What Did We Learn From The 2009 Division Series?

Parts of Wrigley Field are being resodded this month. Photo taken at 8:45 am, 10/13/09, from Wrigley webcam

Baseball's division series ended with a whimper, although many of the games were close and interesting; only one series, the Phillies and Rockies, ended without a sweep. The last season in which there were no sweeps in the first playoff round was 2003; this is the second time in the last three years where there were three sweeps in the four series.

Lesson learned (are you listening, Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella?): even a 90+ win team during the regular season can go through three games where they look bad and don't get breaks and have some bad luck and lose three games in a row. The Dodgers, for example, had a five-game losing streak not long before the regular season ended -- all to teams with sub-.500 records (Pirates and Padres). Yet, they righted their ship and beat the Cardinals three straight. As Cubs fans we hope the Cardinals overreact the way the Cubs did after losing last year's NLDS.

There were some monumentally bad umpiring decisions in the postseason so far; we cannot know whether these bad decisions cost teams games (although in the case of the two bad calls on the same play made in the wee hours of Tuesday in game 3 of the Phillies/Rockies series, it might have), but there is no doubt that the time has come to expand the use of replay review in baseball.

Lesson learned: give each team two "red flag" replay review requests per game. This would include the HR replays now permitted (but exclude ball and strike calls -- everything else would be reviewable). It would involve strategy on the part of the managers; do you use your replay on a trapped/caught fly ball issue in the first inning of a scoreless game, or do you save it for later? Doing this would eliminate virtually all of the yelling, screaming manager/umpire arguments, reduce ejections and suspensions, and get nearly every close call like this right. To speed up review, add a fifth umpire to each crew; he would sit in the press box and review calls as needed. He would also serve as the official scorer, taking this job away from sportswriters (who shouldn't have it in the first place).

Pitching is king in the postseason: no team scored more than seven runs in any of the 13 games so far, and six of the games were decided by one run. And, as Mitch Williams pointed out on the MLB Network last night, one of the reasons baseball is a great game is "youneverknow": three lights-out closers during the regular season, Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan, got lit up during key postseason innings, and Brad Lidge, who had one of the worst years for a closer for a playoff team in recent memory (if not ever), nailed down two wins for the Phillies.

Lesson learned: well, maybe there isn't one here, except that luck can be involved in any of these games, and of course, in a five-game series each game's result is more magnified. Street and Papelbon blew two saves each this year and Nathan blew five. Over the course of a long season, that doesn't ultimately matter if you save enough of your other opportunities (Kevin Gregg, for example, didn't). But in a short series, one blown save or two can be fatal. It doesn't mean that Papelbon, Street or Nathan can't be or won't be trusted next year -- or that Lidge couldn't suddenly BE trusted after having a miserable regular season and being yanked from the closer job.

TBS did a somewhat better job visually, covering this year's division series, than they did last year. (That wasn't hard, as they were awful last year.) I liked the strike-zone box, left in the corner of the screen, showing the pitch location for each at-bat, but only from the CF camera, not interfering with other shots. They still have a long way to go -- and with their limited number of sponsors, the constant repetition of advertising got unbelievably annoying after a while.

Lesson learned: Brian Anderson, the Brewers' main PBP announcer, was the best of the four. One thing he did that every other PBP man on a short series should do: he made excited calls for good plays for both teams. There was no way to tell whether or whom he was rooting for -- the mark of a good national announcer. Anderson should get more national attention. And Dick Stockton should be sent out to pasture, already.

Finally, I've had enough with the champagne celebrations for winning the division series. Doing that if you win a postseason spot during the regular season: fine. That's celebrating a full year of accomplishment. Doing it if you win the league championship series: fine. That's celebrating winning your league pennant. Doing it for winning the World Series: fine -- obviously. But doing it for winning a division series? What have you done, actually? Win three of five games to move to the next round. Stow the champagne for that, please.

Enjoy the break before the league championship series begin. I've put a poll on the right sidebar asking who you think will win the World Series out of the four remaining teams.

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