- Grove City, Pennsylvania

September 25, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Postseason participants don't have to be perfect teams

By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist

OPINION — Rounding the bases…

First Base: With all the handwringing in Pittsburgh over the Pirates’ failure to match their first-half play (50-31) during the second portion of the season, much of the same is going on in other baseball cities about their teams as well.

The one exception is in Los Angeles, where the last-place-in-late-May Dodgers exploded to clinch their division title easily.

The truth is that any team invited to the post-season party can lose eight games and still be the World Series champion.

By extending each of the three playoff series (going 3-2 in the division series, then 4-3 in both the league and inter-league series), a team would win 11 (or 12 if the wild card becomes the champion) games while losing eight.

Second Base: Despite the never-ending laundry list of blunders compiled by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, here’s one he got right: the wild card format created last year.

I never liked the old system’s one wild card, which Selig needed to complete the field for each league’s playoff system.  The wild card team played the team with the best league record in a best-of-five series before the best-of-seven league and inter-league series. A wild-card team could get a semi-run and, by winning three games, oust the team with the best record.

I like the one-and-done approach, which has the two wild cards play one game for the right to continue into the playoffs.

Let’s face it: A wild card is not the winner of any of the divisions; the three division winners in each league earned that position by finishing first after playing 162 — that’s 162, not five games.

By rights, any wild card team is lucky to be there; if baseball took only the division winners, the wild cards would be watching the playoffs on TV.

So what if it’s luck. A wild card team can blame only itself, putting itself in that position by NOT winning the division.

Third Base: How times have changed.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates won the 1960 World Series, the post-season consisted of at least four games but no more than seven. After the end of the regular season, there were no “playoffs”; instead, the winner of the two eight-team leagues met in one best-of-seven series.

Long-time Pirates fans will remember that the FINAL game of the 1960 World Series was played on Oct. 13. This year the FIRST game of the 2013 World Series is scheduled for Oct. 23.

This year, if the Series goes seven games, the deciding game will be played on October 31—Halloween.

Trick or Treat!

Home Plate: No matter where and when the Pittsburgh Pirates end the 2013 season, at least one Bucco will enjoy a big post-season honor.

You can set it in gold — as in gold glove: Andrew McCutchen will be the National League’s most valuable player.

Virtually everyone who has written about the MVP race agrees that McCutchen deserves his first MVP. This is unlike last season, when Cutch won back-to-back player-of-the-month awards in June and July, then faded with the rest of the 2012 Pirates.

In 2013, McCutchen saved his best baseball for August and September, his average hovering around .400 during the season’s final month. Among the league leaders in almost every category, Cutch has also “defended” his gold glove crown, gathering in baseballs that most other centerfielders get to on a bounce.

While Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Russell Martin have been double digits under the Mendoza line all month; while Starling Marte didn’t get in the batter’s box until Sept. 17; while Justin Morneau left his nine August home runs in Minnesota, driving in one lone run in his first three weeks in Pittsburgh — McCutchen joins Marlon Byrd as the entire Pirates offense this month.

The face of the franchise will be smiling at awards time — and not just because his team is in the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons.

McCutchen will be the MVP.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for Allied News.