Cal Ripken Jr. and Ron Darling will join play-by-play man Ernie Johnson as the lead broadcast crew when TBS begins its postseason telecasts next week, and Thursday was the annual conference call in which the analysts address a wide array of Major League Baseball topics while the network introduces its latest bells and whistles -- such as its new 360-degree, gyro-stabilized "Truss Cam" patrolling outfield walls on a trolley.
First up will be the two Wild Card Games presented by Budweiser on TBS, beginning with the National League game on Tuesday between two Central Division teams to be determined, and then the American League version a day later between survivors among Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Texas. So you might as well start there, with the duo's thoughts about how to manage that single-game format.
"How do you manage it? You manage it like it's a Game 7," Darling said. "What you're trying to do is win a game to have a right to play a best-of-five series. You're doing everything you have to, and then asking questions later, like who's going to start if you're lucky enough to win. If you're watching a team and you see a guy who might not be performing at his best as a pitcher, you would never take him out in the second inning in the regular season -- but he doesn't look right, so you go get him. Hard decisions."
"How did we get here, what is the nucleus of our team, how did we score runs, pitch and play defense? You don't want to start making changes," Ripken added. "You still have to ride the horses that got you there. But maybe you do bunt earlier. I like the hit-and-run in general as a play. Pitchers aren't getting you good pitches to hit anyway, and by putting runners in motion, a pitcher has to pitch to you. First-and-third takes a lot of pressure off the offense. Maybe you do play a little smaller ball to maybe get a lead, but I would avoid any being too radical."
TBS is not afraid to be radical when it comes to its annual production extravaganza. Its studio team of analysts will feature three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, Keith Olbermann and Tom Verducci. Additionally, Dirk Hayhurst, former Major League pitcher, Blue Jays analyst and author of "The Bullpen Gospels," will provide commentary and insights during TBS' studio coverage. (That's the same Dirk Hayhurst who once accused Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz of "loading the ball," a charge refuted by Buchholz and the Red Sox, so it will be interesting to see what happens during Buchholz's time on the mound this fall.)
In addition to the Wild Card Games, TBS, in its seventh consecutive year televising the MLB postseason, will be the exclusive home of up to 18 Division Series games as well as the NL Championship Series.
The lead broadcast crew will be joined by Verducci and Craig Sager as reporters during the NLCS. Play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson will be joined in the booth by veteran analysts John Smoltz and Joe Simpson throughout the postseason. Dick Stockton will provide play-by-play with analyst Bob Brenly. Play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo will describe game action with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and analyst Buck Martinez.
"I've always enjoyed Pedro, period," Ripken said. "He was always an emotional fun-loving pitcher when I played against him. You wished you missed him each series. He had the best fastball, curve and change. I've always enjoyed his outgoing personality, and he'll bring an outstanding perspective. I'm really happy that he's getting the chance to tell them what he thinks of baseball."
In terms of new broadcast technology, the Truss Cam figures to be the highlight of the new technology for TBS coverage. It is a camera that sits beyond the outfield wall, on 125 feet to 300 feet of track depending on the field.
"It will provide us a lot of dynamic movement as we're covering the game and will ultimately create a better experience for the fan and new angles to televise the game with," said Craig Barry, senior vice president and executive creative director of Turner Sports.
Other key technology TBS will include:
TBS Total Motion. Capturing more than 3,000 frames per second, the high-speed camera will provide viewers gripping super-slow-motion replays at key moments of the game. Each TBS game telecast will utilize TBS Total Motion, with two in use during the NLCS.
Super Slo Mo. In addition to TBS Total Motion, TBS will triple the amount of Super Slo Mo cameras used throughout the postseason.
Pitch Trax presented by Chevrolet. An enhanced version of the in-game technology will be rolled out. In addition to illustrating pitch location, the on-screen graphic will be able to indicate pitch type and other variables such as a swinging strike vs. caught looking. It will also be able to display a hitter's batting history against a specific pitcher.
Bloomberg Stats. TBS will incorporate the comprehensive statistical information at select moments within the telecast, such as a hitter's performance in key situations of the game (e.g. facing a particular pitcher with a 3-2 count and two outs). The analytics also will be utilized by game and studio analysts to examine every pitch of every game to identify patterns and determine relevant tendencies.
"Our philosophy with any new technology incorporated into our telecasts is to bring our fan closer to the game, provide more creative ways to extend storylines and improve the overall viewing experience," Barry said. "These enhancements will provide unique perspective into the game and deliver deeper levels of access during meaningful game situations and other key moments."
One unquestioned novelty on this year's postseason conference call was the inclusion of the Pirates as a discussion topic. They are in for the first time in 21 years.
"I would have never thought we'd be talking about them in the playoffs," Ripken said, asked if he would have guessed last spring he would be talking about them now. "I was hoping for a .500 season just for the sake of they're doing good things. You liked the things they were doing to develop.
"I give them a legitimate chance in the playoffs. A.J. Burnett's experience helps them, Gerrit Cole is a live arm, and you can't forget Francisco Liriano. If the game goes to the bullpen, you have to love their power arms coming out there. I like Justin Morneau to pick up with that experience and bat, and I like Marlon Byrd. It gives them depth and the ability to score. They're a pretty balanced team."
Darling said they have more going for them than their actual roster. The question is whether Pirates fans will actually get a chance to see them in person; a Wild Card road loss would mean one and out without a home game.
"Not only do they have a team, but they have a city, a stadium, everything involved here," Darling said. "If they go deep in the playoffs, their ballpark might be the 10th man. That's an amazing thing. There are a lot of ballparks that have great fans, but Pittsburgh has been so stalled for so long, they might have excitement that lifts their team up. ... It's been a magical season. I like new teams in the playoffs."
Ripken said he likes Detroit in the AL and Los Angeles in the NL. Both analysts agreed that the presence of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke puts the Dodgers in an enviable position going into any series, because of their shutdown capabilities.
"It almost appears to be the Dodgers' year in my opinion," Ripken said. "If you're riding on the back of Kershaw and Greinke, plus they have an energy -- maybe it's Yasiel Puig, maybe it's Hanley Ramirez coming in and stabilizing the team with his play.
"It does concern me they haven't played meaningful games down the stretch. You have to ask if they can flip the switch. But they have proved they can be a hot team and play well together. Those two pitchers give them a chance to go deep in the playoffs. I like the Dodgers moving on."
Last postseason marked Ripken's move from the studio to the broadcast booth. What has the Iron Man learned about himself as a broadcaster?
"In many ways, I still think I am dabbling as an analyst," he said. "It's easy with Ernie in the booth, and Ronnie is a seasoned pro. I haven't had the experience, but inside my head I have the knowledge."