A costly call and red-hot playoff races were the big stories this week
The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth far more. As baseball’s television ratings continue their annual decline, falling so far behind football that if it were a fight the ref would step in and stop it, you need only look at this picture from Saturday’s Yankees-Orioles game to find one of the reasons for that decline.
Last evening I was flipping back and forth between the U.S. Open women’s final and the Niners-Packers NFL game. Separated by only a few minutes were questionable calls in both the NFL game and the women’s final. Serving in the third set down 6 games to 5 games to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka returned a ball that was called out by the linesman. The ball looked in to me, as it did to many in the crowd in Flushing as well as the announcers working the match on television. Azarenka challenged the call and those at home and at the match watched with intensity as the incredible technology that professional tennis uses for replays played on the screen. The ball was indeed out. Shortly thereafter Serena Williams rightfully won yet another U.S. Open. A few minutes earlier in the Niners-Packers game, a questionable spotting of the ball after a third down play was challenged by Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh. The replay confirmed that the referees had indeed spotted the ball correctly and the Niners were forced to punt. Justice was served and everyone playing and watching knew that the correct calls had been made in these events. That wasn’t the case Saturday night when what should have been a game tying play was called a game ending out, with Mark Teixeira clearly touching first base when the ball was four feet away from the first baseman’s glove. This wasn’t just a close call where a mistake was made, this was pure incompetence or chicanery.
MLB’s refusal to move into the 21st century and utilize the amazing technology that exists is not only frustrating, but damning to the sport and its credibility. Nobody wants to hear “those are the breaks”(there don’t have to be breaks created by crooked and incompetent officials), “the calls even out”(they don’t), or “they had their chances”(yes, both teams or players always have chances but if one has the advantage of crooked or incompetent calls then they obviously have an unfair edge). When I hear someone start to trot out tired old clichés in response to bad calls, my eyes glaze over and I wonder if they were raised very close to power lines or ate a lot of lead paint chips as a child.
Imagine if Azarenka’s critical shot was actually in, and that the linesman who had called the ball out in that match deciding game had altered the outcome. Imagine if Mario Manningham’s incredible catch in the Super Bowl had actually been ruled out-of-bounds and the Giants had lost. Would the fans of tennis and football have accepted those outcomes as valid and meaningful? The answer, of course, is no. Seemingly everyday MLB asks its fans to accept the outcomes of games with horrendously blown calls as valid. Even worse is the fact that several umpires are as well-known as the players whose games they call due to their constant poor level of performance. The umpire who blew the call this weekend, Jerry Meals, was the subject of death threats last year when he blew a call as obvious as the one he blew this weekend in a 19 inning game between the Pirates and Braves. Take a look at this disgrace from last season:
Clearly Jerry Meals has issues with his eyesight or with his integrity and this particular blown call could very well cost the Yankees not only the AL East, but also the postseason.
Athletes should decide the outcome of professional sporting events, not officials or umpires. It is long past time that Bud Selig and MLB understood that.
Red Hot Playoff Races
If the playoffs began today here is what they would look like:
The Oakland A’s would host the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Texas Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-three series.
The Chicago White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the New York Yankees.
The Atlanta Braves would host the St.Louis Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Washington Nationals in a best-of-five series.
The San Francisco Giants would host the Cincinnati Reds in the first two games of a best-of-five series.
The AL East is an absolute war zone. The Yankees have a one game lead over the Orioles and a two game lead over the Rays. The Yankees start a three game series in Boston with the Red Sox on Tuesday while the Rays and Orioles battle each other in a three game series that also starts on Tuesday. The Red Sox have lost nine of their last ten games and this is an ideal time for the Yankees to put some breathing room between themselves and at least one of their two closest pursuers. The Yankees finish the week with a three game series in Yankee Stadium with the Rays while the Orioles head to Oakland for a three game series with the A’s.
The AL Central could hinge on a four game series between the White Sox and Tigers that begins tonight in Chicago. The White Sox have refused to yield the lead in the Central to the Tigers, who were very heavily favored to win the AL Central at season’s beginning. The Tigers trail the White Sox by two games and it is very unlikely that either team will grab a wildcard spot as both teams have gone cold lately with the White Sox having lost seven of their last ten games and the Tigers having lost six of their last ten games. This series will have the feel of a playoff series between the two teams as it the last time they will meet in the regular season unless a one game playoff is necessary to break a tie.
The Rangers suffered another injury to a pitcher this weekend, with the latest one happening to Roy Oswalt. Despite this, the Rangers lead the West by 3 1/2 games over the A’s. The Angels have finally put it into high gear, having won nine of their last ten games, but still trail the A’s by two and a half games and the Rangers by six games. The A’s and Angels start a crucial four game showdown tonight in Los Angeles. It is the last time they will meet in the regular season unless there is a tiebreaker necessary. Texas starts a six game home stand on Tuesday composed of three games apiece with the Indians and Mariners. Texas has a great opportunity to put some more space between themselves and their pursuers this week.
The Nationals appear to be home free with a five and a half game lead with only twenty-two games left on their schedule. Strasburg being shut down shouldn’t affect what looks to be an inevitable division win. The only drama left in this division appears to be whether or not the Nats can nab the 1 seed in the NL over the Reds. The Braves don’t appear likely to catch the Nats, but look home free to grab one of the wildcard spots with a five and a half game lead over the Cardinals and a seven game lead over the Dodgers. In the absolutely unbelievable news category, the Phillies are not dead yet in the wildcard race. Recent hot play has left the Phillies trailing only the Cards, Dodgers, and Pirates for the last wildcard position. Although currently trailing the Cardinals by six and a half games, all three of the teams they trail are struggling mightily and facing tough schedules this week. Another hot week by the Phillies could make them the story of baseball and land them in striking position. Three games in Miami and then four games in Houston this week make it very possible for the Phils to continue their hot run.
The Reds are going, going, gone in the Central and the return of Joey Votto has them giddy. Votto has gone 4-10 with five walks since returning to duty for the Reds last week. Sometimes things just fall into place and things are as good as they look and feel. That has been the story with the Reds this year, who are having an outstanding season and look to possess a great future as well. The Cardinals and Pirates continue to struggle in the race for the last wildcard spot, which the Cardinals currently lead by one and a half games over the Dodgers and two and a half games over the Pirates. Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati to play the Reds in a three game set and then finishes the week with a four game series against the Cubs. St. Louis starts a seven game West Coast swing this week that begins with three against the Padres and ends with four games against the Dodgers.
No matter how many trades and acquisitions the Dodgers have made, they don’t appear capable of catching the Giants. The Giants continue to cruise along on a four and a half game lead and are firmly in control of the West. The Giants play four with the Rockies this week and then three more at home with the Padres. The Giants can deliver the knockout blow this week. The Dodgers have a brutal road trip this week against the two best teams in the National league. Three games in Washington are followed by three games in Cincinnati.