By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
I believe it was a about this time last year that I was writing these very words for a column on this site.
Similar to how we always bring up the issues of increased safety in football after a player takes a devastating shot to the head, the turning of the calendar to May generally draws discussions about the structure of the Texas high school baseball playoffs.
On Friday, the two MISD teams will begin the Area round of the baseball playoffs, and both will attempt to advance going through different formats. The McKinney High Lions will open up a best-of-three series with Rockwall at the Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, while the McKinney North Bulldogs will face a one-game, winner take all matchup versus Waxahachie at QwikTrip Park in Grand Prairie.
With the UIL’s rules in our state, the amount of games for each round of the tournament is decided by the two coaches involved. So in the days before the series would begin, the two coaches and their respective athletic directors will communicate and begin determining whether the series will be a one-game or a best-of-three.
Generally, a team with a deep pitching rotation and a better record would favor playing a best-of-three series. This would allow the law of averages in baseball to work itself out, meaning that the better team would have more chances to perform up to the numbers they had put up during the regular season. Three games will still not directly reflect the numbers a kid put up over the course of a 30-game regular season, as a .350 hitter could go 3-for-14 during the series. The point is, the more opportunities given to a pitcher or a hitter over the course of a series, the more likely they are to perform up to their expected numbers.
For the Lions, the best-of-three format allows both Brad Vassar and Brett Gannaway to throw one game in the series. Both are considered the “aces” for head coach Jeremy Price, so allowing them each to pitch their own game gives the Lions the best chance to advance. Vassar and Gannaway were instrumental in McKinney’s upset series win over Jesuit last weekend.
On the other hand, a one-game playoff is much different. For one seven-inning game on one particular night, no numbers or averages mean anything significant. Why do some Major League Baseball fans despise the one-game Wild Card playoff at the start of the postseason in October? Because for that one night it is not about which team is home or which has the better record. Last October, St. Louis and Baltimore both won the inaugural Wild Card game, and both teams were on the road and both had equal or lesser records than Atlanta and Texas.
One-game playoffs are a gamble. We love Game 7s in sports because it comes down to one game to decide it all in a best-of-seven series, but there were six other matchups that determined how the teams got to that point. There were trends in the numbers that identified who was hot and who was not, and you had some base in which you could build your belief that your team could win the deciding game. In a pure one-game, win-or-go-home matchup, you hope that for one night your team can just find a way to survive and advance.
McKinney North has two legitimate aces in Gabe Constantine and Julian Pope, as well as a shutdown reliever in Anthony Herrera. Instead of handing the ball to Constantine in game one and Pope in game two, head coach Jim Gatewood now has to make the right call on Friday night on which pitcher will have the best stuff. Pope went a complete game in the loss versus Mt. Pleasant, but his three runs he allowed in the first inning is what cost him and the Bulldogs a chance at the series sweep. One bad inning in a one-game playoff can mean that summer ball is just around the corner.
Baseball is supposed to be played in a multiple game series format. In a perfect world, the Texas high school baseball playoffs would have every round be a best-of-three series to determine the winner. With travel arrangements and the UIL regulations for games on days with state exams or finals, locations and dates for games is still going to be an imperfect science. Should McKinney High, the fourth place team out of 10-5A, have had a chance at two home games in the Bi-district round series last week instead of the 9-5A champion Jesuit Rangers? There is a lot that goes into determining who gets home games and how many, but on paper the scheduling seems a bit odd.
The goal of every postseason is to have the best teams move on and have a chance at the championship. I love underdogs as much as the next guy, but seeing the best four teams in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament or the two best teams in the regular season meet in the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup is what we want as sports fans. Teams can ride hot streaks and make incredible runs through superior opposition. The Cardinals made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season the year they beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series. The New York Giants were a consensus underdog versus the 18-0 New England Patriots, but still managed to win Super Bowl 42.
Teams do get hot at the right time and upsets do happen, but a best-of-three series decreases those odds significantly. Regulating every series to be in this format would prove once and for all if you have the pitching depth to win a state championship or not. No longer would teams be allowed to ride one pitcher three or four rounds deep in the tournament. The teams with deep pitching staffs would meet in Austin in early June, and the teams that don’t can get ready for graduation parties and summer ball.