Boston Red Sox

McAdam: New playoff format just what MLB needs

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McAdam: New playoff format just what MLB needs

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The temptation is to say, enough, that when it comes to the playoffs less is more, and that an expanded playoff format will serve only to water down October.

That's the temptation.

The reality is far different. Adding a wild card entry in each league, starting this October -- which MLB is poised to do -- is actually, counter-intuitively, a good thing on several fronts.

Let us count the ways:

1) It will sustain interest in more cities for a longer period of time.

Look, football is king of the sports hill. There's no sense arguing that point. Once September arrives, football -- college, but especially the NFL -- blots out the sun.

Fantasy league and office pools dominate and the NFL rules the late summer and early fall. If you live in a city with an NFL franchise and an out-of-contention baseball team on Labor Day, chances are you won't think much about baseball again until the World Series.

But if the opportunity exists for more baseball teams to remain in the post-season hunt, baseball has a fighting chance to maintain fan interest into the fall.

Just the hint of contention is enough to engage a fan base. Look at how fans responded in recent seasons in cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati and other places where the playoffs had become rare occurrences.

What's more, one playoff appearance can jump-start interest for years to come. Since the Brewers ended a long post-season drought in 2008, they've drawn in excess of three million fans in two of the last three seasons.

2) Expanding to 10 playoffs teams -- five in each league -- doesn't constitute "watering down.''

The NFL has 32 teams and 12 make the playoffs, meaning 37.5 percent of the teams qualify. In both the NFL and NBA, more than half (53 percent, or 16-of-30 teams) get invited to the playoffs.

For baseball, one-third (10-of-30) will get to the post-season under the new format.

And remember, teams in baseball play 10 times the number of games that NFL teams do and almost exactly twice as many games as NBA and NHL teams play.

So, to review: it's still tougher -- by every measuring stick -- to get into baseball's post-season than any other sport.

Teams have to play more games and a smaller percentage of the field qualifies, enduring that the regular season still has meaning.

Speaking of which . . .

3) The new format will actually enhance pennant races.

When the current format was introduced in 1995, purists such as Bob Costas declared that we would never again see another true pennant race.

That was largely incorrect. In plenty of seasons, teams battled right down to Game No. 162 -- and sometimes beyond -- to see who would get to the playoffs.

Just last fall, two teams got in -- and two teams narrowly missed out -- thanks to the last few innings of the last few games of a six-month-long season.

Such exciting scrambles won't disappear under the expanded plan. In fact, the more teams involved in the race, the more excitement is generated.

And now, teams will have added incentive down the stretch because . . .

4) The new format places a premium on winning your division.

One of the flaws of the current format was that there was little advantage to finishing first versus coming in second as a wild-card entrant. It meant the difference of a couple of home games and nothing more.

Recall that in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees approached the final days and weeks of a division race with complete indifference. It was plainly evident that neither team placed any importance on finishing ahead of the other, simply because there wasn't much at stake.

But now, there's a distinct advantage to finishing first rather than second as a wild card: The three division winners will each get first-round byes and will be given an extra day or two to sort out their pitching.

Wild card teams, on the other hand, will be forced into a one-game showdown with one another.

Now, if two teams are tied for the division lead on the final weekend, there's plenty for which to play. Win the division and you're rewarded with some time to put your rotation in order and don't have to face the prospect of a single loss ending your season.

5) The one-game playoff format will do monster TV ratings.

For a generation of sports fans weaned on the "win-or-go-home'' set-up in the NFL playoffs and March Madness, the wild-card round will produce instant allure.

Some of the highest-rated playoff games in recent baseball history have been the play-in games (think Colorado-San Diego in 2007; Minnesota-Chicago in 2008; and Detroit-Minnesota in 2009).

Even casual fans are drawn to the allure of the "one-and-done'' drama. Now, the first-round games have the potential to lure in casual fans and keep them interested for the remainder of the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series.

Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

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Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

BALTIMORE - Chris Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Boston Red Sox moved to the brink of clinching a playoff berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his last pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox, who reduced their magic number for reaching the postseason to one. If the Angels lost to Cleveland later Wednesday night, Boston would be assured no worse than a wild-card spot in the AL playoffs.

The Red Sox, of course, would prefer to enter as AL East champions. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees with 10 games left.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.

Sale notches his 300th strikeout of the season

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Sale notches his 300th strikeout of the season

BALTIMORE — One of the greatest seasons for a pitcher in Red Sox history saw a milestone toppled Wednesday night. 

In a dominant start vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards, Chris Sale became the first American League pitcher this century to strike out 300 batters in a season. He also put himself in striking distance of the Red Sox single-season record for Ks, 313.

Sale is the 14th different pitcher since 1920 to reach the 300 mark. The only other pitcher to do so in a Red Sox uniform was Pedro Martinez, who set the club record of 313 in 1999.

Sale was at 12 strikeouts and 99 pitches through seven innings Wednesday night with the Sox ahead 6-0. The offense added two more runs in the top of the inning, prompting Sox manager John Farrell to warm up righty Austin Maddox.

But Sale nonetheless took the mound. The first two batters of the inning grounded out. On a 2-2 pitch to the left-handed hitting Ryan Flaherty, Sale threw a front-door slider that caught Flaherty looking. It was his 111th pitch of the night.

Sale has two more scheduled starts, although he may only make one more. 

His final appearance of the regular season projects to be Game No. 162 against the Astros. If the Sox have the American League East wrapped up, Sale could well be held out of that game. 

The Sox and Astros meet for four games to end the regular season at Fenway Park, and may be first-round opponents if the Indians maintain the best record in the AL and therefore home field advantage.

The last time a pitcher in either league struck out 300 was 2015, when Clayton Kershaw did so for the Dodgers.

Sale was in line for his 17th win Wednesday, tying his career high.