Wow, yesterday’s Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants might be the most interesting Cubs playoff game I’ve ever seen. It was an intense pitchers’ duel in which the Cubs came out on top 1-0 thanks to an eighth inning home run by Javier Baez.
I wasn’t at Wrigley Field for this game, though I’m sure it was thrilling to be there. But for those fans who watch the playoffs from home, it’s important for TV networks to present the games in a way that is easy to follow while capturing the excitement. Last year, the Cubs’ playoff games were on TBS, and their coverage has drawn a lot of criticism, including for this recent blunder during the Red Sox-Indians series currently going on in the American League.
This year, Fox is broadcasting Cubs’ playoff games on Fox Sports 1 (except tonight’s Game 2, on MLB Network). Here are my thoughts on Fox’s Game 1 broadcast on Friday night:
Good: Announcers. Matt Vasgerian was assigned play-by-play duties, and I think he is one of the better national broadcasters in the business. He did a great job of capturing the excitement of several key plays, including the Baez home run. I thought maybe Fox would use Joe Buck, the network’s lead announcer. Many folks don’t like him, but I don’t think he’s that bad. I’m really glad they aren’t using Thom Brennaman, a former Cubs announcer who’s had it out for his old employer for years.
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz was the color analyst last night and has quickly emerged as an articulate and insightful commentator. And thanks to Fox for not having a three-person booth, like they have for the Dodgers-Nationals series. That just doesn’t work, especially with Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci as the two analysts, neither of whom I find to be particularly insightful. Though I do like Kenny Albert, the play-by-play man for that other NL series.
Ken Rosenthal is one of the game’s most prominent on-field reporters, though they didn’t seem to use him much in Game 1.
Bad: Camera Work. During several pitches, the camera was zoomed in really close on the catcher so that the pitcher and some of the batter wasn’t even visible. For some reason, they used a different camera angle replaying pitches than for live shots – and the replays were blurry. And they totally messed up Baez’s home run. Right after he hit it, the camera for some reason zoomed in on Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto. Then, as the camera followed the ball, they showed it up in the air without Giants left fielder Angel Pagan in the shot, making it hard to tell how far the ball was hit. I was confused while the ball was in the air, not sure whether to get excited. Hopefully Fox cleans this up in time for their Game 3 broadcast.
Good: On-Screen Graphics. I like Fox’s better than TBS’ graphics. I think they are less intrusive and more appealing to the eye.
Good: Studio Show. I never have liked TBS’ pregame and postgame coverage. The analysts seem to blather on and not say much insightful. Fox does a better job with this. Alex Rodriguez is showing some promise as a studio analyst, if he decides to go that route with his career. Kevin Burkhardt, Frank Thomas, and CJ Nitkowski make a good team. I think Pete Rose is knowledgeable but not really articulate or “camera friendly”.
Bad: Theme Music. I was really disappointed when, a few years ago, Fox started using their NFL music for baseball too. For a while, Fox Sports 1 was using the old baseball theme, but they didn’t do it last night.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.