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Mudville: April 20, 2024 10:47 pm PDT

Oktoberfest

BY KEVIN KERNAN

This month is Oktoberfest. Not Oktoberwhine.

MLB decided to chase the money, as it always does; and Rob Manfred and his cronies couldn’t wait to add a thicker layer of BS on the public and more games to bet on with the wild card round going from a one game, winner-take-all event to a best-of-three series.

To do all that the last two years they added a third wild card team in each league to the mix. That’s how you get 12 teams in postseason play, none named Yankees or Mets.

This week there has been quite a bit of whining going on because division winners, teams like the AL East-winning Orioles who won 101 games, got swept away in the ALDS by Bruce Bochy and his wild card Rangers, who had the advantage of playing games and not sitting at home, resting up for the Division Series.

The same goes for the NL East-winning Braves, who led all of baseball with 104 wins, but are facing elimination in the NLDS by the Phillies – as Bryce Harper got double revenge for Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia getting on him after he was doubled off first to end Game 2. Harper’s three-run home run Wednesday in the third inning at Citizens Bank Park led the Phillies to a 10-2 ‘Atta Boy victory and a 2-1 lead in the series. Harper also homered in the fifth and stared down Arcia each time.

He doubled his home run pleasure.

“It’s another greedy grab for TV money,’’ one top evaluator told BallNine. “You need to go back to two wild cards – play in the next day, and the next day (after that) you play one of the Division winners. The season was always about being built for 162; who had the depth, who had the talent to win the division. And you can also after the one-game wild card, play three games in a row where the higher seed gets the three home games. In that way, if the lower seed survives the (five-game) series, tip your hat to them.’’

But of course baseball never thinks anything out over the long haul; it’s just go for the money.

My favorite thing about October baseball is we don’t have to put up with the constant drum beat of analytics. It’s only what happens on the field that counts – who scores the most runs, not who has the highest spin rate or the highest exit velocity.

And no matter how much they try to tell us about tunneling, it’s location that matters for pitchers; and Harper taught Bryce Elder that lesson Wednesday with that first home run.

Also, some sweepers have been swept away to the outer limits of the ballpark this October. Enough with that.

Good deliveries and good mechanics make for good pitching.

A good sign is that players are starting to speak up about crazy moves. The Blue Jays players were ticked off after that loss, with Bo Bichette saying, “There is a lot of reflection needed … from the organization, top down.’’

No matter how much they try to tell us that batting average doesn’t matter, batting average matters.

The Rangers batted .283 in the three-game sweep of the Orioles, while the Birds batted .243. The Rangers collected 18 walks, the Orioles hitters only got nine walks.

In the Rangers’ two-game sweep of the wild card over the Rays (Manfred and his TV partner did not get their precious third game in any of the four wild card series), the Rangers hit .280. The Rays hit .215. Rangers hitters drew nine walks, Rays hitters drew one. The Rangers pitchers under veteran pitching coach Mike Maddux located.

Sure, it’s all about the latest guru pitching coach during spring training and the regular season – and the supposed magic coming out of the pitching lab. For Mike Maddux & Co., however, it’s about location.

And, of course, when things like this happen there has to be a reason for it; it can’t be something as simple as the Rangers out-hit, out-defended, and out-pitched their opponents under Bochy, who stars in Masterpiece Theater whenever he gets to October.

It can’t be that the street tough Phillies have out-played the Braves so far – and the same goes for the Diamondbacks over the Dodgers, who disappoint in October on a regular basis.

No, it has to be something like teams had to sit around for days on end. Meanwhile, the wild card teams have to use their two best pitchers to get through the wild card round.

I think Brandon Hyde brings a toughness to the Orioles in much the same manner that Bochy brings that to the Rangers. But the truth of the matter is the Orioles and their owners did not go out and fortify at the trade deadline (other than Jack Flaherty, who did not pitch well).

The Rangers went out and traded for Jordan Montgomery. They also added Max Scherzer. They signed Nathan Eovaldi on Christmas Eve. Chris Young also paid a king’s ransom to land Jacob deGrom. That didn’t work out, but the other moves did.

The Orioles played it cheap and won in a division that is totally overrated. The AL East has now lost 11 straight postseason games, going back to the Yankees being swept by the Astros in the ALCS last year.

The Phillies deserve all the credit for going out and signing Bryce Harper after the 2018 season: BGB, Big Game Bryce.

Getting a few days off and getting your team some rest should be a good thing. Half the time, though, teams create their own woes by taking out a pitcher who appears to be dealing. The over-analytic Blue Jays did just that when they removed Jose Berrios, who had not allowed a run and struck out five, after a walk in the fourth inning of Game 2 of the wild card round against the Twins – a game the Twins would win, 2-0, to knock out the Blue Jays.

This was Over-Nerding at its best. In the spirit of the season, let’s call it OktoNerding.

That move reminded me of the ridiculous move the Rays made in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series when they took out Blake Snell, opening the door for the Dodgers.

A good sign is that players are starting to speak up about crazy moves. The Blue Jays players were ticked off after that loss, with Bo Bichette saying, “There is a lot of reflection needed … from the organization, top down.’’

The Blue Jays are one of those teams with a VP of Baseball Strategy. James Click, who was with the Rays for 14 years leading up to the Snell move and went on to become the Astros GM, now holds that VP position for the Blue Jays. I was under the assumption for the last seven decades of my life that the manager is the head baseball strategist.

Clearly that has changed when you see some of the baffling moves made by managers this year.

One of the reasons I stopped watching Yankee games this year is because I was insulted by the moves made by Aaron Boone. Perhaps Boone was just a puppet for their Baseball Strategy head, but that’s even worse. There comes a time where a baseball manager has to stand up for what he believes in and if it costs him his job, so be it.

Aaron Judge has spoken up that the Yankees must change some of their strange ways of making decisions, too. The Yankees have been making strange decisions for years, like not even trying to sign Harper.

That’s one of the many reasons I love Bruce Bochy and why Bochy is beloved in the game. You know he is making the baseball decision that is happening on the field and if it blows up he will take full blame. If it works, he will credit the player or players for getting it done.

Bochy puts the Man in Manager. Same for Rob Thomson in Philadelphia.

There are too many managers out there who do not earn the title. I thought one of the best moves Bochy made against the Orioles came in Game 2, an 11-8 Texas win. The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Montgomery and then the Rangers offense came alive, scoring nine runs over the second and third innings.

Montgomery was not sharp like he was in his seven shutout innings against the Rays in Game 1 of the wild card round. Over four innings he gave up nine hits and four runs. In the fifth inning Bochy brought in left-hander Cody Bradford and he stuck with the reliever for the next 11 outs. It wasn’t one inning and done, like everywhere else in Nerd World where one inning is all you get out of a reliever and then it’s a roll of the dice with the next reliever, and the next. Bochy and Maddux rode the hot hand, something that has been lost to the ages to all the Ivy Leaguers in charge of teams.

That move saved the Rangers; it kept Bochy from playing guess the reliever every inning the rest of the way from a bullpen that blew 33 saves this season. Perhaps it was a move out of desperation, but it also was a move that was made by a manager who owns the postseason. Bochy made a hard decision and didn’t just turn it over to the iPad like so many other managers do all year long.

Of course, if you read my Bochy column from last week, Boch Ball, none of this would surprise you. I suggest that owners might want to have their latest iPad gurus read that column.

October Baseball is not the Nerd Baseball that is played in April, May, June, July, August, and September. It’s a different world. There’s too much at stake to let the decisions made not be baseball decisions. It’s about pitching, defense, and big hits.

But it’s not Bochy and the Rangers that beat the high-flying Orioles, many believe; it’s that damn rust that collected on the young Orioles with a few extra days off because MLB was chasing more dollars.

It all makes me laugh. Sorry, Moneyball crowd.

Oh and by the way, it’s time to break out the best line from Moneyball spoken by Billy Beane –  and I like Beane a lot, a former player from Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego, I find him fascinating –  but he nailed it when he said in plain clubhouse English: “My shit doesn’t work in October.’’

It doesn’t. Beane knows it has all gone too far to the analytical side of the game today.

How many rings does Billy have as a baseball boss? That’s right, zero. Bochy remains in the running for his fourth World Series ring over the last 14 years, and three of those years he wasn’t even in the game.

Baseball men just know baseball.

One such baseball man is Brian Sabean, who at the age of 67 could easily lead a major league team in the same fashion as 67-year-old Dave Dombrowski leads the Phillies. I remember talking with Sabean years ago about how Bochy fell into his lap. I may not have all the particulars exactly right, but Bochy was having huge success with the Padres and he went out to lunch with Sandy Alderson after the 2006 season thinking he was going to be offered a multi-year extension.(And Bochy was beloved in San Diego.)

So he’s having lunch with Alderson and Alderson offers Bochy a one-year extension, not multi-years.

A phone call was quickly made and by the time dessert was served, Sabean jumped on the opportunity of making Bochy the Giants’ manager. See you, San Diego.

San Fran wins three World Series under Bochy and the Padres are still chasing rainbows.

Last year it was veteran manager Dusty Baker who made terrific baseball decisions for the Astros as they won the World Series, including leaving Jeremy Pena at the top of the lineup when all the baseball strategists (Click was the Astros’ GM last year) wanted him to drop Pena down in the order. It was Dusty who pushed his starting pitchers and rode them to success.

Now it will be Dusty Baker vs. Bruce Bochy, Astros vs. Rangers in the Battle of Texas ALCS.

Baseball decisions win in October. It happens every October. But every November, ownership, in most cases, charts a new Nerd course that is supposed to bring a team World Series success.

When those Nerd teams don’t win, it’s not Oktoberfest; it’s Oktoberwhine time.

“Our team had too much time off. The other team got lucky. Did you see our BABIP?’’

On and on with the whining.

As much as the Nerds want to make October baseball’s version of March Madness, it is not. Baseball decisions are made and baseball players step up to make that success. Put the ball in play, get a man on, get him over, get him in. Put your best defenders in their best positions to win. Understand what it means to create a key run and then take your shot. That’s what the Rangers have been doing to get to the ALCS and the Phillies, one win away from returning to the NLCS – while the chasing rainbow Padres completely collapsed this season.

This is also one of the big reasons I despise the fake runner in extra innings during the regular season. That terrible rule creates a false sense of security for teams who actually think they know how to drive in runs, but don’t understand that they did not get the runner to second in the first place. The baseball value of getting the runner in scoring position, actually getting on base and having your teammates advance that runner, is lost on teams all year in those games.

Same goes with the fake stolen base created this year by Manfred. It’s beyond me why all teams aren’t running more to steal bases. Some teams are figuring out how easy it is to steal a base, and steal is the right word in this instance.

Hitting with runners in scoring position is a skill, it’s not luck as the Nerds proclaim. In the three-game sweep of the Orioles, the Rangers had 10 hits with RISP, the Orioles had four. The Rangers hit .357 with RISP. The Orioles hit .210.

That’s getting the job done.

That’s what Oktoberfest is all about. It’s not about making Oktoberwhine.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • daniel Radison

    great article!!! how about all the strike outs from the Twins 14, 13, 13, 11.
    that will not work against top tier pitching. long swings? ?

    October 12, 2023
  • LOUIS J ROMAN

    Your probably watching the game wonder how long the starters will go,.read the article maybe next year the NY teams will be more than losers. Including jets,giants,knicks and ben simmons. Go roadrunners.
    Joe Roman BBhof

    October 12, 2023
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