Joe Morgan, Jerry Manuel and no-brainers

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No, I’m not just being redundant.

Certainly according to Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips, it was the
easiest decision of all-time: walk Derek Jeter to get to Mariano
Rivera. Men on first and second, two outs, one of the game’s most
clutchtastic players at the plate or bases loaded and Rivera batting
for the third time in 15 years as a major leaguer. The announcers were
positively stunned when Francisco Rodriguez threw his first pitch to
Jeter a bit off the outside corner for a generous strike one call. Two
balls further outside and finally two intentional balls followed,
setting it up for Rivera to hit with the bases loaded.

Of course, Rivera went on to walk, giving the Yankees a two-run
cushion. Morgan and Phillips had never even mentioned it as a
possibility and perhaps even a reason not to put Jeter on
automatically. I agreed with the idea of walking Jeter, but I’m not
sure it’s quite as clear cut as it was made out to be.

In his major league career, K-Rod has limited hitters to a
.164/.244/.221 line with men on first and second. The typical hitter
has a one-in-six chance of getting a hit against him in that situation.
Now Derek Jeter isn’t the typical hitter. He had five singles and four
walks in 14 career plate appearances against K-Rod. Suffice to say, he
did have a better than one-in-six chance of getting a hit in the
situation. However, K-Rod had an advantage as well, in that he didn’t
have to give Jeter anything to hit. He could have continued working
Jeter very carefully and backed up that fastball off the corner with a
heater up and then a slider low and away. Jeter likely would have
expanded his strike zone, knowing that Rivera was up next. It’s
possible that K-Rod could have retired him without ever having to throw
a strike.

But instead, we had Mariano Rivera up with the bases loaded. The
league has hit .233/.338/.400 against K-Rod with the bases loaded in
his career. Rivera, while an amazing athlete, probably isn’t a league
average hitter. He doesn’t have bad form in the box, but I don’t think
I’d want to count on him batting any better than .050 against K-Rod. If
he was going to reach, it’d be far more likely to come via the walk.

And I think there was always a real possibility that it would happen.

This is just another guess, but I imagine the typical major league
pitcher can, if he’s not trying to do anything else, throw his fastball
for a strike a little better than 90 percent of the time. Maybe not
quite 95 percent — I’ve seen too many 3-0 walks to believe that — but
90-92 seems reasonable. With K-Rod, I’d say it’s a lot closer to 60-70.
He’s just different. Much of the time, he seems to have better command
of his get-me-over slider than his fastball. But he never tried one of
them against Rivera. After all, Rivera might have gotten lucky and
timed one of those. He probably wasn’t going to put a fastball into
play.

My argument is based on this: there are pretty much three base
situations in which you especially don’t want to issue walks, when a
man is on first, when men are on first and second (and Mariano Rivera
isn’t on deck) and when the bases are loaded. K-Rod has unintentionally
walked 54 in 515 plate appearances in those situations (10.5 percent).
The rest of the time, he’s unintentionally walked 141 in 1,469 plate
appearances (9.6 percent). K-Rod simply has no ability to start
throwing strikes when he needs to. He’s an outstanding pitcher anyway,
but it’s still because he’s so difficult to hit. Unfortunately, the
intentional walk to Jeter put him in a situation in which he didn’t
have to give up a hit to allow a run.

I still think it was the right move. Even if we go based on my
theory that K-Rod was just as likely to walk Mariano Rivera there as he
would have been Alex Rodriguez, that 10 percent chance and the maybe
five percent chance of Rivera getting a hit doesn’t top Jeter’s chances
of getting a hit. However, I do think Mets manager Jerry Manuel should
take something from sequence. Asking K-Rod to issue an intentional walk
is typically the wrong strategy, and it’s not a good sign that K-Rod
has already had four this year, matching his total from 2007 and 2008
combined.

Albert Pujols is eighth on the all-time home run list

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Albert Pujols kicked things off for the Angels in dramatic fashion on Friday night, cranking a two-RBI home run off of the Orioles’ Jeremy Hellickson to give the club an early lead in the first inning. The 350-footer was his 18th home run of the year and No. 609 in his 17-season career, tying Sammy Sosa on the all-time home run list for eighth overall and most home runs hit by a player born outside of the United States.

With the home run, Pujols sits just three homers shy of tying Jim Thome’s 612-home run record for seventh on the all-time list. That figures to be the last major milestone still ahead of the designated hitter this season, with Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630-home run mark still a distant 21 blasts away.

The Angels, meanwhile, ran with Pujols’ lead, collecting home runs from Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Kaleb Cowart and Mike Trout. It wasn’t quite enough to quash the Orioles, however, who surged to a 9-7 finale after Manny Machado went 3-for-5 with three home runs and struck a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Nationals place Max Scherzer on 10-day disabled list with neck inflammation

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The Nationals placed right-hander Max Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, the team announced Friday. Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start against the Padres and replaced by left-hander Matt Grace, though an official roster move has yet to be made to fill his spot on the roster. The assignment is retroactive to August 15.

Scherzer experienced a similar pain on the right side of his neck at the start of the month, though this is the first official stint he’ll serve on the disabled list in 2017. While comments from club manager Dusty Baker suggest that the injury wasn’t caused by any particular trauma, it seems likely that the ace right-hander will be sidelined for at least one more start.

It’s a terrible time to lose a star pitcher, especially with the Nationals positioned to make a deep run in the postseason, but their 14-game cushion in the NL East should buy them some time while Scherzer’s on the mend. Prior to his bout of inflammation, the 33-year-old looked remarkably healthy this season. He pitched through his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign and currently boasts a 12-5 record in 24 starts, complete with a 2.25 ERA (good for second-best among qualified starters), 2.2 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9 in 160 1/3 innings.