Rams are turning a lot of heads

PrintWhat’s up with the Rams (to quote a stand-up line Jerry Seinfeld never said)?

Just when we Southern Californians thought they were going to be little more than a joke for years to come, the Los Angeles Rams are dominating the NFC West with a 7-2 record, they’re leading the league in scoring with 32.9 points per game, they’ve scored 30 points or more in six of their nine games and they’re No. 3 in the league in points allowed with 18.0 per game.

ESPN’s fivethirtyeight.com website had the Rams with only a 13% chance of getting into the NFL playoffs, but when they beat the Houston Texans 33-7 last Sunday, the Rams went past the preseason prediction it had of just six wins for the season. Now it has them predicted with a 71% chance of making the postseason.

It’s not surprising people would have started out thinking so lowly of the Rams. After all, they were an awful 4-12 last season with the NFL’s worst offense. Indeed, the only thing that made the Rams palatable in 2016 was that it was their first season back in Los Angeles. Of course, when they finished the season with a seven-game losing streak, a lot of the luster was lost.

Jared_Goff
Quarterback Jared Goff has led the Rams to a 7-2 start. (Jeffrey Beall photo)

What’s the difference in this year’s Rams? The biggest two reasons are Sean McVay, who at 30 was the league’s youngest-ever head coach when he was hired this season, and quarterback Jared Goff, who after struggling in his second season, has made the team his own and is an MVP candidate. The Rams are also on track to be the first team to have its offense go from worst in scoring one year to best the next since the 1965 San Francisco 49ers.

After a miserable season last year by running back Todd Gurley, he has rebounded in 2017 with help from receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins, acquired from Buffalo.

Many are starting to scamper aboard the Rams bandwagon. This is coming as a surprise to team officials, who didn’t even know their band had a wagon.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated has even done the unthinkable in his MMQB site: Not only does he predict the Rams will make it to Super Bowl LII, he thinks they will beat the (gasp!) New England Patriots in that game:

“I am all-in on the Rams, which can be pretty dangerous. The franchise hasn’t finished over .500 since 2003. Their coach just began shaving in May. Also in May: Their quarterback looked like a bust. But I see what I see. I see a smart and high-powered offense that can protect the quarterback and is as scary on the ground as it is through the air. I see an imaginative coach with a good grip on his team. I see a voracious front seven with a big star (Aaron Donald) playing better than his rep. I see a team in the last three weeks that has won three, seven and three time zones away from home, respectively. (Did you know the Rams won their last three straight by double-digits at 1 p.m., 10 a.m. and 10 a.m. on their body clocks?) The road thing will come in handy during the playoffs, in my calculation, because the Rams could well have to win in a hostile environment against an excellent team like Philadelphia to win it all. But will that really matter? This team is 2-8 at the Coliseum since the return of the franchise to Los Angeles, and the Rams are 5-0 away from home this year. As for climbing Mount Belichick, I’m sure some wise guy out there will point out that, on the day that Bill Belichick coordinated the Giants’ defense that shut down John Elway in Super Bowl XXI, Sean McVay was 1 year and 1 day old, and how on earth could the great Belichick ever lose to a guy less than half his age? My counter: The coaches won’t be putting on pads that day. The Rams, except at quarterback, will be deeper and better on Super Sunday.”

 

It should be noted one other MMQB contributor picked the Rams to win (over Kansas City). It should also be noted that two of the 18 didn’t believe the Rams would even get into the playoffs.

Still plenty of room aboard that bandwagon, apparently.

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There’s something about Joe Buck some people just can’t stand

1040x585-Buck-Smoltz-WS-Wrigley-Booth
Joe Buck, left, and John Smoltz rubbed some people the wrong way during the World Series. (Fox Sports photo)

With the World Series over and the NFL going full steam ahead (unless you count Jerry Jones’ dealings with Roger Goodell), it’s a good time to look at the one thing baseball and football have in common:

Joe Buck.

I’m going to be up front on my feelings about Buck. I think he’s a great broadcaster. But man, if you actually try to stick up for him, especially online, you can be in for a lot of trouble.

As a matter of fact, during Game 4 of the World Series, someone I know posted a derogatory comment on Facebook about Buck and people commented their agreement, often in profane terms.

I made the mistake of posting a positive comment:

“Joe Buck is actually a very good play-by-play man: knowledgeable and impartial. The only times I can’t stand him is when he’s being interviewed. Then he’s very sarcastic. He also would much rather be doing football than baseball.”

As positive comments go, that’s really pretty tepid. It actually has more negative elements than positive ones. But people disagreed strongly with me, especially when it came to being impartial. Still, I persisted — foolishly:

“Well, I’m sure that in Game 1, Dodgers fans felt much better about him than in Games 2 or 3. His dad was Jack Buck, who was a stellar broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals for decades.

“I was actually more miffed at John Smoltz during Game 3 because of all the analytics he was whipping out that were essentially saying the Dodgers had no chance to win after the Astros scored four runs in the second inning and that the road for them to win the Series now would be very steep because of their Game 3 loss.”

This prompted another person, a self-described “Philly fan,” to accuse me of “mansplaining,” a term I sheepishly had to look up to find out just how much I had been insulted.

Another person added: “For those that are ‘pro buck’ [meaning me] do you honestly not hear the difference of enthusiasm in his voice when talking about anybody other than the Dodgers?”

Another said something, in a very violent way that I won’t repeat here, about how much Royals fans dislike Buck.

Here’s the thing about Buck and Smoltz’s broadcasting style during the World Series: They said disparaging things about the team that was losing.

Quite frankly, I was getting a little miffed myself by what they were saying as well until the lead of the game changed and I realized they were now saying negative things against the team that was now trailing. I paid close attention to this the rest of the Series and found this to be true. Not only that, if I had to admit it, the negative things they were saying were true.

Whenever people tell me the news media is negative, I always say this: “News is what is out of the ordinary. If something is not out of the ordinary, it’s not news. Things that are out of the ordinary are often negative, therefore news is often negative.”

It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had been in the World Series and I think their fans had never experienced what it was like to have him call their postseason games. When the Dodgers were behind, Buck and Smoltz were rough on them, talking about what they were doing wrong and being generally pessimistic about their chances. However, they did the exact same thing when the Astros were behind. The same has happened to Mr. Philly Fan and to the violent Royals fan.

The things the broadcasters were saying were true, but it’s difficult to hear people talk negatively about your team.

What really gripes me is how many people were saying they longed to have Vin Scully calling those Dodgers games. Who wouldn’t? But Scully never rooted for the Dodgers. If Vin had been calling those Series games, he would’ve been just as critical although in perhaps a gentler way.

Here’s the thing: Joe Buck just completed his 20th World Series, remarkable for someone who is only 48 years old. He must have something going for him.

FIRST AND 10

There’s an absolute plethora of ranked-team college football matchups Saturday. The top two games are No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 7 Miami at 5 p.m. PST on ABC and No. 5 Oklahoma hosting No. 8 TCU at 5 p.m. on Fox. It’s too bad such momentous games are on at the same time.

Many of the other ranked-vs.-ranked games are just as compelling. No. 1 Alabama is at No. 18 Mississippi State at 4 p.m. on ESPN, No. 2 Georgia is at No. 10 Auburn at 12:30 p.m. on CBS, No. 6 Wisconsin hosts No. 25 Iowa at 12:30 p.m. on ABC, No. 11 Ohio State hosts No. 13 Michigan State at 9 a.m. on Fox, and No. 12 Oklahoma State is at No. 24 Iowa State at 9 a.m. on ABC.

No. 15 USC is at Colorado at 1 p.m. on Fox and UCLA hosts Arizona State at 6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.

In the NFL, the Thursday night game on NBC and NFL Network is Seahawks-Cardinals at 5:20. On Sunday, the 10 a.m. games are Chargers-Jaguars on CBS and Vikings-Redskins on Fox.

The 1 and 1:25 p.m. games are a little complicated. In the Los Angeles market, CBS must show not only has the Chargers game at 10, but also the Rams’ home game against the Texans at 1. So CBS-owned KCAL (Channel 9) will show the Rams game from start to finish with KCBS (Channel 2) joining it in progress when the Chargers are done. Fox, which has its normal doubleheader this week, will show Cowboys-Falcons at 1.

The Sunday night game on NBC is Patriots-Broncos at 5:20. ESPN’s Monday night game is Dolphins-Panthers at 5:15.

SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT

When the Penn State-Michigan State football game was delayed more than three hours by lightning, it forced Fox to scramble. At first, the network put the Kansas State-Texas A&M game on that had been airing on Fox Sports 1. But the lengthy delay was going to cause problems for the Stanford-Washington State game set to follow the early game. FS1 had Oklahoma-Oklahoma State set to air in that slot.

Fox decided to stay with Penn State-Michigan State when it resumed and for most of the country, the Stanford-Washington State was relegated all the way down to the Fox Business Channel.

During the delay, the broadcast team Joe Davis (who is also the Dodgers TV announcer) and Brady Quinn, looking for something to eat, wound up going to a student cafeteria.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

ESPN starts its college basketball coverage at 3 p.m. Friday with No. 11 West Virginia playing No. 25 Texas A&M at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Also of note is No. 21 UCLA playing Georgia Tech at Beijing at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The game has taken on a controversial tone in the wake of the shoplifting arrest of UCLA freshman players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. NBCSN’s NASCAR viewership is up 13% over last year with 2.7 million viewers. … NBC plans to show 450 hours of Winter Olympics coverage on cable networks NBCSN, CNBC and USA. NBCSN will account for 368.5 hours (82%) of the cable total. …

Greg Olsen, currently tight end for the Carolina Panthers, will be a booth analyst for the Nov. 19 Rams-Vikings game, joining Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis and Pam Oliver. It’ll be the Panthers’ bye week. … ESPN is adding Mark Kriegel to its boxing telecasts starting Saturday. In addition, Kriegel, who is also an author, will provide long-form storytelling and essays for the network.

Knowing how Jesus ends the story gives us hope

Sutherland SpringsHearts are broken over the mass shooting Sunday in Texas and mine is among them. Frankly, there have been so many such incidents in recent years, there is a tendency to become numb from them.

But the pain from this violent act, much like the shooting of innocent concertgoers in Las Vegas, was even more excruciating than the others. I’m not completely sure why; the truck attack in New York was just a few days earlier and, to my discredit, it barely shook me. Perhaps it was because the shooting victims in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, were people I could identify with.

The Christians who were in that small church in that tiny town were just like me. At that moment, they were doing the same innocent things I was doing. We were singing the same songs, reading the same Bible, worshipping the same Savior.

Except that 20 minutes into their service, a disturbed man who had been court-martialed from the Air Force and who had a history of domestic violence entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, and started shooting.

At least 26 people were killed and 24 more injured. Eight members of one family were killed. The number of dead represents 7% of Sutherland Springs’ population of 362.

Sutherland Springs is barely a blip on the map of Texas. It’s located a half-hour southeast of San Antonio on U.S. 87 and doesn’t have much more than a post office and a blinking traffic light to its name.

To be blunt, shootings in big cities don’t surprise us. The bigger the city, the more likely you’ll find unhinged people who would pull off something like that.

But Sutherland Springs? More than one person quoted called it a town where “everybody knows everybody else.” Just about everyone in town had some connection of some kind with the First Baptist Church.

For someone to come in and murder more than two dozen people during a worship service? Unthinkable.

I confess that incidents like the one in Sutherland Springs and the one in 2015 in Charleston, S.C., in which nine people were killed by a white supremacist during a Bible study shake me to my core. They’re terrifying because — well, because they could happen to me.

I grew up in a place where church was the place to be on Sunday mornings. It was a time when being a Christian, being a churchgoer, was the norm. Now the era we live in is described as post-Christian, where believers in Jesus Christ are seen as a minority with radical views.

The world is dangerous. Not to say that what happened in Texas was necessarily an attack upon the church itself, but the shooter was said to be an atheist whose social media posts called Christians “stupid.” The disputes between Christians and atheists that were once merely philosophical are now physical.

For Christians, however, there is comfort and hope in this dangerous world. More than one person in Sutherland Springs said, “We know they are in heaven now.” They can say that because of our accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we know how this all ends. We know that one day we will be with Him in heaven and that the things that seem so senseless now will all make sense then.

It’s not like we’re blindly optimistic about what dangers this world has. We don’t drive into oncoming traffic, blissfully believing God will keep the impact from harming us.

Max Lucado, one of my all-time favorite Christian authors, reminds us what Jesus had to say in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Lucado had this to say in summing up his thoughts about the Texas shootings:

Evildoers have less a chance of hurting you, if you aren’t already a victim. “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety (Proverbs 29:25 NLT).

“Real courage embraces the twin realities of current difficulty and ultimate triumph.

“Avoid Pollyanna optimism. We gain nothing by glossing over the brutality of human existence. This is a toxic world. But nor do we join the Chicken Little Chorus of gloom and doom. ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ Somewhere between Pollyanna and Chicken Little, between blind denial and blatant panic, stands the level-headed, clear-thinking, still-believing person of faith. Wide-eyed, yet unafraid. Unterrified by the terrifying. The calmest kid on the block, not for lack of bullies, but for faith in our heavenly Father. The old people of God knew this peace: ‘Though a host encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident’ (Psalms 27:3 RSV).

“Do not give in to your fears. Resist the temptation to retreat and hunker down. This is the time for faith; the season for God-based hope. ‘Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about the evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes’ (Psalms 37:7 NLT).

“Courage is a choice. Let it be yours.”

Dodgers’ season is nothing but a success

There is no need for Dodgers fans to be upset about the season or even about the way the World Series turned out. The phrase “National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers” still sounds pretty good.

HA2017_PrimaryClubMark_RGBIt had been 29 years since the Dodgers had been in the World Series and I’m not about to get all anguished about them losing. I just hope it doesn’t take them another 29 years to get back to the Series.

I’d be 90.

Of course, it’s easy to be philosophical in defeat when Game 7 brought such an early and complete defeat. It’s amazing what giving up five runs in the first two innings can do to all the nervousness you were feeling before the game began. Suddenly one’s thoughts start turning to other things: “I wonder who the Rams are playing Sunday,” and “Are the Lakers any good this year?”

There are nothing but good thoughts for the Houston Astros, who are a remarkable team and who absolutely deserved to win their first world championship. Even first baseman Yuli Gurriel, whose ill-advised actions toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish gave Los Angeles fans someone to boo, made up for them with the right words and a tip of his helmet toward Darvish.

The Astros brought the people of Houston a measure of joy after sustaining such damage from Hurricane Harvey. Who would deny them that?

The 2017 World Series produced every emotion it possibly could have, such a roller coaster from one night to the next. Even one inning to the next. But when it came to Game 7 on Wednesday night, the Astros made it anticlimactic. All the drama was sucked out of Dodger Stadium within the first hour.

I suppose it’s just human nature, flawed as it is, to want to assess blame for failure. You could look at Cody Bellinger, likely the National League Rookie of the Year, who was unable to keep from swinging at bad pitches. He struck out 17 times in 28 at-bats, a World Series record.

You could look at Yasiel Puig. He did hit two home runs, but his tongue-wagging declined dramatically as he hit just .148 in the Series. You could look at Justin Turner, who appeared to be running on fumes in the World Series. He hit just .160 and may be nursing untold injuries. Or how about Austin Barnes? He hit so well in the regular season, he pushed Yasmani Grandal out of the catching position. But Barnes hit .174 in the Series.

The Astros knew just how to stifle the Dodgers’ bats. Los Angeles hit just .205 in the World Series and .200 with runners in scoring position (the Astros hit .230 and .260 respectively). Houston didn’t have as good an earned-run average as L.A. (4.64 to 4.45), but the Dodgers gave up 15 home runs to the Astros’ 10.

But if you want to know the true reason the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Astros, don’t look on the field. Look in the front office.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made a July 31 deadline deal with the Texas Rangers to land Darvish. Then, a month later, the Astros made a waiver-deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers just moments before the deadline to make him eligible to play in the postseason.

That was the difference.

The Astros had a dependable starter that mostly plowed through the playoff competition while the Dodgers had a starter that had never really lived up to the hype he had when the Rangers signed him out of Japan. Darvish has won fewer and fewer games each season since his initial 16-9 start in 2012 and could never really be considered a dominant pitcher. He was an overall 10-13 this season, 4-3 with the Dodgers.

His playoff victories for the Dodgers over Arizona in the NL Division Series and over Chicago in the NL Championship Series were pleasant surprises because they were his first two postseason victories against two losses. Darvish had an 5.40 playoff ERA before coming to the Dodgers.

The Astros had faced Darvish plenty of times in the American League West and they were merciless against him in the World Series. They beat him twice and neither time could Darvish go any further than 1⅔ innings. He gave up four runs in each start and wound up with a Series ERA of 21.60.

Verlander won all five of his starts with the Astros with a 1.06 ERA. He was 4-1 in the postseason. Surprisingly, that one loss was to the Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series. He had a no-decision in Game 2, but the Astros pulled that game out 7-6 in 11 innings.

Verlander is under contract for two more seasons; Darvish was merely a rental and is now a free agent.

So while the World Series lasted until Nov. 1, the season for the Dodgers actually was lost July 31.

BASEBALL ALIVE AND WELL

For a long time it has seemed like people were trying to sound the death knell for baseball. Too slow, too boring, too druggy.

Well, some of that still comes into play, particularly with pace of play, but a stellar postseason has put a cap on a great 2017 season.

Game 7 of the World Series earned an 18.8 big-market overnight rating and a 31% share of the market Wednesday night for Fox. That’s the second highest rating for any baseball broadcast since Game 7 in 2002 between the Angels and Giants (19.8/28).

Understandably, Wednesday’s rating was 25% lower than last year’s frenetic Cubs-Indians Game 7 (25.2), but it was up 24% over the Giants-Royals Game 7 in 2014 (15.2), as well as Cardinals-Rangers Game 7 in 2011 (14.1). The Royals-Mets series in 2015 went just five games.

In Houston the game had a 47.1 rating, marking the best figure on record in the market for a baseball telecast, and peaked at 51.2/76. Los Angeles had a 36.7 local rating. For Game 6 on Tuesday (a 3-1 Dodgers win), L.A. had a 30.9 rating and 53 share, peaking at 40.0/60 in the final 15 minutes. Houston had a 41.8/60.

THAT’S THE BALLGAME

And so now the season is fall and we’re hurtling headlong toward winter. Baseball is over and right on the top of that will be the return to standard time with nights becoming darker sooner and the weather colder and wetter.

It’s always been fascinating to me how the beginning of baseball season comes with springtime and optimism and the end of baseball season comes with autumn and pessimism.

But wow. Imagine how bad I’d be like if I lived on the East Coast.

This World Series could be the death of us all

WS17_WorldSeries_Horizontal-RGB-EventMark_KOInstead of watching most of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night, I went to a meeting at church. I’m glad I did.

I’m glad partly because it’s good to have at least a few priorities in order; things that are eternal matter more than things that are temporary. But I’m also glad because if I had stayed home and watched all 5 hours and 17 minutes of that chaotic mess, I would’ve been nothing more than a limp rag.

On this Monday after Game 5, we could all use an off day before this craziness starts again. Major League Baseball’s Twitter account, in fact, put together an excuse note for people to take to work or school the next day:

We’ve all got this World Series hangover going on right now. Even people who don’t have a vested interest in the teams playing are finding this Series to be difficult to pull away from.

The Houston Astros won — finally won — Game 5 by a score of 13-12 in 10 innings over the Los Angeles Dodgers, taking a 3-2 Series lead before Game 6 in L.A. on — of all days — Halloween.

The Dodgers have already been haunted by losses, not only in Game 5, but in Game 2, where they let a 3-1 lead slip away and turn into a 7-6, 11-inning defeat. Game 3 was pretty much out of the Dodgers’ hands shortly after it started, The Astros scored four runs in the second inning off Yu Darvish and won 5-3.

After their team had won Game 4 on Saturday by a sizable 6-2 score and handing Houston its first postseason loss at home, Dodgers fans were feeling pretty confident. The Dodgers had evened the Series 2-2, essentially turning it into a best-of-three event. They had two of the three at home and the one that was still in Houston was going to be started by Clayton Kershaw, who had already breezed through the Astros in Game 1, striking out 11 in seven innings.

But the 2017 World Series hasn’t gone according to anyone’s plan.

The Dodgers scored three times in the first inning and once more in the fourth. So hey, with Kershaw pitching, why not go to a meeting at church? But my phone started lighting up with alerts and buzzing with texts shortly after the opening prayer.

The Astros scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth, three coming on a home run by Yuli Gurriel. Gurriel has become the subject of controversy after making derisive gestures and comments regarding Darvish in Game 3. Commissioner Rob Manfred, instead of suspending Gurriel for any World Series games, decided to suspend him for the first five games of the 2018 season. It appeared cowardly to many observers, but Darvish was very gracious afterward toward Gurriel, who apologized.

An inning later, Cody Bellinger put the Dodgers back on top, 7-4, with a three-run homer of his own. I felt good again after I saw that alert. But in the bottom of the fifth, I became alarmed once again when I saw that Jose Altuve, the world’s shortest MVP, had hit the game’s third three-run homer to tie it again, 7-7.

It was at this point that I at my meeting, and anyone else paying any attention to this game in any way, knew that the walls of sanity had completely crumbled.

Every time the Dodgers took the lead — and they took it three times in the first seven innings — the Astros answered by tying the game twice and then taking the lead with four runs in the seventh on homers by George Springer and Carlos Correa on each side of a double by Altuve. It had been incomprehensible that with Kershaw starting the Houston score would reach double figures, but it was now 11-8 and things were looking bleak for the Dodgers.

By now the church meeting was over and I got home in time to see the last three innings.

L.A. took back a run in the eighth, but Houston grabbed it right back again when relief pitcher Tony Cingrani gave up a homer to Brian McCann. If the Dodgers could’ve prevented that homer, they could’ve won. Of course, you could say that about any other run the Astros scored Sunday night, but McCann is Houston’s No. 9 batter. That’s a guy you need to get out.

The Dodgers were down to the ninth inning when Yasiel Puig hit a two-run homer to cut Houston’s lead to 12-11. The Dodgers have come back from so many deficits all year and it had been such a nutso game that it didn’t seem out of the question for them to pull the game out or at least tie it. Sure enough, after an Austin Barnes double, Chris Taylor took the team down to its last strike before lacing a base hit to make it 12-12.

There was no oxygen left. Game 5 was going to the 10th inning.

But the Dodgers bullpen, which has been so great during the postseason, is spent. Brandon Morrow (11.25 Series ERA) didn’t get a single out and gave up four runs in the seventh inning, and Kenley Jansen (4.76) was once again asked to pitch multiple innings. After going 1⅔ innings, getting the first two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Jansen hit McCann with a pitch and walked Springer. Alex Bregman then followed with a base hit to win the game for the Astros.

If you’re watching this World Series, it’s either fascinating or excruciating. You’re either objective or invested. I hadn’t really remembered what it was like for fans of a team in a tight championship series. It’s rough.

Whichever team wins this Series will cherish it forever. The other will be in an absolute misery that could take years to come back from.

It seems so long ago that the Dodgers had come so close to taking a dominant 2-0 Series lead in Game 2. Monday is an off day and the Dodgers need it. But Tuesday is an “on” day. They’d better be on with Rich Hill pitching or their season is over and they’ll see another team win the world championship on their field.

However, 20 World Series teams have bounced back from 3-2 deficits to win, including the Cubs just last year, and they were on the road. Fourteen of the 20 have pulled it off at home. The Astros had to win Games 6 and 7 in the American League Championship Series to get into the World Series.

The indomitable Puig said late Sunday night: “This World Series is not ending on Tuesday. There will be a Game 7.”

World Series gets respectable ratings, but can’t touch 2016

WS17_WorldSeries_Primary-RGB-EventMarkWhew! After being exhausted by the first two games of the 113th World Series, it’s nice to have an off day Thursday before Game 3 in Houston on Friday (5 p.m. PDT, Fox).

The Los Angeles Dodgers breezed through Game 1 against the Astros on Tuesday night, thanks to Clayton Kershaw’s pitching and the home runs of Chris Taylor and Justin Turner.

The Dodgers also had plenty of chances to win Game 2, but let a 3-1 lead slip away in the ninth inning. The Astros scored single runs in the eighth and ninth and two runs each in the 10th and 11th to hold off the Dodgers, win 7-6 and tied the Series at 1-1.

Just a hair away from having the Dodgers hold a 2-0 lead and the Astros on their heels, the Series now looks like it might be a struggle and could even go the full seven games, as I brazenly predicted earlier this week.

Game 2 had so many dramatic twists and turns Wednesday night that it kept TV viewers glued to the screen for the entire 4 hours, 19 minutes that it lasted. Fox earned a 10.2 big-market overnight rating, according to SportsBusiness Daily. That mark was lower than last year, but it’s going to be hard for any Series this year to beat 2016’s Fall Classic between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, in which the Cubs won their first championship in 108 years.

Still, Wednesday’s game was just 3% less than last year, which turned in the best Game 2 rating since the Phillies-Yankees in 2009. The Dodgers and Astros, however, were up 18% from the 9.3 the Royals and Mets had in 2015.

The game was Fox’s highest rated broadcast since Super Bowl LI in February. It drew a 27.5 rating on L.A.’s KTTV (Channel 11) and a 30.0 rating in Houston.

The network had a 10.2 overnight rating for Tuesday’s Game 1 telecast, 24% down from 2016 and 3% down from 2015.

Game 1 took just 2 hours, 28 minutes to play, the quickest World Series game in 25 years. However, Game 2, which went 11 innings, took 4:19 to push the average to 3:23.

By the way, if you get a little tired of the antics on Fox’s World Series pregame show, find Baseball Tonight on one of the ESPN channels. The coverage, led by Karl Ravech, Mark Teixeira and David Ross, is top notch and no-nonsense.

Where’s Joe Davis this week? Well, since Fox has exclusive rights to the World Series, the Dodgers’ TV announcer is nowhere near it. Instead, he’ll be off doing Minnesota-Iowa college football Saturday for Fox Sports 1.

THE SKIN OF PIGS

Speaking of college football, there will be several ranked teams going against each other Saturday. The biggest is No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State at 12:30 p.m. on Fox. No. 9 Notre Dame hosts No. 14 North Carolina State at the same time on NBC, so have your remote at the ready to switch between the two. No. 4 TCU is at No. 25 Iowa State, also at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2, but before all that, you can see No. 11 Oklahoma State visit No. 22 West Virginia at 9 a.m. on ABC.

USC, which has justifiably slipped to No. 21 in the AP poll, will be at unranked Arizona State at 7:45 p.m. on ESPN. Unranked UCLA travels to play No. 12 Washington at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, the Thursday Night game on CBS and NFL Network is Dolphins-Ravens at 5:25 p.m. On Sunday, there’s another European game, Vikings-Browns at 6:30 a.m. On NFL Network. The Chargers figure to have a rough matchup against the Patriots in New England at 10 a.m. on CBS. Also at 10, Fox will have Bears-Saints. At 1:25 p.m., Fox’s second game will be Cowboys-Redskins. The Sunday night game at 5:30 is Steelers-Lions on NBC. ESPN’s Monday night game at 5:30 is Broncos-Chiefs. The Rams have a bye this week.

GETTING HIS IRISH UP

After beating USC 49-14 last week, Notre Dame climbed to No. 9 in the AP poll. For NBC analyst Chris Simms, that wasn’t high enough. Understand, however, NBC is the national broadcasts of Notre Dame home games.

“Notre Dame is being totally disrespected by the national media,” Simms said. “They’ve convinced me they’re one of the best teams in all of college football. They have the best offensive line in the game, other than perhaps Alabama, and I can argue that they’re more dominant than Alabama’s offensive line.

“They lost a one-point game to Georgia, which is clearly one of the best teams in college football. Notre Dame stood toe-to-toe with Georgia all game long. We’re talking about a Georgia team that we think can stand up to Alabama, but for some reason, Notre Dame is barely getting thought of as a Top 10 team.”

Who’s going to win the World Series you can’t afford to go to?

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The list prices for World Series games in 1988 were $40 and $50. Now it’s $166-$531, but demand has made those figures leap into the tens of thousands.

The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the World Series, in 1988, the U.S. population was 244.5 million. Now it’s 326.1 million. And it seems all of them want tickets to this year’s World Series.

Back in 1988, when Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser were leading Los Angeles, the median household income in the U.S. was $27,200. It might take that much now to buy a World Series ticket.

Let’s just be up front with this: You are not going to the World Series. You are not even getting into the parking lot. You are going to watch the World Series on TV with Joe Buck, John Smoltz and maybe some family and friends.

The closest you are getting to the World Series may be your nearest Buffalo Wild Wings — a terrible restaurant, by the way; apparently, they depend on the beer and the big-screen TVs to take your mind off the fact that the food and service are awful. But if you want to watch the Series with a bunch of screaming fans, some sort of sports bar like that is really your best bet.

It would be cheaper to go see Hamilton. Much cheaper.

As of Monday, the cheapest ticket on the Reserved level near the foul pole was selling on StubHub for $789. A ticket in the Top Deck (and I mean one ticket) was priced at $792. That doesn’t include fees, which often boost the price up to 20%.

If you want to be closer, two Dugout Club seats would cost $35,000. Each.

The original face value prices for World Series tickets, announced back in August, ranged from $166 to $531.

World Series price gouging has been a thing for a long time. The 1988 World Series had plenty of price gouging, too. But it was such a simpler, cheaper time then. Back then, the day before Game 1, “choice field boxes” cost $50, but were selling through brokers for as much as $750. The list price for seats elsewhere was $40, but were selling for as much as $100.

World Series tickets in ’88 were sold through a postcard lottery (remember postcards?). My wife and I sent in a postcard and got a letter back that we had won a chance to buy two tickets to Game 1 in the Right Field Pavilion for $40 each. It seemed like a lot, but we did it and saw Gibson’s game-winning home run, later chosen as the most iconic L.A. sports moment.

The World Series is also a hot ticket in Houston, where the Astros are playing in only their second Fall Classic. Minute Maid Park has 41,000 seats while Dodger Stadium has 56,000, but supply and demand notwithstanding, it’s still cheaper to see Games 3-5 in Texas.

The cheapest Minute Maid seats were selling for $541 Monday morning — and that’s for the standing-room spots beyond the outfield. Outfield seats — the so-called “Crawford boxes” — were going for at least $1,200 per seat and a spot behind the Astros dugout was no less than $2,000.

Is it fair to jack up the prices for the World Series by so much? Of course it is. One of the lasting tenets of the free enterprise system is charging what the market will bear.

Unfortunately, what it means is that a higher percentage of everyday fans will be priced out of seeing their team play in the World Series after 29 years. However, fans are finding that to be a problem even during the regular season.

Times have definitely changed since 1988.

WHO’S WINNING?

WS17_WorldSeries_Primary-RGB-EventMarkDarned if I know. Dodgers vs. Astros is going to be a good Series, just like it would’ve been if it had been Dodgers vs. Yankees, Indians or Red Sox.

Both teams deserve to be there. It’s the first time in 40 years two teams that won more than 100 games are playing in the World Series.

I’m happy the Astros made it into the Series, especially after the heart-wrenching time Houstonians have had recently. They deserve to have their team playing for a championship.

The Astros’ American League pennant was a historic achievement. They are the first team to appear in the World Series for each league. Their only other appearance was in 2005 as a member of the NL. Frankly, it’s still difficult to think of the Astros being in the AL. It was dumb of then-commissioner Bud Selig to make them change leagues a prerequisite of being sold in 2012.

The Dodgers and Astros have played a number of important games against each other. In 1980, they tied for first in the NL West and had to play a one-game playoff, which the Astros won 7-1. In 1981, there was a midseason players strike. The Dodgers had the best record in the West at the time and the Astros the best in the second half. In a best-of-five division playoff, the Dodgers won the series in five games after dropping the first two. L.A. went on to win the NLCS over the Montreal Expos and the World Series over the Yankees.

As far as matchups in this year’s Series are concerned, it will help the Dodgers to have a healthy Corey Seager back on the roster and playing shortstop. But Houston’s Carlos Correa is just as good as and arguably better than Seager.

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, even at 5-foot-6, 165 pounds, is likely to be the AL’s MVP and will outdo the Dodgers’ Logan Forsythe or Chase Utley. The Dodgers’ Justin Turner outshines Houston’s Alex Bregman by plenty. Cody Bellinger does the same over Yuri Gurriel. At catcher, Dodgers duo Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal hold the edge over Brian McCann.

In the outfield, Kiké Hernandez had a sensational three-homer, seven-RBI games against the Cubs, but he’ll still be platooned with Andre Ethier or Curtis Granderson; Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez is stronger in left field. Center field will have Chris Taylor for the Dodgers in a close matchup with George Springer of the Astros. Right field has an edge for Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers against Houston’s Josh Reddick.

Pitching could be dominant and runs at a premium. The Dodgers’ starters — Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood — were excellent in the NLCS, with Darvish a pleasant surprise. Once the Dodgers got past the fifth inning, the bullpen, culminating with Kenley Jansen, was unstoppable. Justin Verlander’s addition to the Astros arguably was what pushed them into the World Series. Verlander and Dallas Keuchel will be tough in the first two games. Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock can start after that. The Dodgers have the pitching edge.

Give the managing edge to the Dodgers too. Dave Roberts never panicked during the team’s 1-16 late-season slump and his handling of the pitching and lineup during the playoffs has been near-perfect. A.J. Hinch’s Astros were never threatened in the AL West.

So who’s winning? It won’t be a breeze for either team (other than for this week’s Santa Anas). After going to Houston, the Series will come back to Dodger Stadium and the Dodgers will win in the full seven games.