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Longballs, pitching and the Cubs top the baseball playoff stories

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Now that the regular season is over, baseball heads to the playoffs. The Rays and 19 other teams will watch on television and focus on joining the party next fall.

Fans of strong hitting will have more fun watching the American League. As the Rays know well, all five playoff teams are among the top six hitting clubs. Houston, Kansas City and Toronto are in the top five overall while the New York Yankees are in the middle of the pack and Texas near the bottom 16

Those favoring strong pitching will enjoy the National League. All five playoff teams make up the top five in pitching statistics. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ team Earned Run Average (ERA) of 3.44 is the worst among the five, but better than all five American League teams.

A Nike commercial from a few years ago gave us Atlanta Braves’ pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux lamenting the fact that “chicks dig the long ball.” Under that criterion, chicks would be fans of American League teams.

Toronto hit 232 home runs this season, led by Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, with 41, 40 and 39 respectively. Houston hit 230, with four players stroking at least 25.

The Yankees hit 212 home runs, led by 40-year-old Alex Rodriguez with 33. New York hosts the Astros on Tuesday in the Wild Card Game. The winner goes on to face defending American League Champion Kansas City in a best-of-five divisional series.

The Royals do not hit many home runs, but still score plenty of runs. The Texas Rangers, another strong hitting team, faces the Blue Jays in a best-of-five.

On Wednesday, the National League Wild Card Game has Pittsburgh hosting the Chicago Cubs. Jake Arrieta, who had the greatest second half in baseball history, will try to pitch the Cubs into a best-of-five divisional series with the St. Louis Cardinals, who posted an incredible team ERA of 2.94. Arrieta will face Pittsburgh’s 19-game winner Gerrit Cole.

Arrieta had a 12-1 record and 0.41 ERA in the second half and finished the season with a 22-6 record and a 1.77 Earned Run Average.

Orlando native Zack Greinke, along with 2014 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, head up a Dodger staff made for success in a short series.  Greinke, with a 1.66 ERA, is the only pitcher to have a better one than Arrieta. The Dodgers face the starting pitching-rich New York Mets in the best-of-five divisional series.

Post-season baseball television ratings have been in a prolonged slump. Will they improve this year?

The big markets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston are all represented. Television executives, however, must be rooting for Joe Maddon’s Cubs to go as far as they can.

A team that last appeared in a World Series 70 years ago is a story waiting to happen. A team that last won the World Series 107 years ago is a once-in-three lifetimes story.

If the Cubs exit early, the potential for two New York vs. Los Angeles matchups still exist. Those may create a few more viewers, but not the numbers a Cub appearance would bring.

It all begins to unfold on Tuesday.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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