I always fear that when fans of a sport complain about a lack of “offense” they never really understand what the real problem is. The problem, usually, is action. Hockey went through this, and is still kind of going through this, by always trying to pump up goals with power plays. Though the main aim of the uptick in penalties is to create more space eventually for the players to skate through unencumbered. Hockey doesn’t need more goals. It needs more action, i.e. teams trading chances and getting up and down the ice quicker and freer and just making more stuff, which goals are only a part of, happen.
Baseball has had this issue as well. Despite their protestations, you’ll never convince me that the home run binge brought on by the baseball changing to something flubber-like wasn’t intentional, and a bid to boost offense and runs. But merely juicing up (pun intended) the number of home runs hit didn’t really solve baseball’s problem. Because a home run still really only involves batter and pitcher, which is what the game being taken over by strikeouts and walks did. There are more points on the board with more homers, sure, but it wasn’t that much more exciting.
It’s not that the Dodgers-Braves series has been some vision of what the game could be, at least not completely. The Braves have struck out 26 times in two games. The Dodgers drew nine walks in Game 2. There’s been a fair amount of the standing around that has plagued the game.
But the series’ biggest plays have been… baserunning, and throwing, and fielding, and decisions we don’t get to debate much. Game 1 was decided when Ozzie Albies was the beneficiary of a Texas leaguer spinning off its mortal coil in a spot where no Dodger could get to it between infield and outfield. Albies then stole second, which put him in position to score on Austin Riley’s single. Which Riley was able to more easily attain because the Dodgers have to play their outfield in the gaps.
That came after the top of the ninth, when Chris Taylor cost the Dodgers a prime scoring opportunity by having his controller shut off somewhere between second and third on Cody Bellinger’s hit. This wouldn’t have mattered if Joc Pederson didn’t hit the cutoff man from right field, which he did. From there it was easy for the Braves to get Taylor into a rundown and end the inning. If the throw goes through to third, Taylor probably scampers back to second no worse for wear.
Last night’s game pivoted on a couple moments, but not every single one involved a homer, walk, or strikeout, at least not directly. Sure, one of the more exciting moments was Pederson’s absolute bomb off Max Scherzer that landed somewhere near Uga in Athens. Not arguing that homers don’t have their place. But Pederson’s play in the top of the 7th was more vital, and it didn’t even result in an out. When Taylor seemingly made up for his baserunning error in Game 1 by flaring out a single with the bases loaded that Guillermo Heredia couldn’t get to, which then squirted by him, it looked to be a disaster. But Pedersen was alert, sprinting to back Heredia up, and got to the dribbler before it could get too far away. It kept Justin Turner at third (along with some wayward baserunning from Turner) and held the Dodgers to just two runs.
The utterly insane bottom of the eighth was more baserunning and action, even if it wasn’t good or smart. I wasn’t as shocked as the broadcast team at Eddie Rosario tagging up from first on Freddie Freeman’s fly ball to left, because he had the perfect angle on it to see where the throw was going. Once he saw it was offline, it was all systems go. It was still ballsy as shit.
No, Ron Washington had no business sending Rosario on Albies’ single, nor Albies on Austin Riley’s double that followed, but they both resulted in plays at home that are probably the most exciting in baseball, especially in October. The fact that the Dodgers couldn’t come up with the defensive plays to snuff out either of these runs makes the game more exciting because so many players are involved in these pivotal moments.
Even in the 9th, Heredia being able to just make contact that resulted in Dansby Swanson getting from first to second proved vital when Rosario lined a single through Cory Seager in the next at-bat. Balls in play are good.
This is what baseball needs more of, not the end-spectrum conclusions of strikeouts or homers. The stuff in between is the fun stuff.