October Dilemma

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The month of October is always a favorite for baseball fans. October is when baseball gets the main stage, showing the rest of the sports world why it is still ‘America’s Pastime’. There is nothing quite like the MLB playoffs and every year that point is driven home with a month of skill, finesse and drama.

But one pervasive question keeps popping up the last few October’s and it is a question that for our sake I hope Major League Baseball is paying attention to. The question that just doesn’t seem to go away (and the one I get asked the most) is ‘why is it a chore to find the playoffs?’

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The easy answer is that Major League Baseball spread their deal around for the postseason to make them the most money. To be honest, for the most part I don’t fault them. At the end of the day, MLB is a business and the primary goal is to make money. MLB did just that back in 2012, as they worked out a deal that would reach over a number of major networks, including ESPN, TBS and FOX. They also made sure that their own channel, MLB Network, would get a few of the games as well.

This is where a number of the complaints start filtering in. Many people do not have access to MLB Network on their cable/satellite packages and therefore miss out on games every October. Besides the whole money aspect of the playoffs, the other main goal for MLB is to have as many eyes as possible on their product. The more people who can watch your games, the more who will spend money at your games, buy the merchandise and eventually bump up the prices of any television deal moving forward.

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Credit: Associated Press

While many don’t have MLB Network, you can say the same for those that don’t get FS1 and even to a smaller degree, TBS. While I understand the plight of those who might not have one or more of these channels, the truth is that if you are a big enough baseball fan you will find a way to watch these games.

For instance, I needed to cut down my satellite bill last year but dreaded the idea of losing MLB Network. Luckily, I was able to work out a deal with the satellite company that knocked my bill noticeably down while keeping the network on my package. Most cable and satellite companies are losing customers at an alarming rate and are willing to work out a deal with their customers if it means they stick around. If you are in this situation, I highly recommend going that route.

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Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But what if you are someone who has cut the cord? The truth is that more and more people are moving in this direction and it is actually easy to see a world where cable and satellite companies no longer exist, at least in their current incarnation. MLB has worked on improving their streaming outlets these last few seasons and while it’s noticeably better, there is still some room for improvement.

There are a few streaming possibilities out there, most of them listed right here. A number of these outlets have restrictions, but most also have a free trial for five to seven days. In other words, you could spend a week watching the games on something like YouTube TV or Playstation Vue and decide at that point if you want to pay to watch the rest or pass. It’s not a perfect situation, but it is improving for those that are strictly streaming and should continue to get better as time goes on.

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Unfortunately, MLB.TV really should be the better way to go here but it is lacking. They have it setup to where you can watch the entire playoffs for the cost of $24.99, but there a couple of catches. For one, they want you to already have a participating pay TV account. This would mean that whatever you are already paying, you would have to tack on another $25 to watch the playoffs online. That is a rough pill to swallow if you are a big baseball fan but need to watch the playoffs.

The other issue is blackouts. For those that have contemplated getting MLB.TV in the past, the blackouts have long been a thorn in the side of anyone wanting to sign up. Go ask any Royals fan that lives in Iowa about the blackouts despite living sometimes well over 200 miles away. This is obviously a major issue that baseball needs to fix and it surprises me they haven’t considering how much more money they would make simply by lifting the blackout ban.

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Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

So what can Major League Baseball do to make the playoffs more accessible? One solution might be to do a free preview of the channels that air the playoff games for a one or two-week period. The real issue at hand is the divisional series, since there a few occasions where all four games could air on the same day. Give people the preview for a week and it might just be enough to entice them to up their package for a month.

Another solution might be to air the same game on multiple channels. We saw this just last week, as the National League Wild Card Game had the original broadcast on ESPN and an “alternate broadcast” that gave the viewer Statcast information on ESPN2. This could be done for some of the other games, on stations that would be more accessible. This way, your game has a farther reach for a larger chunk of the fanbase.

There is obviously demand in the playoffs and not just by”Seamheads”. From last Friday, baseball held five of the top six spots in the cable ratings, with the Yankees/Red Sox contest on TBS being the most watched. It is very apparent that baseball still brings in dollars and when there is demand, as a business you should try everything possible to meet that.

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The truth is that while MLB is in a bit of a ‘Golden Age’ right now, they don’t have quite the same pull as the NFL does. The NFL is able to get their playoff games on the major networks, like FOX, CBS and NBC. MLB’s deal runs out after the 2021 season and will hopefully be in a position of leverage at that time to do the same.

The playoffs are a magical time of year and in many ways illuminates what is great about this game. It’s unfortunate that some of these smaller issues make it harder to take in all the action. While television ratings and advertising dollars are a large part of baseball’s bigger picture, there honestly should be more thought put into making sure the playoffs are an easy, joyful experience for its fans. Instead, for some it is a constant search just to find when and where they can watch a baseball game.

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So–This Winning Thing is Fun

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

When events happen the same they always do, year after year, it’s easy to recognize them, curl up next to them and wrap yourself in it’s comfortable blanket. It’s easy to fall back on old vices; they are familiar and you know how to deal with them and what’s coming next. But when things go awry…well, then it’s hard to know how to react. That’s why the way the Kansas City Royals are winning has been hard to just embrace. It’s not just that they are winning; no, it’s that they are doing it convincingly and trying to make even the most bitter of us fans smile again.

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The Royals limped into the All-Star break, not giving us fans much hope that good times were just around the corner. No, in fact the opposite happened. After a hot April, a putrid May, and a better June, it was hard to tell just what we should expect from this team. Were they the team that made it look easy early in the year? Or the team that couldn’t hit the side of a barn if plopped right in front of said barn? The team who’s pitching was amazing early on? Or the team that forced the team to bring George Brett in to help the offense because everything else hadn’t worked? This team was all over the place, to the point I wanted to re-name them ‘Sybil’. So when General Manager Dayton Moore said this team could go on a tear and win 15 of 20, we laughed. We mocked. We snarked. We did everything but believe they could actually do that. But they did it, and in the process completely turned this season around.

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Not only have they played better than 15-5, they are at 16-4 since the All-Star break and looking to win again as I write this. How have they been doing it? Well, it’s more than just one thing or another. Early on, the pitching was carrying the team. It’s no surprise, really, as the pitching has been a plus for this team all year, but when you have a few clutch hits, out comes an 11 game winning streak. Since June, Eric Hosmer has been red hot and looked more like ‘Rookie’ Hosmer than the abomination he was last year. Mike Moustakas flat out sucked in the first half, but so far in the second half he is hitting over .300 and found his power swing. But there’s more; Alex Gordon seems to be coming around, Billy Butler is picking it up, and Miguel Tejada doesn’t look like the 84 year old that he is. This team has started to hit and be a threat whether they are playing the Twins or the Red Sox.

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I’ll even admit, I was probably a ‘Negative Nelly’ when this streak started. Not only did I not think they had it in them, I was angry about a move that occurred right before the second half. Royals management(read: Moore) said that when Johnny Giavotella was called up that he was going to be given a chance to win the second base job. As Royals fans, we had heard that before, and we thought the worse. But it was almost worse than even we could have imagined. Gio lasted ten games(those that he actually played; a number of games he was benched in favor of Tejada or Elliot Johnson) and 38 plate appearances before being sent down and (ugh) Chris Getz was called back up. Again. Look, it wasn’t even about Getz being called back up, although let’s be honest, it felt like they just weren’t getting why he WASN’T  a real option. Getz is what he is. No, the problem was more being lied to by management about Giavotella being given a chance. So, I didn’t watch any games. To be 100% honest, I was pretty stress free during those first seven games or so. The Royals were winning, but I just couldn’t enjoy it, even if I had wanted to.

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Then one night, the light bulb went off. Sure, I didn’t agree with management. Sure, I wanted Moore and manager Ned Yost fired, that wasn’t going to change. But all I’ve wanted the last 18 years is for this team to win again. Deep down, I wanted to have fun watching MY TEAM play ball rather than feel bad about how much they sucked pond water. The Royals were winning, and I was missing it! So, I tucked my pride away, tucked all the anger in the closet and started watching again. What a saw was a fun baseball team, a team that played with boundless energy and determination. This is a young team that doesn’t realize they shouldn’t be playing this good. They don’t realize the big bad Tigers in their division are playing EVEN BETTER, yet the Royals still go out there and win. At the end of the day, they are doing the one thing all of us longtime Royals fans have wanted to see: winning.

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So now is as good a time as any to ask the question we are all wondering; is this team for real? Or more importantly, can they keep it up? I have no clue. The funny thing about baseball is that it never really follows a continuous pattern. Some things in the game just defy logic and you just have to go with it. As Royals fans, that’s what we should be doing. Just enjoy the winning and hope it continues. I know there was a lot of talk in the off-season that this team would contend for the playoffs, but most of us thought a record right around .500 was more realistic. The Royals are now 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card with right around 50 games left. Weirder things have happened, folks. It would be fabulous to finally have October baseball in Kansas City again. It’s what we all have yearned for. But even if it doesn’t happen, let’s all just promise each other one thing. Let’s just promise to enjoy every win. Because we are officially in uncharted territory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to act.

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