The Week Ahead: Smoltz returns, a day early

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John Smoltz makes his anticipated return to the mound on Thursday. It
is also his anticipated debut for the Boston Red Sox, who signed him
away from Atlanta in the offseason after the Braves showed somewhat
tepid interest in keeping their aging star.

There is one problem with Smoltz’s return, it would have been a lot more fun if it had come a day or two later.

On Thursday, Smoltz will take the mound in Washington against
baseball’s worst team – the Washington Nationals. On Friday, Boston
begins a three-game series at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves.

Clearly the Red Sox are easing the veteran right-hander back into things, and Smoltz himself says that’s fine with him.

“I’m not afraid of any challenge or anything that comes about. It’s
just, I’ve got to be realistic to see that this scenario would have
been much more than just a regular first-game start.”

Smoltz already paid respects to his former teammates when the Braves
were in Boston this past week, but it still would’ve been fun to have
them face off against each other. Now the only way that happens this
year is if both teams reach the World Series – unlikely to say the

Meanwhile, Boston fans, already undoubtedly pleased with Dice-K’s trip to the disabled list,
can get excited about adding another strong, veteran pitcher to the
rotation. A guy who has made it a habit to be dominant on the mound, even when injured.

“Even when he’s not healthy, his numbers don’t fluctuate,” marveled
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “He’s had a remarkable career.”


  • Cardinals at Mets, June 22-25: This four-game set could go a
    long way toward determining whether the Mets can hang with the
    contenders for the rest of the season.
  • Phillies at Rays, June 23-25: A rematch of last October’s World Series. Only this time, Pat Burrell will be wearing the home whites at Tropicana Field.
  • Cubs at White Sox, June 26-28:
    The Cubs enter the week on a four-game winning streak and have climbed
    within 2 ½ games of the NL Central lead. The White Sox have won two
    straight and have climbed within throwing distance of .500.
  • Red Sox at Braves, June 26-28: Smoltz is back in the house, though he won’t pitch for the Red Sox in Atlanta. Unless … anyone want some rain on Thursday?
  • Yankees at Mets, June 26-28: The Subway Series, Part Deux. The
    Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium, but now we’re travelling
    to Queens. Will it make a difference? Will A-Rod take a break?


    Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Mets (ESPN2)
    Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Braves (ESPN2)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at White Sox (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Diamondbacks (FOX)
    Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (TBS)
    Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)

    *Check local listings

  • Rob Manfred wants a new, unnecessary rule to protect middle infielders


    Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.

    Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:

    Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .

    (m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

    Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

    That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.

    Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?

    I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.

    But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.

    Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.

    Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:

    Listen up:

    That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.


    Bobby M.

    If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.

    Anti-Chase Utley signs at Citi Field were brutal and hilarious

    Chase Utley sign

    Obviously Chase Utley was not the most popular figure in Citi Field last night. The fans booed him like crazy and chanted for him to make an appearance after the game got underway.

    They made signs too. Lots and lots of signs. The one at the top of this article is the only one the Associated Press saw fit to grab a photo of, it seems. But there were more and, unlike that one, they were less than tame.

    My favorite one was this one, held by a girl about my daughter’s age. It’s direct. It’s totally unequivocal. It gets the point across:

    There’s no arguing with that. Utley could show up with a team of lawyers and after five minutes in front of this girl he’d be forced to admit, both orally and in writing, that, yes, he Buttley.

    The New York Post categorizes many more of them here. Including one that didn’t make it into the park which said “Chase Utley [hearts] ISIS.” It was confiscated by Citi Field personnel. Why?

    The sign, which actually used a “heart” drawing for loves, was confiscated by Citi Field security after she got inside Monday night. Culpepper was annoyed but gave a frank explanation.

    “My guess is Isis doesn’t want to be associated with Chase Utley,” she said, calling him, “my least favorite player ever.”

    Somebody call the burn unit.

    NLDS, Game 4: Dodgers vs. Mets lineups

    Clayton Kershaw

    Here are the Dodgers and Mets lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS in New York:

    CF Kike Hernandez
    2B Howie Kendrick
    1B Adrian Gonzalez
    3B Justin Turner
    SS Corey Seager
    RF Yasiel Puig
    C A.J. Ellis
    LF Justin Ruggiano
    SP Clayton Kershaw

    With a left-hander on the mound for New York the Dodgers are stacking the lineup with right-handed bats, using an outfield of Yasiel Puig, Justin Ruggiano, and Kike Hernandez rather than Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson. Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager are the only lefty bats in the lineup. A.J. Ellis gets the start over Yasmani Grandal by virtue of being the personal catcher for Clayton Kershaw, who’s pitching on short rest.

    RF Curtis Granderson
    3B David Wright
    2B Daniel Murphy
    LF Yoenis Cespedes
    C Travis d'Arnaud
    1B Lucas Duda
    SS Wilmer Flores
    CF Juan Lagares
    SP Steven Matz

    Obviously facing Clayton Kershaw is much different than facing Brett Anderson, but they’re both lefties and manager Terry Collins is using the same lineup as Game 3 with one slight change: Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda flipped in the batting order.