MLBbro.com’s David Grub takes MLB to task for its inability to increase excitement, diversify the talent on the field and reinvigorate a passion and place for stolen bases and triples.
The Houston Astros have returned to the World Series for the third time in the past five seasons.
Houston survived the gauntlet of the American League by knocking off the Chicago White Sox in four games, and the Boston Red Sox in six utilizing the strength of its offense.
No team in the postseason has scored more runs than the Astros’ 67 in their 10 playoff games. Their average of 6.7 runs per game dwarfs those of the Boston Red Sox (5.5), Los Angeles Dodgers (4.0), and their opponent in the Fall Classic, the Atlanta Braves (4.0).
Michael Brantley asked about the abuse the #Astros take from fans on the road and does that just go with the territory: “Sure does. We get it everywhere we go…There’s nothing that a crowd’s gonna do that’s gonna get us off our game.” pic.twitter.com/RnJQyywA1b
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) October 25, 2021
A big part of Houston’s offensive success has been the consistent hitting of outfielder Michael Brantley.
The five-time All-Star has at least one base hit in nine of 10 games this year, and ranks fifth in all of MLB with 14 hits in the playoffs.
He’s also in the top ten in doubles (2), RBI (8), steals, and ranks eighth in batting average among those who played 10 or more games (.311).
But playoff production is nothing out of the ordinary for Brantley.
Playing in his sixth postseason, Michael Brantley has proven to be at his best when the stakes are highest.
Over 48 games and 192 playoff at-bats, “Dr. Smooth” has racked up 56 hits, 24 RBI, and has scored 20 runs, while sporting a .292 batting average.
Brantley is also tied with Pat Borders of the Toronto Blue Jays for the second-longest postseason hitting streak in baseball history at 16 games, trailing only Manny Ramirez, Hank Bauer, and Derek Jeter.
The streak that began in Game 1 of the 2020 America League Divisional Series didn’t end until Houston’s loss in Game 2 of this season’s ALCS.
While the Astros’ power bats like ALCS MVP Yordan Alverez, Yuli Guriel, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker, and Jose Altuve, get most of the ink, Brantley continues to fly under the radar of most fans.
Brantley isn’t flashy, and his four career postseason home runs are as many as Tucker has this season alone. However, the Houston offense doesn’t work without his steady bat near the top of the order.
In the 10-1 win to close out the ALDS, Brantley had three hits and drove in a pair of runs. Then, as Houston was climbing out of a 2-1 deficit to Boston in the ALCS, he came through with four hits, four RBI while scoring a pair of runs to send the series back to H-Town for the clincher.
If the Astros want to claim their second world championship, they’ll have to do what the Dodgers were unable to do…score. The Dodgers averaged 2.5 runs per game in their four losses to Atlanta.
The series begins within the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park, but games 3-5 will be played by National League rules, meaning one of Houston’s hitters will have to take a seat.
It’s doubtful it will be Brantley.
Dusty Baker will likely rely on the man who hit .378 in interleague play, compiling 17 hits in 12 games.
Baker understands NL strategy and the importance of getting into a team’s bullpen early. Brantley will have to set the table for the rest of the lineup, just as he has all season long.
It’s a role that Brantley has excelled at, and earned him respect as a “professional hitter.”
So, when the battle for the Commissioner’s Trophy commences on Tuesday night, be sure to keep an eye on the man who speaks softly, but comes up with big hits.
The Major League Baseball season is a 162-game marathon that should, over time, force the most complete and competitive teams to the top.
And for most of baseball history that has been the case.
I admit to being someone who was not a fan of the wild card when it was first instituted back in 1995, but it proved to be a solid addition to the postseason, at least until 2012 when MLB added a second wild card team to each league.
In the 26 years since seven wild card teams have won a World Series. The Miami Marlins have done it twice.
Last year the pandemic forced baseball to get creative with its playoffs, expanding the tournament to 16 teams (eight from each league) in order to balance out a season that tried to squeeze 60 games into 65 days.
But this season, MLB in all its wisdom went back to a playoff structure that keeps the three division champions, along with two wild card teams that will face each other in a one-game playoff in order to advance to the Divisional Round.
This means that in the American League, teams with 90-plus wins like the Red Sox, Yankees, or Blue Jays, could be eliminated in one afternoon. There is a real possibility that both Wild Card teams could have more wins the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox.
It’s even worse in the National League. Both the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have already reached 100 wins. One of them will finish second in the NL West, and one of the best teams in baseball could get just nine innings of postseason baseball.
Baseball isn’t the NFL or the NBA where more than half the teams in their respective leagues go to the playoffs. Until last season, a team with a sub-.500 record hadn’t reached the postseason since 1981, a season shortened by a players’ strike. That regularly happens in other sports.
Fans want to see the best teams compete for the championship, and so should MLB. But imagine a scenario where the two largest media markets in the country are eliminated after one game.
MLB already struggles with name recognition for some of its brightest stars. To have a Mookie Betts, or Aaron Judge watching the playoffs like millions of fans rather than playing in them would not be a good look at all.
The divisional format itself doesn’t have to change, though it could. But if it doesn’t, simply add a third Wild Card team to give each league six playoff representatives. First-round byes would be extended to the top four teams in each league and the final two would play in a three-game series to advance to the Divisional Series.
Follow that with a five-game second round, and seven-game series for both the league championships and the World Series.
Competitive balance is restored, owners and media outlets make more money, and most importantly, fans get more playoff drama without any fan base feeling cheated.
If you want single-elimination playoffs, stick with football or the NCAA tournament. The only time it should happen in baseball is when two teams are tied after the last game of the regular season.
MLB is flirting with disaster by potentially losing millions of viewers. It’s time for a change-up.