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Three games in

by Matt Smith

MlbPostseason2014Three games into the World Series and it’s shaping up to be the close battle that we all hoped for (aside from Giants and Royals fans dreaming of a 4-0 sweep in their favour, of course).

The possibility of a six or seven game classic appeared to take a big hit when the San Francisco Giants won the series opener in Kansas City 7-1.

The Royals had been on such a tremendous roll that it was easy to fear an early win for the Giants might be a fatal blow.

Instead, the loss prompted KC to prove that they had plenty of battling qualities too and now that they’ve taken a 2-1 series lead they are in the ascendency. They know they can head back home with the series alive even if the Giants win the next two games at AT&T Park.

Starting the World Series on a Tuesday night creates a good sequence for those of us wanting to follow the action outside of the U.S. timezones.

Friday evening could serve as a break to re-live the key moments from Games One and Two before heading straight into Game Three in the early hours of Saturday.

The third game brought us a new batch of impressive fielding displays, not least some good catches out in right field by Lorenzo Cain and Hunter Pence and then bare-handed plays by Salvador Perez and Pablo Sandoval, whilst the Royals’ devastating relief corps took over once again.

The Giants will be looking at Game Four starter Jason Vargas and Game Five starter James Shields (more ‘shaky Shields’ than ‘Big Game James’ in Game One) and thinking that those are the pitchers they need to attack. Expecting to get anything out of Herrera, Davis and Holland will be expecting too much.

Game Four can be enjoyed tonight knowing that an extra hour of sleep can be recovered tomorrow morning with the clocks going back (in the U.K. at least, not in the States).

ESPN UK generally runs the MLB International coverage with Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe on commentary so MLB.TV will be the place to go if you want to catch the Fox coverage that’s seen Stateside.

The main feature of Fox’s coverage this year is the new commentating crew following Tim McCarver’s retirement after last year’s Fall Classic. Joe Buck is now joined by Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci and they are an acquired taste, although it seems that the only major sport commentators that don’t divide opinion are those that make the masses unite against them.

Commentary aside, Fox’s in-game graphics have impressed me. Simple things like the way fielding positions are displayed normally only stand out when they’re down badly, but neat little touches like this all add up to a well-presented game. Features like the strike zone replays and slow-mo cameras work best when they are not over-used and Fox have got the balance just about right in these opening games; not an easy thing to do in the World Series where there must be a tendency to throw every bell and whistle in as much as possible.

One thing that they could do even better is showing fielding shifts during at-bats. Shifts are becoming an ever-increasing part of the game and it’s something  TV broadcasters need to adjust to as it’s one part of the experience that those at the ballpark currently see much better than us armchair viewers. The MLB Network coverage this postseason added a Shift Trax box in the top right-hand corner of the screen and what it lacked in style it made up for in terms or providing a quick reference point without the director needing to switch between different camera shots.

Sky Sports’ cricket coverage has used a fielding box like this for several years (albeit in a larger more stylish way) as one of the key aspects of cricket is the setting of different fields. Seeing how a captain is adjusting his field for different batsman or to try a different tactic of getting the same batsman out is a fascinating part of the strategy of cricket.

Whilst fielding positions in baseball probably will never be quite so fluid, it would be great to be able to see when the fielding positions change even for more subtle changes like a slight shift in the outfield alignment for a specific hitter, or when the third baseman plays close to the third-base line at certain strategic points. MLB Network’s Shift Trax is definitely a step in the right direction.

For now we’re left Shift Trax-free with Fox and the MLB International feeds but that’s only a minor issue. We’ve got two good teams battling it out in a close series and that counts for far more than any graphic or commentator (good or bad) ever will.

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