Daily Dose: Pedro Who?

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ja happ.jpgWith the Phillies facing a decision on who to bump from their rotation once Pedro Martinez is deemed ready, J.A. Happ submitted his case for remaining a starter with the best performance of his career Wednesday. He tossed a complete-game shutout against the Rockies, striking out a career-high 10 while allowing just four hits and two walks, and the 127-pitch effort makes him 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA.
Happ’s outing ranks among the top dozen starts in the NL this season and easily overshadowed the six innings of three-run ball that Martinez threw at Double-A in his third and perhaps final rehab appearance. Jamie Moyer is the obvious choice to be replaced by Martinez thanks to his 5.55 ERA, but the 46-year-old is signed for next season at $6.5 million and the Phillies don’t see him as a bullpen option.
That leaves poor Happ as the odd man out, because Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton obviously aren’t going anywhere. There’s no question that Happ is a better option than Moyer or Martinez down the stretch, but the Phillies may want to prep him for a postseason bullpen role and a six-game cushion in the division gives them a chance to do that without really risking their odds of getting there.
While the Phillies make a choice between experience and money or performance and youth, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Believe it or not the Mets suffered another big injury Wednesday, as Jon Niese exited his start in the second inning with what turned out to be a complete tear of his right hamstring. He was just starting to look like he was in the majors to stay, but the 22-year-old lefty will miss the remainder of the season. Nelson Figueroa tossed 4.1 shutout innings in relief of Niese and could take his rotation spot.
Bobby Parnell is another option, as Jerry Manuel admitted that he’s considered a move back to the starting role that he filled in the minors and seemingly took the first step toward stretching out his arm with a three-inning relief appearance. His upside as a starter is fairly limited, because Parnell had a 4.67 ERA and 188/104 K/BB ratio in 45 starts between Double-A and Triple-A before moving to the pen.
* Already on the disabled list with an injured shoulder, Erik Bedard is headed for an MRI exam after complaining of soreness following a bullpen session Tuesday. Bedard is eligible to come off the shelf on August 10 and if healthy could still be traded by the Mariners, but even a minor setback would rule that out and end the impending free agent’s time in Seattle after 30 starts and 11 wins in two years.
AL Quick Hits: Tim Wakefield (calf) felt strong enough to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Bobby Jenks was again unavailable Wednesday because of kidney stones … Jason Berken will remain in the rotation despite going 0-9 since winning his MLB debut … Boston inked Paul Byrd to a minor-league deal Wednesday and he could be a September rotation option … Acquired from the Cardinals last week to finish the Mark DeRosa deal, Jess Todd could claim a late-inning role in the Indians’ bullpen … Cody Ransom began the season as Alex Rodriguez’s fill-in, but was designated for assignment Wednesday after batting .190 … Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) is slated to begin a rehab stint Saturday at Triple-A … Francisco Liriano took his AL-high 11th loss Wednesday, allowing four runs before the bullpen imploded … David Ortiz was benched Wednesday versus lefty David Price, with Mike Lowell starting at DH.
NL Quick Hits: Scott Rolen went deep in his return to the lineup Wednesday after getting beaned Sunday … Roy Oswalt (back) threw from flat ground Wednesday and will try a mound session Friday … Clint Barmes was hitless Wednesday and is now 8-for-66 (.121) since the All-Star break … After starting 54 straight games since being called up, dizziness kept Andrew McCutchen out Wednesday … B.J. Ryan will try to find another minor-league deal after being released Wednesday by the Cubs … Chris Young is expected to avoid surgery on his injured shoulder, but won’t pitch again this year … Wandy Rodriguez (hamstring) tossed a bullpen session Wednesday and noted afterward that he “felt great” … Chad Gaudin had his second straight poor outing Wednesday after looking like he was ready to be a fantasy asset … Micah Owings (shoulder) threw a simulated game Wednesday and could begin a rehab stint next week … Jimmy Rollins homered Wednesday for the third straight game.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.