It’s said that good pitching trumps good hitting. I don’t always subscribe to that theory but this year, it works for me. So with the Division Series done with, we’re left with 4 very good teams, any of whom could advance to the World Series. But I’ll go with the teams with the “Aces” and pick Houston and their home advantage over New York in 5 and the surprising Washington Nationals over St. Louis in 7.
In the AL, both teams have pretty solid, comparable hitting but you have to give the nod to the team with home advantage (where they won 60 games this season) and have Gerritt Cole (25 K, only 3 walks, 6 hits in 15 2/3 innings over his two starts vs Minnesota) and Justin Verlander (1 win, 1 loss in his two starts but still… Justin Verlander!) not to mention Zac Greinke.
In the NL, the Cards showed they can hit with the best of them (I had for several months thought Ozuna was under-rated and a good player for Toronto to target this off-season to upgrade their OF hitting and defense; alas, with 6 runs, 9 hits and an .857 slugging percentage in that first series, one must expect his cost just jumped) but then, so can Washington. The Cards don’t have Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer, so even with the home advantage, look for those two durable super tossers to tip the scales in the Nats favor.
The Nationals were the last team to relocate in MLB, as we remember, moving south from Montreal in 2005. But commissioner Rob Manfred suggested we might see another move soon. He issued a veiled threat to Oakland politicians that the Athletics could be moved to Las Vegas.
The issue is about the stadium the A’s use – now called Oakland Coliseum, previously MacAfee Coliseum, previously Oakland Alameda Coliseum – and fans and players alike abhor. It’s been in use right back to the green-and-yellows West Coast start, over 50 years back. The structure was never ideal, and now is disliked for its old look, uncomfortable seating, small clubhouses and frequent issues with sewage overflowing. The A’s obviously want a new stadium, but they don’t have the finances to come up with a new state-of-the-art facililty themselves and the city, and Alameda Co. haven’t been too warm to the idea of them picking up the tab. To make matters worse, both the city and county co-own the field and the lot it sits on, and right now the city is suing the county over a plan the county liked to sell the stadium to the team, which could redevelop it.
Manfred referenced the NFL Radiers move out of Oakland and said “unless things change, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to watch the Athletics as well.” He later back-tracked on it, but the Oakland mayor is adamant that he suggested it to the council and specifically referenced “Las Vegas.”
To me, it would be a move which could make sense. Oakland’s stadium is apparently very outdated, and with sewage issues, not a desireable spot for a nice Sunday out. But even if they could get a new stadium, one wonders if that would be enough. While the Bay Area is a large metro area, baseball’s never been king there and the A’s always – always – seem to play second fiddle to the San Francisco Giants across the bay.
To whit, the Giants drew 2 708 000 fans this year, while winning 77 and coming in third in the NL West. The A’s, on the other hand, won 97, made it to the post-season via the Wild Card for the second year in a row, and brought in 1 662 000. that left them 18% below the AL average attendance.
Nor was that a “blip”. For Oakland, the attendance did rise a bit over 2018, and 2017 when their 1 476 000 left them 36% under league average, but still wasn’t good. A team with underdog personality makes the playoffs twice in a row and still draws about 5000 fewer fans a game than an “average” team. The last time they exceeded the league average was 2003. The Giants, on the other hand, have topped 3 million attendance 17 out of the 20 seasons this century, and winning or losing seems almost irrelevent to their fans. Granted a nice, new comfy stadium with plenty of boxes would probably appeal and help them draw more, but one has to question whether there is ever going to be enough interest in the team to bring out numbers, or enough interest in baseball to support two major league teams.
Las Vegas seems overdue, with a city population nearing 700 000 and a fast-growing metro area of 2 227 000, comparing decently at least to places like Kansas City and Minnesota. With its growing population and huge tourist trade, it would seem like a good spot for a team. And being in the far West, it wouldn’t require any shake up of the divsional structure. The A’s would still be a natural fit for the west.
The solution isn’t without problems though. Namely, no one seems to have come forward from Vegas to suggest they’d finance a team and its roster. More importantly, there isn’t a suitable stadium in the city. The AAA team, the 51s (or Aviators as they apparently have been renamed) play at Las Vegas Ballpark, a decent minor league facility with capacity of 10 000. Adequate for minors, not even close to major league ready. The move would necessitate a new stadium, and I dare say, with an average high of 100-degrees or more through most of the summer, a roofed one too (an opening roof would be ideal for those nice summer evenings or 75-degree desert April days). Who’s going to pony up for that, and how long would it take? Clark County isn’t likely to be much more accomodating than California’s Alameda County if they get asked to perhaps throw in half a billion dollars to help bring baseball to the city.
Bottom line. Baseball teams can move, and be successful. On the other hand, new owners and a new stadium can sometimes perform miracles for an existing one. Either way, I hope the A’s find a resolution soon. It’s too bad a team that has over-performed so much of late has so few fans and dollars to show for it.