The final day of baseball's regular season brought a lot of drama Sunday, with almost all of it centered in the American League. Sure, the Cubs and Pirates hadn't determined the location of their upcoming wild card game, but the AL West and the positioning of the two wild card grabs were still up for grabs. There were even two possibilities of tiebreaker games, and the “other” team from LA had everything to do with it.
Had the Angels won, there would have been a game 163 somewhere, even though it may not have involved the Angels. An Anaheim win and a Houston loss to Arizona would have meant an Angels-Astros tiebreaker for the wild card. Had the Astros beaten the Diamondbacks along with a Halo victory, the Angels would have been out, but the Astros and Rangers would've had a one-game playoff for the Western Division.
In case you missed it, the Los Angeles team from Anaheim took an early 2-0 lead, but fell to the Rangers 9-2, ending their season. No tiebreakers are necessary, the remote possibility of an Angels-Dodgers World Series was shot down, and Mike Scioscia's team has another off-season to regroup down in Orange County.
As for the Los Angeles team from Los Angeles, the Dodgers will host the New York Mets in a National League Division Series matchup Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Game two will be almost 24 hours later. We know Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke will start those games, but the Dodgers have yet to decide, or maybe more accurately announce, the order.
The most common opinion seems to be that Kershaw will get the opener, but you could make a case for either pitcher. The game three choice is either Brett Anderson or Alex Wood, but fans shudder to think about that, so let's focus on games one and two.
The argument for Greinke in game one: He actually had a better year than Kershaw did. Zach was 19-3 with a 1.66 earned run average (Kershaw: 16-7, 2.13 ERA). Maybe 'struggled' isn't the right word, but Kershaw had difficulty in the post season (1-5, 5.12 ERA), and maybe a Greinke start would take the pressure off of Kershaw. Also, a Greinke start in game one could mean a Kershaw start in a possible winner-take-all game five, assuming the Dodgers only go with three starting pitchers.
The argument for Kershaw: Despite that Greinke had a better year, Kershaw is the face of the Dodger franchise (in terms of players). He had 16 wins after a little bit of a struggle early, but struck out 300 batters this season, becoming the first Dodger not named Sandy Koufax to ever do that, and the first in the big leagues since both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it on the same team in 2001. The best reason, though, for Kershaw to get the opening nod is because of rest. If the Dodgers use three starting pitchers, the game one pitcher has to come back on three days rest to start game four, while the game two starter gets fours days off before game five. Conventional wisdom says Kershaw is better on short rest than Greinke.
The fact is, either choice is a good one. It's the entire rest of the roster that Dodger fans have to worry about.
Start times: Major League Baseball has announced its start times for playoff games through Sunday, and not very many of them are a surprise. Game one between the Mets and the Dodgers will be Friday at 6:45pm, and game two Saturday will be at 6 (6:07pm to be exact). You know this is the only series the networks are interested in, and its also the only one on the west coast, so the late starts make sense. A logical explanation is beyond the scope of this column, but for some reason if the Yankees win the AL Wild Card game (5pm Tuesday on ESPN), their series at Kansas City would start at 1pm Thursday (on FS1), but if the Astros win, they would start at the Royals a half-hour earlier. Sure, the Yankees are in the eastern time zone, and Houston in the central, but either of them would have to travel from the Bronx to Missouri anyway. What's a lousy half-hour? Just set your DVRs for the earlier start just in case.
He said what?: After talking about “lengthening the depth” of the Pittsburgh bullpen last week, Fox analyst John Smoltz added during Saturday's Angels-Rangers game that because Josh Hamilton is such a streaky hitter, he “covers both spectrums”. Forget for a moment that the plural is 'spectra', but wouldn't he be talking about maybe covering both ends of the same spectrum?
Add Smoltz: The more you listen to Smoltz, the less he appears to know about the game he covers. In speculating on the Texas Rangers' rotation for their series against Toronto, Smoltz said it's likely Cole Hamels, who went nine innings yesterday, won't be available until Saturday. The Rangers don't play Saturday, and it figures Hamels would likely be the game two starter Friday night on normal rest. On the MLB Network, Smoltz was asked to break down the Cubs-Pirates wild card game, and the pitching matchup of Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole. Smoltz pointed out Arrieta's record against the Pirates, but didn't know how many of those starts came against Cole. I don't know that either, but isn't it his job to know that? Especially when you know you are going to be talking about that particular game on the air? (It took me about 15 minutes to look it up, but I doubt I have access to the same data he does. For the record, Arrieta was 3-1 with a no-decision, and a 0.79 ERA vs. the Pirates this year. He struck out 33 in 34 innings and walked only 5. None of his five starts were against Cole—he faced A.J. Burnett four times and J.A. Happ in the other start).
He gone: It's not unusual for an older Major League broadcaster to cut back on his schedule, but usually when that happens, announcers reduce their travel. The Chicago White Sox, however, have announced that the venerable Ken “Hawk” Harrelson will do 81 games on TV in 2016, but 78 of them will be on the road. Harrelson, who is 74, lives a hundred miles away from Chicago, so apparently the long flights are easier to deal with than the long drive into the city. Harrelson is very much a homer, which makes him difficult to listen to if you are not a White Sox fan, but you have to admit he is colorful.
Not so evil: As of Saturday, I now get the MLB Network. I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to the next digital tier my cable company provides, just for a month. Instead of being charged what I figured to be an extra ten dollars, the rep “rebundled” me, added a bunch of new channels and HBO for 30 dollars less per month than I am paying now. I usually use the word 'evil' when describing cable companies. Maybe I won't anymore. Or at least not as often.
It was deeply saddening to read on Facebook last week of the passing of Theresa Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was not only the mom of my friends Mike and Andy, and their brother Randy, but had an influence on me that they will never realize. Mrs. Fisher was southern, and loud, and proud. She wasn't afraid to share her opinions, but also formed those opinions by paying attention to what was going on in the community. She also raised three boys by herself since before Mike (who is my age) was in junior high. I know my mother had her hands full with me after my dad died, but Mrs. Fisher was somehow able to keep her boys in line, and turn them into fine adults at the same time. I have no idea how she did it, but you can't argue with the results, just like you couldn't argue with her to begin with.