Red Sox

McAdam: MLB ratings paying the price for parity

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McAdam: MLB ratings paying the price for parity

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Any day now, commissioner Bud Selig will probably point out, with great satifsfaction, that of the final four teams remaining in baseball's postseason, none was ranked higher than ninth in payroll during the regular season.

He'll cite the presence of the Detroit Tigers (10th in payroll) and the Texas Rangers (13th) in the ALCS, and St. Louis (11th) meeting Milwaukee (17th) in the NLCS as proof positive that competitive balance has been restored to baseball.

He may also make a subtle, passing reference to the fact that the top two biggest spenders -- the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies -- were wiped out in their respective Division Series and didn't survive the first round.

And, while he's at it, he could note that the next seven teams on the payroll leaders -- Boston, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, both Chicago teams, the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Minnesota Twins -- all failed to even qualify for the postseason.

Later this month, if anyone other than the Cardinals wins the World Series, Selig can point to the fact that baseball will have had seven different champions in the last seven seasons.

Of course, he'll be right on all those points. Hard to argue with the cold, hard facts, and the cold hard facts suggest that the game's revenue sharing plan is working as designed.

There may still be great economic disparity in the game, as evidenced by the 160 million or so gap between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. But big payrolls don't guarantee big results: Just ask the Red Sox.

Though it gets little credit for it, MLB has achieved the parity it long sought.

But that parity comes with a price, and the bill will come due when the national TV ratings are released for the two League Championship Series and, later, the World Series.

Already, the Division Series' numbers were down about 15 percent. And remember: The Yanks and Phils, which typically attract big ratings, were involved.

It didn't seen to help that three of the four Division Series went the maximum number of games (five) and that all three featured terrific contests in Game 5, each one decided by a single run.

If the presence of the Yankees and Phillies, plus highly competitive series' going the distance didn't help, what will?

Certainly not the Brewers, Rangers, Tigers or Cardinals.

All four might be compelling teams. The Brewers are in an LCS for the first time in almost 30 years. The Tigers are in search of their first championship since 1984. The Rangers have never won a title and have established themselves as a powerhouse.

But that's not going to translate into good TV numbers.

And that's where baseball has a major problem. They don't want the same, familiar teams -- Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies -- in the LCS and World Series every year, because people complain that, well, they're the same familiar teams and that's no room for underdogs in baseball.

But when those underdog clubs like the Brewers or Tigers play deep into October, people don't watch. Or, more to the point, not as many watch as when the Sox, Yanks or Phils are involved.

Talk about a conundrum.

If the teams people want to watch keep winning, baseball has to answer for its stacked deck and its over-reliance on a handful of big-market teams. And if less heralded teams go deep into the postseason, the competitive balance narrative improves, but the TV numbers sink as too many fans in big Eastern markets use their clickers to turn to football or other pursuits.

Even Mother Nature seems to be working against MLB. Twice, games pitched by Justin Verlander, the game's most compelling starting pitcher, have been interrupted by rain this month. Twice, games scheduled for prime time have been rained out and moved to afternoon starts, when TV numbers are a fraction of what they would be in prime time.

As baseball gets closer to negotiate new TV deals, it finds itself in a no-win situation: If the most popular teams dominate October (and ratings), the sport has to listen about the uneven playing field. Meanwhile, if some different clubs reach the Series, not enough people are interested.

Talk about a losing battle.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

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The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner savored every last stride as he followed in Kirk Gibson's famous footsteps at Dodger Stadium.

The red-bearded slugger from Southern California knew all about the history attached to this home run trot.

On the 29th anniversary of Gibson's celebrated pinch-hit homer that shocked Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener, Turner added another landmark shot to Los Angeles Dodgers postseason lore.

Turner hit a three-run drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

"One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma's house and watching that game in '88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," said Turner, who wasn't quite 4 years old at the time. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist-pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

The dominant Dodgers are two wins away after Turner drove in all four runs in Game 2 to keep Los Angeles unbeaten in the postseason.

He delivered a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey took a few steps onto a walkway and gracefully caught the ball in his glove on the fly.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Another generation of Dodgers fans now has its own historic homer, and these Dodgers are growing increasingly confident they can earn their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

Turner got swallowed up at home plate by another pack of ecstatic Dodgers, just as Gibson did. Unlike Gibson, Turner spiked his batting helmet after rounding third, allowing his unruly red hair to go as wild as the crowd.

"What's not to enjoy about it?" Turner asked. "We have an opportunity to bring a championship back to LA. It's been a long time."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches. Maddon said he wanted to save Davis for a potential save on the road, and Lackey would have pitched the 10th inning as well if the Cubs did not have a lead.

"Nobody is a really great matchup against Turner, so it just did not work out," Maddon said.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. After taking a slight free-agent discount to stay with the Dodgers last winter, he had another solid season before excelling again in October.

The All-Star third baseman is batting .377 with 22 RBIs in his postseason career. He is 13 for 18 with runners in scoring position (.722), including 6 for 8 this year.

And after a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games after splitting the first two.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the win with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner tied it moments later by poking a two-out single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the left-center gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out, but also was stranded.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired from Texas precisely for these moments, and he starts on seven days of rest.

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