- Game 7 of the World Series may have been a bit of a dud, but the 2017 MLB playoffs were spectacular. Here's what we loved and what we didn't about this year's postseason.
Hooray, Houston! Another franchise’s championship drought has ended—and with it the 2017 major-league postseason. Even Diamondbacks fans will be sad to see these playoffs go. We have run out of chances, for now, to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch, to hear the ball leap off George Springer’s bat, to attempt to comprehend what YouTube TV might or might not be. (I think it’s like WebTV, but with more children’s choirs singing the works of Ol’ Dirty Bastard.)
Operating under the assumption that this will not be the last postseason ever (perhaps naively—I’ve been too busy watching baseball to catch the latest from North Korea), I thought it worth assessing what from this October we already miss and what baseball should forever leave behind in 2017.
Keep: The Dodgers and the Astros
Are there two clubs that model success better? They have it all: young stars, old stars, depth, chemistry, attitude … The World Series showcased why both teams won 100 games in 2017 and why both are positioned to do so again in 2018. In the process, they played great, tight, indelible games. What minor complaints one might have—the Astros’ unis, Dave Roberts’ quick hooks, a monotonous Game 7—are outweighed by the thrills these teams gave us. Who would complain if we got a rematch in 2018?
Ditch: The Fox pitch-tracking graphic
Let me first stipulate that the ever-present strikezone graphic on Fox’s telecasts is a technological feat and perfectly unobtrusive. (Which is more than can be said for several advertising packages the network sold. We will not forget Masterpass’s decapitation of Springer anytime soon.) Undoubtedly the hearts of those who created it were in the right place. But each time a pitch lands in the box as a strike while the ump calls a ball, I wonder anew what the purpose of the graphic possibly could have been.
The strike zone, as it is defined in baseball’s rulebook, is a proper zone hovering over the plate from “the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants… [to] the hollow beneath the kneecap.” This is more or less the strike zone reproduced for viewers by Fox’s graphic. But the strike zone, as it exists in reality and for the men who actually play these games, is in fact a floating, budging, semi-consistent mind’s-eye rendering of that rule. Umpires miss pitches. Sometimes catchers sway them; sometimes they just don’t see what PITCHf/x can. In the grand scheme of things, these calls even out.
But the World Series is not played in the grand scheme of things. The number of consequential situations is not all that large; there’s not enough time for the calls to even out. For all teams in 2017, hitters hit .272/.387/.470 when a count began 1–0, versus .223/.268/.359 when a count began 0–1. That’s a 120-point OBP swing. (The divide is pretty similar between 1–1 and 0–2; for 1–1 and 2–0, it’s even larger.)
Which brings me back to the graphic. Whatever its intended purpose was, all it did was call attention to just how substantially this endlessly scrutinized game in which so many invest so much can hinge on the imprecise judgment of one fallible man. It’s part of the sport—“the human element!”—at least until the robots come. So be it. But it does no one any good to remind us constantly.
Keep: The newly rowdy new Yankee Stadium
At some points in their long and illustrious history, the Yankees have seemed less like a baseball club than an extended parable about joylessness and excess. And new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis (it gobbled up parkland for its construction and priced out thousands of New Yorkers), once appeared doomed to a dreadful existence in this tradition. The place became renowned for its sedate atmosphere, including in the playoffs. Even Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera—who better to put forth the Yankee party line?—acknowledged the eerie quiet.
But the upstart club assembled this year, after the Yankees came as close to a rebuild as they ever have under Brian Cashman’s watch, turned the Stadium into a credible facsimile of the old place in October. The crowd went crazy for every Aaron Judge homer or thumbs-down. The ALCS defeat aside, there’s a real future in the Bronx, one animated by homegrown talent (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) and not just veteran mercenaries. It’s hard not to buy in when the diehards, who were nowhere to be found during prior playoff runs, already have.
Ditch: The juiced balls
Even Ocean Spray thinks MLB is overdoing it with the juice. As thrilling as the 13–12 Game 5 was, it bore no resemblance to the game many of us have watched and enjoyed. Any swing with a half-decent launch angle produced a bomb. It was video-game baseball. The series included 25 homers. It would have been no less gripping with 15 dingers and the other 10 turned into doubles.
Keep: The struggling relievers.
Though the story of Game 7 was stellar relief—Houston and L.A.’s bullpens combined for 14 innings of one-run ball—the series before that had been blessed with so-so relief pitching. Yes, I said blessed. Too often in the modern game the best hitters are rendered feckless by men who throw 10 to 15 pitches every third day. But in the World Series there was no dominance to be found in middle relief. Both teams managed to squander leads.
Now, this likely has everything to do with Houston’s season-long deficiency in this area and Kenley Jansen’s apparent burnout, and nothing to do with any desire on the part of these teams to create a more volatile postseason game climate. But c’mon! Who’s with me? I know the Mets are, though they’ve gotta get to the postseason first.
Ditch: Your misgivings
I was prepared here to excoriate the wild-card game (seriously, what were the Twins doing in the playoffs?), the 8:20 p.m. World Series starts (we East Coasters gotta sleep), or the insipid work of broadcaster X or Y. But I won’t. From Game 2 of the Series to Game 5; from Greg Bird’s ALDS homer to Enrique Hernandez’s three-dinger NLCS night; from Stephen Strasburg surviving the scourge of hotel-room mold and throwing seven shutout innings to Charlie Morton slamming the door in Game 7, this postseason gave us glorious baseball near-nightly, the kind that had even disinterested fans whooping at the television. I would contend we all needed that.
Now, though, after that October? We need some rest.