Puffing in the 2013 Baseball Playoffs
Posted October 1, 2013
A Guide to Find a Place to Smoke in the MLB Playoff Cities
This might be the year that Major League Baseball became the joke that has been many years in the making. The joke—perhaps "the lie" is a more accurate term—is that MLB still promotes itself as a true competitive sport. Oh sure, there's competition, but that competition has been made a mockery by two unsurprising events. The first is the ongoing scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). You already know too much about this and the multiple suspensions (you'll see some of those suspended back with their teams in the postseason) and how, against all odds, MLB's top dog, Bud Selig, went a long way towards making Alex Rodriguez a more sympathetic character than anyone thought possible. Let's not revisit that here.
The second ongoing scandal is the one of blown calls by well-meaning umpires who simply cannot keep up with the speed of the game and cover all the angles. If there were not more blown calls this year than in recent ones, they sure got a lot more notice and airtime. And that included balls and strikes.
If you've read this column the past few years, you know that I have favored the use of technology to get the calls right on the field. MLB's promise to take a vote at the November meetings on the expanded use of instant replay is little more than an attempt to put a serious gloss on the lie, er, joke. By basing the new system on a manager's challenges, MLB continues to show itself unwilling to take the step to the only logical end: Get the call right. Get all the calls right.
What if a manager exhausts his three challenges, losing them all, and a questionable call occurs? The umpires, seeing the flaw, reportedly have proposed a "doomsday trigger" that would allow them, the umpires, to request a replay so that they could review the play. Why not just review every significant/questionable play? MLB argues that would slow down the game too much. Well, not if replay eliminates managers coming out and arguing and if MLB were also to have an electronic system of calling balls and strikes.
We can go round and round on this. The bottom line is, in my estimation, that until MLB decides that getting all the calls right is paramount, the game is nothing more than entertainment. That's fine with me. I no longer have much of a rooting interest in any one team and a bad call won't necessarily affect my appreciation of a finely turned double play or a great catch or a monster home run. A lot of fans who do have a rooting interest will continue to argue the calls that have an affect on the outcomes of games, but when the tools exist to get it right, the idea that the game is more than a piece of theater remains a joke—or a lie?—until the governing institution of the game decides that the so-called "human element"—that is the inability of umpires to be in the right place at the right time all the time—is just not working.
The Regular Season
Wow. Talk about unmet expectations. Fans of the Blue Jays, Angels, Nationals and, as always, the Yankees when they don't make the playoffs, feel particularly let down this season. In Southern California, the Dodgers, with baseball's biggest payroll, and the Angels, with arguably the most badly invested payroll, took conversations down a road that is natural, but ultimately unhealthy, for baseball. Is Albert Pujols worth the money? Is Josh Hamilton? (It was, however, a pleasure to watch Mike Trout put in another MVP-worthy year.) It's all about money and, looking forward, about how much the Dodgers or another team might yet spend on free-agent-to-be Robinson Cano.
Clearly, the trades the Dodgers made late last year with the Red Sox and the Marlins have worked out for the Angelenos. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez have been especially productive. And you can't let talk of the Dodgers go without mentioning possible rookie of the year Yasiel Puig. Done. Puig has been mentioned, but he has a long way to go. In truth, the Dodgers pitched their way to the postseason. Clayton Kershaw is the best in the game right now and Zack Greinke is not far behind. Kenley Jansen, the closer, has been very consistent. The Dodgers had a great second half to clinch the National League West division and then get more ink for jumping into the pool of the vanquished Diamondbacks than maybe even the Syrian war for a couple of days.
The Red Sox went from worst to first in the American League East, had the best record in baseball, and did so without any league-leading performances from anyone. A lot of credit is given to John Farrell, the new skipper there, for calming things down after Bobby Valentine and for focusing the team on pulling together. This after Boston lost 93 games last year. Credit general manager Ben Cherington too for getting the right players in the right roles. A big part of Boston's success, it seems to me, is that the team had two great, fast outfielders: Jacoby Ellsbury, in center, and Shane Victorino, in right, for most of the season. There's ground to cover and tricky angles in Fenway. These two took away some hits and extra bases.
Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh played better than expected, while the Texas Rangers crashed again after leading by nine games. Oakland surprised no one who was paying attention and, unmoved by the Angels' acquisitions, won the AL West.
Detroit, led again by perennial, but oft-injured, MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on offense and by the stellar pitching exploits of Max Scherzer, who went 19-1 to start the season, won the AL Central, but looked vulnerable, especially given a weak year from ace Justin Verlander.
A tip of the hat to the Baltimore Orioles, mainly because that hat displays baseball's best logo, the Happy Bird, pretty much the main reason I still claim to be an O's fan. The O's teased everyone this year with a thoroughly entertaining offensive display led by Chris Davis, who broke the team's home run record. Adam Jones moved closer to showing he might become the superstar everyone thought he could be. The pitching staff killed the Orioles; making it possible for the team that last year won the most one-run games to lose the most this season. Oh well. Still love the bird.
The strongest division in all of baseball this year was the NL Central, where maybe the best baseball was played. Each of the first three teams won 90 games. Each made the playoffs. St. Louis showed again what a good farm system will do for you. I mean, Matt Carpenter? What a year. Yadier Molina showed why he might be the league's MVP, though he was injured a significant number of games.
I think Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen takes the prize, MVP that is, this year. He carried the Pirates for a good stretch and propelled them not only to a winning record, but also into the postseason for the first time in two decades. And he has a WAR of 7.7 to lead everybody. (Search "wins above replacement.")
Pittsburgh faces Cincinnati in a one-game playoff tonight to determine the wild card in the NL. The Reds benefitted from more than solid years from Joey Votto and Shin Soo Choo, both in the discussion for MVP. This'll be interesting. And Reds' second-baseman Brandon Phillips was again the highlight reel on defense, and contributed more than 100 RBI batting cleanup.
The year was a bust for fans in New York. The Mets, um, the Mets? What did the Mets do? Anyway, the Yankees toyed with doing well, but as injured Bombers' captain Derek Jeter put it, the season was a "nightmare." Multiple injuries to Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Texeira, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and others left manager Joe Girardi with a challenging juggling act. Ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia slimmed down and fans blamed his lackluster season on his no longer weighing 300 pounds. Really. The team had shed a lot of payroll by letting expensive veterans go, but then the Yankees had to go out and get some established players to fill in, especially former and now-current Yankee Alfonso Soriano, who provided a huge offensive spark. The old guys did a creditable job, but didn't do enough to get the Yankees into October.
There were three no-hitters pitched this year: one by Homer Bailey of the Reds; one by Tim Lincecum, who likely will move from the Giants next season; and on the last day of the regular season, one by Marlins' Henderson Alvarez against the Detroit Tigers.
Most notably this season, the Yankees' and baseball's all-time closer got to say his goodbyes in every stadium the team visited. Mariano Rivera showed why he is a class act and also showed he's human this year, blowing seven saves. Still, Rivera gave the Yankees reason to celebrate.
Okay, don't sleep on the A's. These young guys have a lot of mojo and a lot of speed and power. It's a pleasure to watch this team scrap. The question, as with every team in the postseason, is how well the pitching will hold up. The A's will play Detroit in the first round. I think it's a toss-up. The Tigers have the edge in pitching and have been hot, but the A's can beat you in a lot more ways than most teams. No intimidation factor here, and I'll pick the A's in five.
Boston, with the best record in the regular season, will play the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays beat Texas last night in a one-game playoff to determine the wild card. Boston will beat the Rays, probably in four.
Boston likely beats Oakland to go to the World Series. Just a lot more experience on the Red Sox.
The Braves play the Dodgers. St. Louis plays the wild card survivor, either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Either one beats the Cards. I pick the Dodgers over the Braves in five, but barel Matt Kemp is out for the playoffs and Andre Ethier is questionable. Still, the Dodgers have arguably the best two starters going in the playoffs. LA goes down to either the Pirates or the Reds in the NLCS.
The World Series
The winner of Pittsburgh versus Cincinnati travels to Boston for the home opener of the World Series. The weather will be bad during the whole series in both towns and the final game will be played in December at a neutral domed site, probably in Milwaukee. Okay, that last thing might be way off. Boston wins in six.
Where to Smoke in the Playoff Cities
American League CitiesArlington, Texas
Perfecto Cigar Shop & Lounge
306 Lincoln Square
Arlington, TX 76011
Arlington Cigar & Tobacco Club
827 N.E. Green Oaks Blvd.
Arlington, TX 76006
827 N.E. Green Oaks Blvd.
Arlington, TX 76006
745 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116
745 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116