The results of both American League Division Series this year pointed up the importance of having a good bullpen.
And that's the case both for the winning team in one series and the losing team in the other.
I've noted this before, but if the Detroit Tigers had a bullpen trio consisting of Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, they'd likely still be alive in the American League playoffs instead of making winter plans. Manager Brad Ausmus' inexplicable failure to use Al Alburquerque -- his one truly effective reliever all year -- until Sunday, when it was almost too late, likely cost the Tigers at least one game (Game 2, where they had a three-run lead in the eighth inning) and definitely ruined their chances to come back from a one-run deficit in Game 1.
The Cubs have a way to go yet before they'll be playing in October. But once they do, Theo & Co. appear to have put together a pretty good late-inning bullpen, something absolutely needed for success in the postseason. This isn't something new for the Tigers, either. Bullpen failures cost them a chance to go to the World Series each of the last two years and general manager Dave Dombrowski was either unwilling or unable to do what was necessary to fix the problem.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals put together a seventh-eighth-ninth inning combination of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland that was even better than the Cubs', and that was one of the biggest reasons we saw the Royals in the postseason in the first place. We are living through a baseball era where run-scoring is at its lowest ebb since the 1970s. I don't think KC is doing this by design (Dayton Moore isn't that smart), but the Royals won games both during the regular season and postseason with pitching, speed and defense. Oh, and a few well-timed home runs, four of them in the three games against the Angels. It took the regular season's first 13 games for the Royals to hit four home runs -- and then they did that again at the end of the year, four homers in their final 13 regular-season games.
And then four in the division series, including a game-winner. Because baseball.
The Angels also might have lost because they made one poor roster decision: Not including Tony Campana on the Division Series roster. Campana, as we all know, is a one-dimensional player. He's very, very fast. That's the sort of skill that a team can absolutely use in a short series, yet, when the Angels needed a pinch-runner in Game 2, they had Collin Cowgill, who stole four bases in 93 games in 2014. Cowgill was thrown out on a close play, one on which Campana would have almost certainly been safe and possibly scored a run that might have won the game for the Angels. That's because manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto decided they'd rather have Vinnie Pestano, an eighth reliever, on their playoff roster.
You don't need eight relievers on a playoff roster. Like, ever. Pestano finally got into a game Sunday, retiring two batters after the Royals had chased C.J. Wilson in the first inning. Big whoop. Scioscia wound up using seven relievers Sunday, including one of his regular-season starters, Hector Santiago, perhaps only for spite. ("Here! I've got all these pitchers and I'm just going to use as many as I can! Maybe they'll get a participation trophy!")
Anyway, I'll give Theo & Co. credit here. They seem to understand the importance of building a good bullpen for success, the way baseball is being played in the 2010s.
On to the TBS announcers.
Let's stipulate right now, first and foremost, that there is absolutely no need for three announcers in a baseball broadcast booth. Like, ever. There's simply not enough time for two other men to make cogent commentary after the play-by-play guy has described the action. I understand the network is trying to make baseball more accessible to the casual fan, but what they're accomplishing is making a bloated mess.
The network's lead announcer, Ernie Johnson Jr., simply does not belong in a baseball play-by-play booth. He's won several Emmys for his hosting of pre- and post-game shows, mostly for the NBA. That's where he belongs. His voice sounds like someone stuffed rags into his cheeks and told him to keep them in one place throughout the broadcast. It also seems clear that they must have had long meetings after Johnson's poor performance during the A.L. Wild Card game, a game for the ages during which Johnson sounded like he was either bored or sleepy or both. They must have told him to ratchet up his excitement level, after which he sounded like a guy with rags stuffed in his cheeks trying to sound excited.
It doesn't help that Ron Darling, whose voice also has a laid-back tone, was paired with Johnson. Darling's analysis is pretty good, but the two of them together are somnolent. Cal Ripken Jr., who doesn't do much TV work and has been okay in studio settings, is completely out of place in a play-by-play booth; at times he was barely audible.
I'm not a big fan of field reporters, as they usually add little to the broadcast. Matt Winer's interview with a longtime Royals season-ticket holder during the wild-card game was embarrassing. The rest of the time, Winer was more or less invisible, before asking pretty generic questions of Royals players after their win Sunday. Again, there's so little time for extra voices, and now they've got four of them? If national networks insist on field reporters for postseason events, then dump the third man out of the booth. The whole broadcast would sound better.
The second broadcast team was somewhat better. I've written here before that I like Brewers games during the regular season. At least with him, TBS has someone who does baseball play-by-play on a regular basis. Again, that booth suffered with extra voices. Joe Simpson, a longtime TBS stalwart who used to call Braves games with Skip Caray, is decent enough, and I thought Dennis Eckersley had some useful insights, but again, there's really not enough airtime for both of them. Jaime Maggio, assigned to this series as field reporter, was an afterthought, rarely seen nor heard., who calls
TBS also gets demerits for mediocre coverage of the end of the Royals series. When the last out of the game that won the series was made, we saw a bit of the players jumping around and then... George Brett? I mean, sure, Brett's a Royals icon, but he's not the story. The team and the fanbase, who has waited 29 years for this moment, are the story. Yet we saw little of the crowd at the K. A couple of fans with signs was about it; instead we got more shots of Brett and of Angels looking sad.
I will give TBS credit for keeping the scorebox the same as they've had it the last few years, and in the same position (upper left) on the screen. Fox keeps messing with its scorebox, both in position and design, apparently just because they can, and I don't care for a scorebox in the lower left, where it's away from your normal eye-contact position. TBS and MLB Network both outdid Fox on graphics, by a wide margin.
Sadly, we'll get the same crew (Ernie Johnson, et al) for the ALCS starting Friday when the Royals face the Orioles in Baltimore. I'll have some thoughts on the N.L. broadcast crews on Fox and MLB Network when those series are over. Those series resume late this afternoon; a game thread will post at 3 p.m. CT.