MLB on Sling TV: The Rise of the Small-Market Teams (Yes, We’re Looking at You, Pirates and Royals)

Aug 10, 2015 by Robb Todd


Footage of the last championships for Kansas City and Pittsburgh is grainy enough to make anyone who remembers it feel very old.

The Pirates last won the World Series in 1979, led by Willie Stargell, and the Royals won in 1985, led by George Brett. Both players are in the Hall of Fame now, and the game has changed a great deal.

Since those last championships, many observers began to worry that large-market teams such as the Yankees, with their ever-thick wallet, had an unfair advantage in free agency. However, baseball’s leadership has made some adjustments to address the issue and, perhaps more importantly, small-market teams have learned how to win without getting into bidding wars for big stars.

Some call that “Moneyball” but others just call that being smart.

The Pirates and Royals both play twice this week on Sling TV because both teams seem poised to make significant runs into the postseason. A few years ago, it would have been highly unlikely to see either squad on a national broadcast this late in the season.

The Pirates won 94 games in 2013, snapping a streak of 20 losing seasons in a row that left fans starving for a winner.

“We dug one out of the dirt last year to get to the playoffs,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Sports Illustrated during Spring Training, “but we know how much work it takes to get back to the playoffs. This year, it’s keep doing what we’ve done, and then some. This team is hungry.”

2013 was a good year for the Royals, too. They won 86 games and snapped a decade-long losing streak. Now, they are anything but a pushover.

“They don’t back down,” Royals manager Ned Yost told Sports Illustrated after a five bench-clearing incidents during a 12-day span. “If other teams were trying to get us so mad we couldn’t be successful, the opposite happened. We actually got better after one of those incidents. I think teams started to see, ‘You want to stir up the beehive? Go ahead. But you’re going to get stung.’”

Both teams have reversed their fortunes by developing their farm system, spending wisely when needed, and winning a few trades. Now it seems quite possible they could meet in the World Series.

The Royals have the best record in the American League while the Pirates have the second-best record in the National League.

But now instead of Willie Stargell for the Pirates, it’s Andrew McCutchen. And instead of George Brett for the Royals, it’s Alex Gordon (or maybe Eric Hosmer). And instead of grainy video that makes you feel old, it’s live streaming on nearly every device—which makes you feel like you’ll live forever.

*All times eastern. Projected starters as of Monday. Some games subject to regional blackout.

Monday, August 10

Detroit at Kansas City, 8pm (ESPN)

Matt Boyd vs Johnny Cueto

Wednesday, August 12

Pittsburgh at St. Louis, 8pm ( ESPN)

Gerrit Cole vs Michael Wacha

Sunday, August 16

Pittsburgh at New York Mets, 1:10pm (TBS)

Jeff Locke vs Matt Harvey

Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City, 8:08pm (ESPN)

Hector Santiago vs Yordano Ventura

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