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World Series Rules

by Matt Smith

MlbPostseason2014The American and National League setup in MLB takes a bit of explaining to Brits new to the sport.

There are two leagues, but they’re not different leagues in the sense that we’re used to in British sports, where the league denotes a different level of competition.

Despite there being two leagues, it’s still all a single level of MLB and teams from the different leagues do play each other during the regular season.

Finally, even though the two leagues come together as MLB, they actually play under slightly different rules.

When this is all new to you, no single aspect really stands out. You learn how it all fits together and accept it as the way it is. However, it seems that the different rules is still an aspect that raises strong feelings Stateside.

From a logical standpoint it makes complete sense to have one set of rules that everyone plays by, yet the opposing view of the interest created by having different brands of baseball is one that really demonstrates itself during the World Series. It adds an extra element to the home field advantage and gives the managers something else to think about too.

MLB has brought in various changes in the last 20 years, but it’s unlikely that a standardisation of the rules across both leagues is going to be added to the list. Both sides have strong proponents and there’s no compelling reason to pick one over the other and create a boatload of unnecessary grief.

Despite being a fan of an American League team, if a choice had to be made then I would opt for the National League rules holding sway and Game Four of the World Series was a perfect example of why I hold that view.

It’s quite common in North American sports for players to specialise in distinct roles, but I’m a fan of top athletes having to work on the weaker parts of their game. Pitchers, for example, largely live and die on their ability on the mound, but in both leagues the ability to field their position is also important and working hard on this side of the game, or not, can sometimes be the difference between a win or a loss.

The San Francisco Giants got into trouble in the top of the third inning when pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was unable to find first base to make an out. It wasn’t the easiest of plays as Vogelsong initially tried to field the groundball, so didn’t take the usual pitcher path to the bag; however not making that out helped to set up a four-run inning for the Kansas City Royals.

The National League rules then added to the strategy of the inning as the pitcher’s spot in the Giants’ lineup was due up first in the bottom of the third inning. Under American League rules it would have been easy for manager Bruce Bochy to pull Vogelsong out of harm’s way. Instead, he had to weigh up the benefit of doing so against the negative impact of using up a pitcher by having to pinch-hit for them so early in the game.

The top half of the third inning was also bookended by the Royals’ pitcher Jason Vargas standing in the batter’s box. The biggest criticism of the NL rules is that pitchers as a group struggle to hit effectively and the result is two or three cheap at-bats per team in every NL game.

The additional strategy that this creates more than makes up for this in my view and if there are nine pitcher at-bats that don’t lead to much, there will be one in which a pitcher works hard to put down a good bunt or gets the runner over and that side of the game is important too.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that baseball is a game; it’s there as a form of entertainment and is meant to be fun. The strictly analytical view would see Kelvin Herrera’s at-bat in Game Three as a shocking waste of an out and that’s a perfectly valid conclusion. Looking at it from any other view and it was one of the more memorable moments in a good game, just as seeing the joy of Yusmeiro Petit getting a rare hit in Game Four couldn’t help but bring a smile to your face.

Personally, I’m fine with carrying on as we are and having two different sets of rules. Far from causing problems, it makes the World Series even more enjoyable.

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