Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 15 years. He answers questions weekly here:
Q. Why in the world did MLB adopt such crazy playoff rules that badly penalize the team with the best record? They cannot set their rotation until the two wild-card teams have their one-game shootout. And they won't have home-field advantage. This is nuts! — Don Kniffen, Crofton, Md.
A. Whoa, Don, I think you're a bit confused. One of the main reasons for the new format is to better reward division winners, while making it tougher on wild-card teams. And the do-or-die wild-card games (both of which will be played Friday) certainly will help accomplish that.
First of all, the wild-card teams will have to use their ace (and most likely, their key relievers) in those games. That means their ace will only appear once in the ensuing LDS. And I disagree with you — the division winners will get to set their rotations, and already have done so.
The top seeds just won't know who they're playing until after Friday.
Here's where there is potential for trouble, though:
The division winners will have home-field advantage in the five-game LDS round, but for this year only — and this is what you're referring to — a 2-3 format will be used. That means the first two games will be played in the wild-card teams' home parks, and the final three in the division winners' parks. And that very well could lead to an upset if a top seed has a bad first game or two.
This format was used for awhile in the 1990s, but was thrown out (and rightfully so) because of widespread criticism. Far more equitable is a 2-2-1 format in which the higher seeds are home for games one and two, and a deciding game five, if necessary.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But because commissioner Bud Selig rushed the added wild-card format into effect for this post-season — even though previous scheduling commitments left enough days only for a 2-3 LDS format that includes one travel day — we're stuck with this for one post-season.
You'll hear whining if this helps one of the wild-card teams upset a top seed. But at least it will go away for good in 2013, when the 2-2-1 format rightfully will return.
Q. Do you think the Giants starting rotation is strong enough to counter the Nationals' and Reds' offensive power? And I hope you realize the Giants schedule against the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Padres has not been that difficult. — HB Eckmann, San Francisco
A. Other than Matt Cain, who should finish in the top five of the NL Cy Young Award race, the recent performances of Giants starters are reason for concern.
Madison Bumgarner put together his best overall season, but in his last seven starts, he's 2-4 with a 5.89 ERA.
After an alarmingly bad first half, it looked as if Tim Lincecum had things straightened out. Post All-Star Game until mid-September, he went 7-4 and lowered his season ERA from 6.42 to 4.91.
But location and velocity issues returned in his last two outings, in which he allowed 11 runs, nine hits, six walks and four home runs in 10 innings. And while he's in the post-season rotation, who knows what to expect?
And Ryan Vogelsong has fallen off the cliff after sniffing the NL ERA lead in the first half. His alarming first half/second half ERA split is 2.36/5.11 — possibly putting Barry Zito back in the post-season rotation plan.
So to answer your question, I think the Giants are going to have their hands full with either the Reds or Nationals in the first round. And in fact, the Reds are my pick to come out of the National League.
A couple of other things to keep in mind with the Giants:
As you mention, they have taken advantage of a relatively soft NL West down the stretch(although the D-backs played them very tough all season), and this in part has helped them pump up their second-half offensive numbers. In fact, since the All-Star break, only the Brewers scored more runs than the Giants. But it might be a different story facing top-level pitching staffs in the playoffs.
Also, as masterfully as Bruce Bochy has handled the bullpen this season (I believe he's the best in the game in this area), there is no Brian Wilson at the back end of games.
Sergio Romo has been very effective as the primary closer, but he has been handled very carefully all season, pitching on three consecutive days only twice. And in the post-season, a shared-closer situation never is as good as a shutdown closer such as Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman.
But keep in mind, I didn't like the Giants' chances heading into the 2010 post-season, either.
Q. Hi, Tony. I can't remember all the players who hit home runs over the moon deck (right-field roof) at Forbes Field. A few who come to mind are Babe Ruth, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell. Can you list all of them? — Jack Majcher, Altoona, Pa.
A. I've been around quite awhile, Jack, but Forbes Field (closed in 1970) was long before my time. Fortunately, there is a list, and you correctly remember three of the 11 players on it:
Stargell leads with seven, followed by Eddie Mathews (2), Bob Skinner (2), Rusty Staub, McCovey, Wally Moon, Jerry Lynch, Mickey Mantle, Ted Beard and Ruth.
The Bambino's blast in 1935 was his last — No. 714 — and the earliest on this list.
Q. Two outs, runners on second and third. Batter hits a ground ball and before he reaches first base safely — in this order — the lead runner crosses home plate, and then the second runner gets tagged out. Does the run count? — Nick Nguyen, Epworth, Iowa
A. Since there is no force-out in play in this situation, yes, the run would count. The lead runner crossed the plate before the third out was recorded.
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