe he would get behind the idea. But with the team in the process of being sold that seems less likely all the time. The only way I see them expanding is if the revenue generated by two potential playoff games per division series would outweigh the moneys lost with somehow curtailing the regular-season schedule. Given that we are talking about two days (a seven-game series takes nine days, and a five-game takes seven), that means that those eight potential playoff games (two per four division series) must outweigh 30 regular season games (fifteen per day). That means that the division series revenue must be at least at least 4.5 times a regular season game and that the added revenue would have to be shared among all the clubs. So what do you think the odds are of expanding the first round?

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