Baseball may still be in a state of flux after the fallout from the steroid era, because there are no longer muscle-bound hitters smashing balls over fences as the earth quakes with every step their abnormally strong body takes as they round the bases. However, this doesn’t mean that baseball isn’t exciting as ever. The balls may not be sailing over the fences as often as they used to, but in their stead there is now a purer form of baseball. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, we were witnessing a tainted history, but now we are witnessing a historical era of baseball that fans are proud to say is clean. Those long-balls are now being replaced with pitching performances that leave the batter and viewer stunned. We are now in the era of pitching. Although it may not sound like fun, it’s actually exciting to see pitchers throw shutouts and blow the ball past hitters.
I’ve been at a Dodgers game where two pitchers, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cliff Lee, carried no-hitters into the seventh inning, and it was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen. Instead of hoping for your team’s players to smash baseballs all over the yard in a hitting performance, you’re hoping that the ball makes its way past the opposing batters’ bats or into the gloves of your team’s players so you can see a great pitching performance. Professional baseball today is characterized by pitchers who have mastered control and multiple pitches. Opposing batters have been analyzed sabermetrically and mechanically to the point where pitchers now make mowing through the other team’s lineup an art form. No active pitcher exemplifies this mastery more so than the Dodgers’ Kershaw. He has a 94-mph fastball, which is fast, but is definitely not the fastest in the game. He has one of the best curveballs in the game, as well as a devastating slider and a changeup to keep hitters on their toes. What allows Kershaw to dominate, and what defines this era of pitching dominance, is the fact that he can throw any one of these pitches almost exactly where he needs to, at any time during an at bat. Kershaw has had the lowest earned run average (ERA) in the MLB for the past four years along with winning two Cy Young awards (given to the best pitcher in each league of the MLB) so far. Pitchers usually are never in the discussion for the National League MVP award, but with an ERA of 1.77 and a record of 21-3, Kershaw has put up one of the best years for a pitcher in recent memory despite missing a fifth of the season. The Dodgers finished the year 26 games above .500, but without him they are a mediocre team with a record only seven games above .500.
The Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver has the slowest average fastball coming in at 86-mph. Despite this, Weaver has managed to remain relevant because of his mastery of offspeed pitches and is the ace of the team with the best record in the MLB. In no way will he be able to blow his fastball by batters like he used to, but now he, like many other pitchers, has an arsenal of pitches with movement and speed change, and will be a major factor in the postseason.
Weaver and Kershaw are only two of many pitchers who are having dominant years, and this will make this postseason one of the best in recent memory. The postseason is where we see pitchers really buckle-down and pitch their best games. The stakes are high, and usually it’s the pitchers who win teams games. The scores will be close. The hits will be minimal, and teams will have to fight get runs across the plate. When they do manage to score it will make for a riveting game.
The World Series’ national TV rating was at it’s highest more than two decades ago, but baseball is just as popular as ever on a local level. Attendance numbers at ballparks, are still just as high as ever. Not only is the MLB popular in the US, it has more international players than the NFL and NBA, proving that the global popularity of baseball hasn’t faltered.