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Playoffs give everybody something to gripe about

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

After two days of postseason baseball, we can say two things without fear of contradiction.

One, that people will demand instant replay for everything with a side of publicly executing umpires.

Rays manager Joe Maddon argues to no avail over a check-swing call that led to a home run. (AP)  
Rays manager Joe Maddon argues to no avail over a check-swing call that led to a home run. (AP)  
And two, that baseball sucks because there isn't enough hitting any more.

Eventually, we will get to the real purpose of the postseason, which is to call managers idiots, but the other stories have dominated the early games.

We know this because Joe Maddon and Ron Gardenhire have already been run from games, an unusual enough development. In addition, the only run in the Giants-Braves game was scored by a man who seemed to be out on a steal attempt moments earlier.

And we also know this because of this arcane little stat -- the six winning pitchers so far have compiled a total line of:

 44 1/3 innings
 19 hits
 7 runs
 6 earned runs
 8 walks
 48 strikeouts

In short, this is the average pitching line so far:

 7 2/3 innings
 3 hits
 1 run, earned
 1 walk
 8 strikeouts

By this reckoning, Tim Lincecum's 14-strikeout complete game shutout of the Braves on Thursday night was only slightly above the norm. And the only two managerial second guesses of the evening weren't even close to being worth the debate.

This is because when pitchers are as filthy as the Postseason Six have been, there isn't enough to argue about, which means there isn't enough to mock, which means the this-is-no-fun backlash is coming.

There is the American League turning into two quick boatraces due to the home teams, Tampa and Minnesota, being clipped dead in their tracks. The Rays, we know, are capable of moments like this, since they seem to be no-hit by someone every six weeks or so, and the Twins without Justin Morneau seem so much smaller than they are with him.

In the NL, Roy Halladay is suddenly being discovered as the best pitcher of the past 10 years, and the blame for this has been thoughtfully distributed between Halladay himself (for not being more of a zany character for our amusement) and the city of Toronto, which has been deemed insufficiently noticeable by people too lazy to understand that it is our job to go to the story, not the story's job to go to us.

And the Giants and Braves don't hit even under normal circumstances.

Why, if it weren't for Maddon and Gardenhire, both of whom had epic snaps, these games would struggle to have texture and depth beyond, "Those guys sure do pitch good."

But the pitching is always better in the postseason, because the pitchers are better. The games are longer, of course, because products must be flogged, and were so long that both Lincecum and Derek Lowe started spending extra time in the dugout between innings in San Francisco so they wouldn't get frustrated standing on the mound with nothing to do.

But mostly, the first six games have been a reflection of baseball's current trend toward less O. The batting average dropped five points MLB-wide this year, scoring dropped 5 percent and homers dropped 8.5 percent.

Now if we understand the way this works, and we think we do, this will result ultimately in Bud Selig being blamed for the disappearance of performance-enhancing drugs, even though they haven't and even though more pitchers used them than hitters.

But first there will be the standard instant carping about the games being boring, baseball as an anachronism, not in tune with our hurry-up lives and short attention spans and demand for constant action. This, even though there is more compressed action in a baseball game than a football game.

Oh, the umpires stink and every call should be subject to review because technology will set us free. And then the umpires should be sacrificed on a ritual altar in the outfield as a backdrop to the postgame shows, because the audience must be served.

That's how this stuff plays in the modern age. Six games have shown two trends, and the result will be people complaining that these trends must be dealt with for the good of the sport and the entertainment of the viewer.

Ultimately, though, this postseason will find its rhythm, and it will become again what it has always been -- an exercise for fans to proclaim that their team's manager is a dunce and doesn't understand the game he has devoted his entire life to mastering. It will be a second-guesser's paradise, the way God meant it.

Indeed, one wonders even now how Charlie Manuel would have screwed up Game 1 if Halladay hadn't prevented it. You know someone has the answer out there, and he's probably on Line 1 waiting for the host to come out of commercial.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.


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