5-at-10: MLB rule changes and thoughts, Baseball playoff chase and Braves need, Titans woes

Tennessee Titans linebacker Dylan Cole (53) covers a kick during an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Orchard Park, NY. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

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So, it’s a Wednesday. Yay. Better than Tuesday, and way, Way, WAY better than Monday.

It also is the day to allow all of us to take a deep breath after the dizzying Sunday of NFL football action.

Which means we can take a moment to analyze the upcoming MLB rule changes in earnest. We have discussed them of course, and mentioned them in wishful or fearful terms in recent years.

But now they are coming, like them or not, and we need to buckle up.

Before we get there, let’s examine a few of the post-COVID MLB changes and our thoughts.

Expanded playoffs to six teams in each league: What’s not to like truthfully. Once you start adding wildcards, six seems better than five, and I like the fact that the 2 seed earns a bye too. And with the exception of postseason football — which comes at the end of a grueling physical grind that makes extra rest invaluable — a bye in the ‘er’ months for baseball teams (i.e. getting rotations right) is huge.

Universal DH: The traditionalist in me thought I would hate this. In truth, I like it way more than I expected . Does it take some of the managerial tactics out of the game? Yes, but when guys like Brian ‘The Snit’ Snitker are prone to over-managing or ‘trusting their gut’ and then being dismissive in postgame interviews, what’s there to miss about that? 

Limits on mound visits: This has been a home run right? Who has a) knows anyone who has ever mentioned, “Man, I miss those four-minute delays when the pitching coach would sashay out to the mound to remind the middle reliever in the sixth inning of a 9-2 game that this guy does not like a nasty slider down-and-away;” and b) even noticed there’s a limit? (Two side questions: First, sashay, friend or foe? Second, is there any hitter ever that really enjoyed the ‘nasty slider down-and-away’ in the first place? Discuss.)    

As for the looming rule changes for the MLB, let’s take a look.

> The pitch clock. Ah, the 15-second clock between pitches — for hitters and pitchers mind you — will be added to the big leagues next season. It will be 20 seconds between pitches with runners on. It will feel strange, especially at first, and there are certain pitchers who will struggle with it more than others. (Looking at you Kenley Jansen, who is second this year among all pitchers with the base empty by taking more than 25 seconds between pitches. With runners on base, Jansen is the slowest-working pitcher in baseball at 31.5 seconds between deliveries.)

But even those of us who wonder how much a pitch clock will truly impact the time, well, it’s hard to argue with math. 

In 2021 (pre-pitch clock) for minor leagues, games averaged 3 hours, 4 minutes in 2021 and are averaging 2:38 with the clock this season. Yes, that number surprised me.

In fact, the brilliant Jayson Stark of The Athletic even charted the differences in time between the MLB and across Triple A last Wednesday, noting that Triple A has a 14-second pitch clock. The numbers will surprise you.

MLB: 14 games, average time 3:00, seven games over three hours, one game under 2:40;

Triple A: 13 games, average time 2:44, two games over three hours, seven games under 2:40.

That adjustment also will be strange for the hitters, who have to be in the box and ready by the 8-second mark. And the hitter can only step out once per plate appearance — somewhere Nomar Garciaparra weeps — and pitchers can only throw to bases two times per an at-bat (a third time throwing to a base is a balk if the runner is not picked off), which leads us to.

> Bigger bases and way, Way, WAY more value on the stolen base. The numbers will blow your hair back, and get ready because running will be cool again.

The bases and pitching rules in the minors have caused an average of 2.83 steal attempts in the minors this year. In the bigs, that number is 1.36 attempts per game.

How about this stat: The MLB leader in steals has 34; the Texas Rangers have eight minor leaguers with 32 or more steals this season. 

Giddy-up. (And while we’re here, Braves brass have to be giggling since Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris and even Dansby Swanson could steal at least 30 bases. And if he stays healthy and does not let the high inside fastball bother him, Acuña could be a 40-40 or even threaten to be a 50-50 guy.)

> And the big one, banning the shift.

So, fundamentally, I hate this idea. Regulating organic changes and strategery in sports is a dicey proposition. Are we going to say that the Warriors are too good and beat too many team by too much so teams can only attempt 25 3s per game? 

Because defenses are slowing modern football offenses, will we limit the number of blitzes allowed per half?

If scoring drops in hockey, will there be one period per game in which the goalie does not get to wear pads? (Now that would ratchet up some scoring friends.)

So, because MLB hitters can’t line the ball the other way — and MLB teams covet homers to a place that they do not want MLB hitters trying to shoot a ball to the opposite field — a ket strategical change will be banned.

Each team must have two infielders on each side of second, and they all must have their feet in the dirt.

Well, here’s betting that it’s going to create some different issues, at least from the start.

A lot of these pull hitters will see two-man outfields. Let’s take dead-pull lefty Matt Olson for an example.

Olson comes to the plate, and the left fielder sprints to hole in short right field that normally would be where the shifted infielder plays.

The right fielder gets a little deeper and the center fielder moves 20 feet or so toward left.

Matt Olson, who could not bunt or hit a ground ball through a barren left side of the infield is not going to easily be able to lift and launch a ball into the left field corner either. Especially with the pitching plan accounting for this shift.

Plus, the differences are not going to be as extreme, because even by the letters of the new rule, it does not put the players back in the traditional positions. Against Olson, the opposing shortstop will be one step to the left of second and the second baseman will be way in the hole.


Current chapter

Wow, that got wordy, but it needed to be discussed.

It also made me remember that with a little less than two weeks left in the season, we need a refresher on where we sit in the MLB chases.

The Dodgers and the Astros have clinched the West Divisions in each league.

The Mets (95-55) and Braves (93-55) are tied for first in the loss column, but the Braves trail by a game in the NL East. Each has clinched a postseason berth.

The Yankees (despite a free fall since early August), the Cardinals and the Guardians are leading the other divisions. Side note: Still not used to saying ‘Cleveland Guardians’ to be honest. Side question on the side note: When Disney acquires the rights to “Major League” are they going to have to put a disclaimer at the beginning of that sports comedy classic that it was culturally inappropriate? Asking for a few million friends.)

The current wildcard leaders are the Blue Jays, Rays and Mariners in the AL and the Braves, Padres and Phillies in the NL.

And while there are some intriguing wildcard storylines, the biggest things for all of us in the heart of Braves country is the chase in the East.

Atlanta has 14 games left; New York has 12. But that one game dividing those two teams could not be more important.

To that end, if the season ended today, the Braves are the 4 seed, which aligns them in a three-game set at St. Louis. That’s not a dream match-up in a crazed home-field environment for the Cards.

Win that series, get the rested Mets with their rotation set, which means at least double doses of Scherzer and deGrom in a seven-game series.

Win that series, and it’s like the Dodgers.

Comparatively, take the East, and let the Mets face that gauntlet.

Welcome to the ‘er’ months.

Local NFL quandary

We know the Falcons are bad. Like “should we tank” bad.

But are the Titans really as bad as the Bills made them look?

It’s a fair question that resonates across a lot of angles.

Is Ryan Tannehill a top 10 QB in this league? Is he in the top 20, then?

And if he’s somewhere between 10 and 20, how can you expect him to be consistently productive if his best target is a rookie from Arkansas?

Is Derrick Henry a guy who can be the best offensive player on a Super Bowl team? Did you know the last NFL leading rusher to lead his team to the Super Bowl was Shawn Alexander in 2005?

Yeah, the game’s changed a touch since then.

And without AJ Brown demanding a double team that road seems even more troublesome. 

This and that

— To no one’s surprise, the latest social media trend of cooking chicken in NyQuil is frowned upon by the FDA. I enjoy cooking and have gotten better at it. And never in that time did I think to myself, “Hey, this dish needs some zip. Let’s see what I have in the medicine cabinet.” 

— While the backlash about realignment has the Pac-12 and the Big 12 scrambling for new additions, the new kid on the block in the media rights bidding may provide a lifeline. (Side note: New Edition and NKOTB were two of the best boy bands ever. Discuss.) If Amazon makes a play for the broadcast rights for either of those leagues — or any of the others down the road — well hello viability. 

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on UT’s aims to contain Florida QB Anthony Richardson. 

— The President’s Cup is this weekend as the U.S.’s best golfers play a team of international players. The U.S. should cruise. 

— Still trying to see who all is left in the Eliminator. Will update tomorrow. It’s not a lot.

Today’s questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which new MLB rule is the best? Which is your least favorite?

Which team will win the NL East?

Which boy band was the best?

Which ‘local’ NFL team will finish with a better record, the Falcons or the Titans?

Answer some which ways, ask some which ways.

As for today, Sept. 21, let’s review.

On this day 100 years ago, Warren G Harding signed a resolution creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. (Side question: Warren G Harding is among the most forgettable US presidents ever, no? Heck, he’s not even the most famous Warren G.)

Couple of personal favs, Stephen King (75) and Bill Murray (72) celebrate birthdays today. I believe we have done Rushmores on each.

It’s also the last full day of summer. Sigh.

Rushmore of ‘summer’ and be creative.