In a very clear way, the 2018 All-Star game in Washington D.C. last week was representative of the current state of the sport of baseball. The ten home runs hit set an all-time record for the Midsummer Classic, nearly twice as many as the previous high of six.
That long ball production is indicative of the season, which is on pace to see more home runs than any other year in baseball ‘s long history. That statistic is not the only record that will be eclipsed in 2018, and the All-Star game reflected that as well.
Players are striking out twenty five percent of the time now, a frequency that will result in a record number of strikeouts in 2018. It came as no surprise then that the pitchers in the Midsummer Classic fanned twenty five batters in total.
Just as that highly promoted contest highlighted the sport’s reliance on the homerun and the strike out, it was another game a week earlier that served as a microcosm of some of baseball’s biggest problems. Commissioner Rob Manfred and the officials around the sport would rather ignore that game, which would be easy to do considering how few people actually saw it.
The Tampa Bay Rays played the Marlins in Miami on July Third, an intrastate battle that should have created all kinds of excitement in the home of Spring Training and three pennants. To underscore the serious attendance problem baseball has had there for over two decades, only six thousand people were in attendance.
The game itself went sixteen innings, dragged on almost six hours, and featured forty four different batters between the two clubs. Eighteen different pitchers took the mound, in addition to the three others who were called up on to pinch hit and or play a position at some point during the Sunshine State Bore-a-thon.
When it finally ended, an estimated two hundred fans remained in the seats. Miami’s front office rewarded those few loyal souls by handing out two free tickets to each one.
A better gift for them, and most other baseball fans, would be for the sport to adapt the extra innings rule started in the Minors this year. If tied after nine innings, each team starts the extra frame with a runner on second. That situation would almost guarantee that a game would be decided long before the sixteen innings it took before Tampa Bay finally beat Miami.
Besides reinforcing the fact that games are too long, that night also exposed another issue that plagues the sport. It must force the National League to adopt the designated hitter rule.
Because they were playing at Miami, the Rays had to allow their pitchers to hit. This stipulation might not be a new problem for the starting pitchers, who have been used to getting at least one plate appearance in an inter league game on the road.
However, having to bat poses a real problem for the multitude of relievers on the staff, for most of them never swing a club all season. What can happen when they are forced into such a role, is exactly what happened to a Tampa reliever that night.
Left hander Vidal Nuna injured a hamstring while running to first base after hitting a grounder, causing him to be placed on the ten day disabled list. The injury would never have occurred had baseball enforced a universal DH rule, and it also might have been avoided had the extra innings rule been used at the Big League level instead of just the Minors.