Monday, October 30, 2023

Waiting for the Hot Stove to Ignite

As the World Series plays out, I find myself eagerly looking forward to what I hope will be a transformative Hot Stove season for the New York Mets.

I haven't written much for the blog this month. I lost interest years ago in any MLB playoffs that don't include the Mets. Unfortunately, that is an all too common occurrence in my lifetime. Since the Mets fell to the Dodgers in the 1988 NLCS, they've completed 35 seasons, including this one, and made the playoffs only six times. There was a time when I would have some interest in the playoffs, rooting against teams like the Braves and Phillies, but I no longer feel strongly enough about any other team to waste the energy it takes to hate-watch their playoff series.

I've reached a significant age milestone this month. As a result, I've become more contemplative than I used to be. I chuckled a bit at the overreaction in the normally sycophantic Braves media over another early dismissal in the playoffs. Still, it didn't make me feel better about how the Mets season went.

After beating Atlanta for the second consecutive time in the playoffs, the Phillies were anointed a team of destiny — until they weren't any longer. Twenty years ago, I would have watched them get bounced out of the playoffs with relish. But I didn't turn on game 7 of their NLDS series against the Diamondbacks or even check the score. However the Phillies or Braves feel about their seasons, they did better than the Mets did just by giving their fans a chance to watch their team play October baseball, even if they were ultimately left disappointed. I'll spend my energy hoping the Mets are part of the playoffs next fall.

Every year, as the cream of MLB's crop gets eliminated by clubs like the 84-win Diamondbacks or the Wild Card Rangers, there are a significant number of baseball scribes who either wring their hands over the upsets or give the upstart clubs like Arizona way too much credit. The Diamondbacks supplanted the Phillies as the team of destiny, but the Rangers have their own case to make in that regard. No matter how the World Series turns out, some team will be given a post-dated air of inevitability, as if the playoffs really couldn't have gone any other way. Meanwhile, other pundits will still bellyache about the MLB playoffs' "failure" in producing a matchup of great teams in its Fall Classic.

I wrote about this subject last October, and my feelings certainly haven't changed in the past year. When I was very young, I recall watching World Series games with my uncle. In those years, the best team in the American League played the best team in the National League. The World Series were the only playoffs that existed in Major League Baseball. The absolute best competing against the absolute best gave the Series a cachet that will never be matched by today's tournament-style competition. Hell, I remember the adults complaining when they split both Leagues into two Divisions to create an intermediate round of playoffs. This was blasphemy to the old-timers. But frankly, starting with four playoff teams still ensured that all of the included teams would be very good.

I remember folks complaining in those years when a Division winner wasn't as good as the second-place team in the other Division, such as in 1978 when the AL West-winning Royals only had 92 wins, exceeded by both the second-place Red Sox (99) and third-place Brewers (93) in the East. But even in the old days, the two best teams in baseball could be in the same League, with only one getting a chance to play in the World Series. For instance, in 1962, the Mets' first year of existence, the Dodgers and Giants both finished the regular season with 101 wins. The Giants won a best-of-three playoff series to advance to the Series (where they would lose in 7 games to the 96-win Yankees) while the Dodgers went home.

In 1994, MLB went to three Divisions in each League with a single Wild Card team added, although the strike/lockout canceled that year's playoffs. Once they did that, MLB playoffs were a true tournament, pretty much assuring that the World Series winner would often not be the best club coming into the playoffs but rather a team that got hot at the right time and got a few breaks along the way. With two Wild Card clubs in this year's playoffs, MLB will crown its eighth Wild Card champion this season. If you're a purist, you don't like that. If you're a Rangers or Diamondback fan, you likely don't care.

As for me, I'm waiting for the World Series to be over and MLB's hot stove season to kick into gear. I've watched little of the postseason and have no plans for that to change. But I can't wait to see what moves David Stearns might make to create a Mets roster capable of carrying them back to the playoffs next fall.

I understand that one of the big topics of discussion early on will be if Stearns can entice Craig Counsell to be the Mets' new manager. While I would love to see Counsell take the job, I'm not a big believer in the manager being a make-or-break choice for the club's ultimate success. It will be more critical for Stearns to create the deep 40-man roster that managed to elude Billy Eppler in his time at the helm.

Don't get me wrong, I'm hoping to see a strong manager in place who works well with the front office because that's part of the job requirement these days. But giving that manager a deep bullpen with which to maneuver and a strong roster of position players with the depth to overcome injuries will matter more than exactly who gets the manager's job.

For me, the real action will start when the World Series ends. If you're planning to tune in, I hope you enjoy watching. If you are a fan of one of the teams, congratulations. I hope I have the experience sometime soon of watching the Mets compete in a Fall Classic, even if it's all been a bit diluted by MLB's endless playoff expansion and the awful FOX broadcasts.

Be well and take care. The Hot Stove will start heating up very soon, and we'll be here to write about all of it.

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  1. I don't know that I need a hot stove here in the tropics, but I do miss the give and take, will they or won't they dialogs during winter's offseason. I agree with the lack of pure interest in the playoffs but I do confess a bit of smug satisfaction seeing Scherzer get an early exit for the Rangers. I am inwardly rooting for a surprise Arizona victory and Tommy Pham getting the World Series MVP to rub everyone's nose in it.

  2. I really think this is going to be a fascinating off-season to watch. I really don't have a clue which way Stearns will choose to go. Will be fun


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