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MLB Playoffs Winnow Down To Leagues' Division Series


In Pittsburgh, it was a case of cry me three rivers last night. The hometown Pirates were clobbered 8 to 0 by the San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball's final one-game wild-card playoff. Tonight, the Divisional Series kick-off, starting with the American League - Detroit plays Baltimore, and Kansas City is up against the mighty Los Angeles Angels. Joining us now to talk more baseball is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

CORNISH: So Pittsburgh, PNC Park, record crowd, I hear most wearing black. Ready to will their team to victory in this elimination game for the second straight year. And then what happened?

GOLDMAN: Well, and then a scoreless tie was shattered in the fourth-inning with a grand slam home run by San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford. It was the first postseason grand slam by a shortstop ever. That's pretty impressive. And then left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner took control. He pitched an entire game shutout - 10 strikeouts. He allowed only four hits against a really good hitting Pittsburgh team. And by game's end, Audie, black was a fitting color for Pittsburgh fans. It was funereal in PNC Park.

CORNISH: And an impressive performance for the Giants as well in an opponent's ballpark and a must-win game. Is this a team that we should be watching as the playoffs unfold?

GOLDMAN: I think we should. San Francisco didn't wow anyone coming into the postseason. The Giants lost nine of their last 15 regular-season games. But what we saw last night is what we have seen the past four years when the Giants won two World Series titles - a team seemingly impervious to October pressure. On their way to winning the 2012 World Series, the Giants won six elimination games, meaning if they lost they were out of the playoffs. Last night they did it again. You can bet the Washington Nationals are absolutely aware of the dangerous team they're about to face.

CORNISH: Let's talk about that division series between the Nats and the Giants. Many consider Washington the favorite to win the World Series. Is that Washington bias (laughter)? Is that justified?

GOLDMAN: I think it's justified and maybe a little bias. You know how things work in Washington, Audie. The Nationals are a powerful and talented team. This season, their pitchers led the majors in earned-run-average - that's a measure of a pitcher's effectiveness. Offensively, Washington was third in runs scored in the National League, fourth in home runs, first in stolen base percentage - meaning how successful they are stealing bases. So it's all there - speed, power, hitting, pitching, star players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg and, oh yeah, Jordan Zimmermann who just happened to pitch a no-hitter last Sunday in the final regular-season game.

CORNISH: Tom, before I let you go, I want to talk about something you just mentioned - speed, because there's new proposals to speed up the game announced yesterday. What's going on there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, you look at last night's wild-card game, really devoid of excitement after four or five innings. It still took more than three hours to play. There is a growing consensus that baseball can speed things up without losing, you know, its timeless essence. A new pace of game committee announced yesterday it'll try out some proposals starting next week in the Arizona Fall League. Such as a batter will have to keep one foot inside the batter's box the whole time he's at the plate, with a few exceptions. This addresses one of the most annoying time-wasters - batters stepping out of the box to adjust their helmet, their batting gloves and so on. Another step, when a team wants to intentionally walk a batter, the manager simply will signal to the home plate umpire, and the batter will trot down to first base, instead of what happens now with the pitcher lobbing four soft-throws to the catcher who's standing to the side of home plate. So we will see if these work and if the game gets speedier.

CORNISH: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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