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Bill Madden: Expanded playoffs can’t hide baseball’s biggest flaw … too many bad teams

One can only assume the adding of another wild card in both leagues has had its desired effect for the MLB poohbahs as fans in at least seven cities with otherwise flawed and mediocre teams are all still entertaining World Series pipedreams.

But the hard truth is, the Rays, Blue Jays, Mariners or Orioles aren’t in the same class as Dusty Baker’s Astros in the American League, while in the National League, the Padres, Phillies and Brewers are all second-class citizens compared to the Dodgers and Braves (and even the Mets). Whether the powers-that-be care to admit it or not, there remains a great, two-tiered divide in baseball. The first is between 10-11 really bad teams and all the rest, and the second between the wild card hopefuls and the truly elite.

On Sept, 1, there were 10 teams — a third of baseball — that were 25 or more games out of first place and 15 teams — half of baseball — with under .500 records. That’s a pretty large chunk of the industry turned to football with a month to go in the season. We’re talking disparity here and the fact that there are really only 3-4 elite, World Series-caliber teams in all of baseball — the Dodgers, Braves and Mets in the NL and only the Astros in the AL, now that the Yankees, decimated by injuries, have gone into collapse.

We count the Mets in this elite category but only if Max Scherzer is healthy and taking his regular turn in the rotation and Starling Marte and Luis Guillorme are fully recovered and contributing come the end of the season (when they play that three-game series in Atlanta), and into October. Because one of the reasons the Braves have been playing .700 ball since May 31 is that they’ve incurred no major injuries to any of their key regulars or starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, some observations on a few of the wild card “pretenders”:

In the American League, the Mariners’ starting pitchers Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby make them a scary proposition come the postseason, but there’s no one really scary in their everyday lineup and they have little depth. …The Rays have somehow managed to hang in there in the AL East despite nine pitchers on the IL including their three top starters Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz, and they’ve struggled to score runs all year. But they’ve gotten Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe back from the IL now and if they get McClanahan and one of the other starters back and pitching to form by October they could also be dangerous. …The third place Blue Jays, with the most productive everyday lineup in the AL this side of the Astros, have been a mystery all year, but they’re in control of their own destiny with eight games remaining with the Rays.

The National League wild card leaders are even more questionable. Since all their splashy trades at the deadline, the Padres have played barely .500 ball and there’s something clearly missing with them. … After starting 22-29 under Joe Girardi, the Phillies made a stunning turnaround under Rob Thomson to surge into wild card contention. But they’ve lately been again plagued by the same shoddy defense and faulty bullpen that doomed Girardi. … Corbin Burnes notwithstanding, the Brewers have been a model of inconsistency all season and have the look of a quick out in the playoffs if they do somehow manage to cop a wild card.


Sounds like the significant rule changes approved by MLB Friday have the full endorsement of Buck Showalter. “We’re going to have a better paced game,” said Showalter of the implementation of a pitch clock of 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on, along with the limitations of two pickoff attempts. “You’ll hear a lot of bitching at first but once everyone gets used to it, it’s gonna be good for the game. My only concern is they’ve got to implement all these new rules from Day 1 of spring training and in the World Baseball Classic. If they don’t, I’m not sending my players to the WBC. I’ll want them in spring training learning the new rules.” (In the minor leagues this year, the pitch clock has cut an average of 26 minutes off the time of games.)

As for the elimination of the defensive shifts, now requiring all four infielders to be positioned on the dirt, two on each side of second base, Showalter said: “I’m all in on that. You’re gonna have real infielders at each position now and this is gonna eliminate the moans of the crowd when a batter does his job by hitting a ball through the hole into right field and it winds up being right at somebody. We all grew up knowing that hitting the ball up the middle was a true hit.” According to MLB, the possible elimination of the extra innings “ghost runner” rule (which purists especially hate) and the three batter limit per relief pitchers’ appearances (which seemingly everyone hates) are still under discussion with the rules committee.

With the announcement that over half of the minor league players have turned in union authorization cards, it is now likely the minor league players will in fact become unionized with the Major League Players Association as their bargaining representative. This is definitely not good news for the owners who will now have to deal with two separate collective bargaining situations every 4-5 years, but it is a product of “you reap what you sow” after they implemented their “120 Plan” two years ago which eliminated 42 minor league teams and hundreds of minor league jobs. According to one high-level minor league official, the biggest beneficiaries of the unionized minor leagues figures to be the player agents. “The two biggest issues in any forthcoming minor league negotiations with the [MLB] owners are going to be slot values put on draft picks and the ability of college players to become free agents if they fail to sign after a certain period instead of being thrown back into the following year’s draft,” the official said. “In both cases, those players, especially the high draft picks who get slot values, are represented by the same top agents. The owners will fight like hell to keep the slotting system, but this has all come about when they blew up the minor leagues and put them all under one MLB umbrella.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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