Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Sunday, August 23, 2009
Updated: August 25, 2:05 AM ET
Baseball needs to consider the Buck Showalter Relocation Plan

ESPN.com

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

The Yankees beat the Red Sox on Sunday in the latest of their 18 meetings this season.

By Steve Berthiaume, ESPN

Sick and tired of Yankees-Red Sox? So am I, and I grew up in Boston going to Fenway Park. Every game is four hours long and they play each other 18 times a season. It's too much. It's way too much. The rivalry has become overblown and watered down. It's exhausting.

Let's apply the less-is-more philosophy here. As Duane Thomas once said, "If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

So, yes, 18 regular-season Super Bowls is overkill, and it's taking the fun out of it. There is an answer.

The NFL realigned its structure before the 2002 season, reassigning 11 teams within eight new divisions. That's worked out pretty well. The integrity of the MLB schedule could use an overhaul. Think the current schedule is fair or balanced?

Go ask the Orioles. Because of the current format's emphasis on divisional play, the Orioles have to play the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 18 times EACH. That adds up to 54 games against those three teams, meaning Baltimore is forced to play one-third of its schedule against three of the best teams in baseball. That's ridiculous. You think the Brewers or the Astros or any NL Central team faces a divisional schedule even remotely as difficult? The balance is completely out of whack.

This isn't just an AL East/Red Sox/Yankees problem, either. Here's the other, perhaps uglier side of baseball's unbalanced schedule. Let's use the NL Central as the example again. Going into last weekend, we on "Baseball Tonight" came across the somewhat depressing reality that Friday night's Reds/Pirates game was the first of 13 more scheduled meetings between two teams that have already combined to lose 140 games. Why, going into the second-to-last weekend of August, would we want a system that has the Reds and Pirates scheduled to play each other 13 MORE times? Ugh. We need to fix this. For that, we need the man with the plan, Buck Showalter. Buck has been kicking around his own realignment plan for a while now, and this weekend we talked him into explaining it on "Baseball Tonight." If you missed it, here's the short version …

First, contract two teams. Baseball almost did this a few years ago and it might be time to look at it again. We're back to "less is more." Which two teams go is an entirely separate issue, so let's not get bogged down in that argument here. For the purposes of this discussion, we contracted the two Florida teams -- so, Marlins and Rays, you're gone. That leaves 28 teams, which Buck has organized into four, seven-team divisions. There is no more American League and National League. That idea is archaic and goes away as well.

Every team plays every other team six times per season -- three at home and three away. There's your 162-game schedule. The idea embraces baseball's current love affair with interleague play; fans see every team, every year. It also gives you a uniform DH policy. You can decide for yourself if you want it or not; DH in or out. Either way is fine, but make a decision, everyone plays with it or no one does.

The Showalter Plan realigns as follows, with four divisions of seven teams each, arranged geographically to keep all divisions as much within the same time zone as possible -- another simple, common-sense idea. Gee, how novel. Here it is:

Buck Showalter Realignment Plan
Babe Ruth Division Jackie Robinson Division Roberto Clemente Division Hank Aaron Division
Yankees Dodgers Cubs Royals
Mets Angels White Sox Cardinals
Red Sox Padres Indians Rangers
Blue Jays Mariners Reds Astros
Orioles Giants Twins Tigers
Nationals Diamondbacks Brewers Braves
Phillies Athletics Pirates Rockies

Here's the No. 1 goal -- integrity of schedule. No team travels any more or less than any other. No team plays another good or bad team more or less than any other. Every team plays by the same rules, and every team plays every other team six times a season -- three home, three away. Every fan sees every team come to his or her ballpark every year. Buck's plan also creates true regional divisions with true regional rivalries. Let's get back to Red Sox-Yankees for a moment. You think it's a big rivalry now? Imagine how true a big-event feel the games would have if they only met six times a season? Now THAT would create a big buzz. That's a big deal, the true event that the games are supposed to be when they aren't watered down by the current 18-times-a-year overkill. The realignment also eliminates the 10 more times we still have to watch the Reds and Pirates play each other this season.

You can set up the postseason any way you want. The four division winners and two wild-card teams get in, with the two division winners with the best records getting first-round playoff byes. Best record gets home field for every series, which also eliminates the All-Star Game deciding World Series home field if you're not yet sold on that idea. If you want to make an argument for four division winners and four wild card teams in the postseason, that's fine. The networks would probably like that. Time to rest now. Realigning baseball's divisions is exhausting. Almost as tiring as watching the Yankees and Red Sox play 18 times every year. Enough already.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 20 | Aug. 19 | Aug. 18 | Aug. 17 | Aug. 16

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllHere is this week's leaderboard, with points still transferring between leagues despite Steve Berthiaume's protests.

Web Gem points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem points leaderboard
Ryan Zimmerman 40
Jack Wilson 37
Brandon Inge 34
Carlos Gomez 27
Mark Reynolds 27
Jacoby Ellsbury 27
Cristian Guzman 25

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 13
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 11
Jack Wilson Pittsburgh-Seattle Shortstop 9
David Wright New York Mets Third base 9
Four tied 7

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Pittsburgh 34
Washington 32
Cincinnati 29
Philadelphia 27
Boston 24
Minnesota 24
New York Mets 24

BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12:30 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Peter Gammons, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: RETURN OF THE OLD BARRY ZITO?

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS26ParraBot 4: 3-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
Miguel Cabrera, DET25WuertzTop 8: 0-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Curtis Granderson, DET24TomkoTop 1: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Hideki Matsui, NYY23BeckettTop 8: 2-2, 2 Outs. None on.
Michael Cuddyer, MIN22FarnsworthTop 7: 1-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Hideki Matsui, NYY22BeckettTop 2: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Alex Rodriguez, NYY22BeckettTop 5: 3-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

WEB GEMS

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Ubaldo Jimenez, who beat Tim Lincecum and the Giants on Sunday as the Rockies stretched their NL wild-card lead to three games:

Ubaldo Jimenez (2009)
April-May June-August
W-L 3-6 9-3 *
ERA 4.37 2.83
BA against .267 .207
BB per nine innings 3.9 3.1

* Won six consecutive decisions

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Eric BruntlettEric Bruntlett did something that had been done only once before in baseball history: He finished a game with an unassisted triple play as the Phillies held off the Mets in a 9-7 win at Citi Field. With the Mets putting the runners in motion with no outs in the bottom of the ninth, Bruntlett caught a line drive from Jeff Francoeur, stepped on second to double up Luis Castillo, then tagged Daniel Murphy to end the game.
WORST
Josh Beckett• Paging Josh Beckett, paging Josh Beckett. He served up five homers in an 8-4 loss against the Yankees. Homers have been quite the problem for Beckett. Over his past three starts, he has given up 10. In his previous five, he had not given up a single one.

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Phillies at Mets, 1:10 p.m. ET

The Mets endured a game-ending triple play in Sunday's loss against the Phillies. They can't be feeling much better about coming to Citi Field on Monday, since waiting for them will be Cliff Lee, who is only 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA in four starts since jumping from the Indians to the National League.

Giants at Rockies, 8:40 p.m. ET

Barry Zito is having a solid August, going 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA over four starts. Jason Marquis is also 2-1 this month, but he is carrying around a 4.15 ERA. The Rockies lead the Giants by three games in the NL wild-card race.

Tigers at Angels, 10:05 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The two division leaders come in under similar circumstances. How similar? The Tigers are 6-4 over their past 10 games. The White Sox, the second-place team in the AL Central, are 5-5 over their past 10. The Angels are 6-4 over their past 10 games. The Rangers, the second-place team in the AL West, are 5-5 over their past 10.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Jered WeaverJustin VerlanderMonday's matchup between the Tigers and Angles features a pair of division leaders and a pair of the AL's best arms in Los Angeles' Jered Weaver (13-4, 3.89 ERA) and Detroit's Justin Verlander(13-7, 3.29 ERA).

The power of Verlander's fastball is well known, but the quality of Weaver's slider is often underrated. Weaver is likely to rely on his devastating slider as the Tigers are below the MLB average against sliders. The Tigers are also more likely to strike out on Weaver's top-notch slider.

Slider breakdown (2009)
BA SLG Strikeouts/PA pct.
BA against Weaver .138 .230 31.9
Tigers hitters .198 .283 28.8
MLB average .222 .353 28.1

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the nine games on Monday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes