Today's the last day of the MLB regular season (I don't know what's going on with that Marlins-Mets makeup game Monday). It seems like the season has sped by more quickly than any other season I've watched.
There is still a whole postseason to watch -- and it will be agonizing -- but while there's a break in the action, I thought I'd run quickly through some things that I liked and some things I didn't like about the 2023 season. I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff, because I didn't take very long to dwell on things -- and, frankly, I spend most of the baseball season watching my Dodgers and ignoring everyone else.
But here's what I've got:
The pitch clock
For the previous 15-20 years, if you wanted a fairly quick Major League Baseball game like we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, you had to hope that a notorious quick worker was on the mound, like Mark Buehrle or Jon Lieber. Otherwise, hold onto your butts, you could be sitting for 4 or 5 hours per game.
I like watching baseball as much as I can, but I had just about had it with unnecessarily long games, and the pitch clock made viewing games so much more manageable. Of course, people had to whine about it, and certain players couldn't adjust early on, but a month or two in, everyone realized things were much improved. Yeah, I'm not crazy about a clock when baseball's best selling point is There Is No Clock, but when players abuse the system, you got to do something. So glad they did.
I loved stolen bases when I was watching the game as a youngster. I liked them just as much as home runs. I know they are not equal in terms of rate of return and all that by-the-numbers stuff but they were certainly equal in terms of excitement for me. I missed it when they grew out of fashion.
They were back in fashion this year and the individual leaders in stolen bases are starting to resemble the numbers from when I was watching back in the '70s and '80s. Here are the leaders this season:
NL: Ronald Acuna Jr. - 73, Corbin Carroll - 54, CJ Abrams - 45
AL: Esteury Ruiz - 67, Bobby Witt Jr. - 49, Julio Rodriguuez - 37
OK, the AL has a little work to do but this is so much better than five years ago when hardly anyone could even reach 40.
I was prepared for a mediocre Dodgers season in 2023. They didn't seem fully committed in the front office and then all the pitching started falling apart. But I didn't count on the offense scoring 900 runs for the first time since the team moved to Los Angeles. The offense single-handedly has lifted the team to another division title while the pitching crumbled.
I've especially enjoyed watching Freddie Freeman this season. He has spent almost the whole year going 3-for-4 every single game. I think this has been his best season, although you could argue it was 2019 when he hit for a lot more power. He didn't get to 60 doubles, but 59 is bananas, like stuff people did in the 1930s.
The Padres still suck
I have watched teams load up with stars and fall on their faces since the early days of free agency in the late 1970s. The Padres were one of those teams back then and I guess they didn't learn from their original mistakes. You just can't be a perennial winner with solely a collection of hired assassins. But the Padres have been bumbleheads for as long as I've been a fan, and I hope it stays that way.
Oh, and guys like Soto and Machado are very easy to root against. I don't understand how some card collectors devote their entire missions to players like these.
For the first time in more than 10 years and just the fourth time in the last 25-plus years, my team won the All-Star Game!
I know due to the mushing of the leagues, devotion to one league is kind of an old-man's game, but I'll be devoted to the National League forever. It's just what's right. Admittedly I barely knew who Elias Diaz was when he hit the game-winning home run in the eighth inning, but for me 2023 will be the year that a Rockie finally did something right.
I am probably misremembering a little, but in my younger rooting days, it seemed like there was someone chasing a .400 batting average every year. No one ever did it, but it was exciting to see someone go on an extended run.
It seemed like it had been awhile when Luis Arraez (I have no card of him as a Marlin yet, but they're mostly just photoshop jobs now) started his quest, which lasted into July or so. Just like stolen bases, batting average seems irrelevant today, but seeing someone chase .400 is still exciting, a lot more exciting than someone shooting for an OPS-Plus goal.
The Yankees were mid
Won't say they were bad because they reached.500, but they didn't go anywhere and for a long time that's been an indicator of a successful season in my rooting circle, the Yankees didn't go anywhere.
The Phillies are back in the postseason
I'm not a big Phillies fan or anything -- Brandon Marsh has got to stop that hair thing he is doing -- but after their rise from No. 6 seed to the World Series, it's nice to see it wasn't a fluke.
I'll never be a fan of the wild card era and I'm hoping the new postseason format will limit the number of times a six seed sneaks into the World Series because I much prefer seeing two really good teams play each other in the final rather than one really good team and one riding a hot streak.
And I still dislike the 2014 Washington Nationals for who they let in.
OK, that was too many words!
The AL Central
The worst part of three divisions per league/conference in major sports is one division sucking beyond what any professional league should suck. Past leagues like the NFL's NFC Central and the NHL's Norris Division used to be examples of why baseball was better and now MLB has its own Norris Division -- the AL Central.
Part of me hopes that the Minnesota Twins somehow beat everyone for the Series title just to save the AL Central from joke status for at least one year. I don't think enough people talk about how awful the AL Central is and I can't help but think that it would be less of a black eye for MLB if we had the old AL East and AL West, which would look something like this:
1. Baltimore Orioles: 101-61
2. Tampa Bay Rays: 99-63
3. Toronto Blue Jays: 89-73
4. N.Y. Yankees: 82-80
5. Boston Red Sox: 78-84
6. Detroit Tigers: 78-84
7. Cleveland Guardians: 76-86
1. Houston Astros: 90-72
2. Texas Rangers: 90-72
3. Seattle Mariners: 88-74
4. Minnesota Twins: 87-75
5. L.A. Angels: 73-89
6. Chicago White Sox: 61-101
7. Kansas City Royals: 56-106
8. Oakland A's: 50-112
That looks a lot more professional to me than a whole division of teams drowning under .500. You could still do all your wild-card stuff with this configuration, too.
Even with the return to stolen bases and the elimination of the shift, it's pretty clear that teams are still relying mostly on home runs for their offense.
Nothing brings it into focus more for me than when I'm at work, compiling the MLB roundups for the games that night. Just about every summary, unless a pitcher happens to have really good day, is which players hit home runs? And it's home run after home run. Four, five a game, easily, for many games.
I was hoping for more singles and doubles this year. Maybe there have been. But nobody's writing about them.
Oh, I'm not devoting a category on this because I've complained about it enough, but I will always hold a grudge against MLB for what it did to extra innings.
About two weeks ago, it looked like a pretty peaceful postseason. The Yankees, Giants and Padres were out. The Reds and Mariners might sneak in. And the Astros and Diamondbacks were questionable.
Well we can't have nice things because the Reds and Mariners and Cubs imploded and now the Diamondbacks are in and, ugh, we're stuck watching the Astros again.
Put aside my dislike of them for the cheating scandal, I'm just sick of them. If they focused the camera only on Dusty Baker during their postseason games, I could handle it, but no, we've got to see Bregman and Altuve AGAIN and their .... fans in the stands (I'll be nice). Someone please eliminate them early.
It's pretty clear that the younger generation needs to have their props, their dances, their over-the-top celebrations. I don't get it, it seems to me like the game isn't interesting enough to them so they have to devise extra things to keep their attention.
That's probably not the reason, they're probably just having fun, but it's goofy as hell -- seeing every Dodger doing "The Freddie" at second base. But, hey, some of it makes decent baseball cards, so I don't mind that much ... just as long as they're not damn short-prints.
Really terrible teams
The Kansas City Royals weren't quite terrible enough to finish in the top 10 of my earlier post about the worst teams since I became a fan, although seeing Zack Greinke go 1-15 with a plus-5 ERA was painful.
But the Oakland A's stayed on pace and finished with a .309 win percentage, which is the fourth-worst since the late 1970s. Only the 2003 and 2019 Tigers and the 2018 Orioles were worse.
It seems that there's a really awful team in baseball almost every year now and that's not good for baseball. Sometimes I think we need to focus our attention a little less on OMG, OHTANI HIT ANOTHER ONE and how to fix teams like the Oakland A's.
But baseball is here to make us feel good so I get it.
Hope you enjoyed at least some of the 2023 season. And if your team is in the postseason, I hope your October experience doesn't ruin everything.
My expectations are low, so I don't plan on having my heart crushed this year.
P.S.: Acuna deserves the MVP (sorry, Mookie). Also, RIP, Tim Wakefield and Go Bills.