The Week Ahead: Huge hopes for Rockies

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rockies_090823.jpgRemember that cute little Colorado Rockies team back in 2007?

A modern day Cinderella, they won their final 40 games (it only seemed that way), received some help from the ghost of Tony Gwynn (actually it was his son), then beat the Padres in a one-game playoff when Matt Holliday tried to tag home plate with his face (maybe he was out, but that would ruin a great story).

From there, it was a magical run to the World Series, where the dream ended rather abruptly when Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox took the glass slipper and “Riverdanced” the thing into tiny pieces.

Well don’t look now, but the Rockies are at it again. In the middle of June, they won 17 of 18. Currently, they’ve taken six of seven, and 16 of 23, building a three-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race.

And remember that huge lead the Dodgers held in the NL West? Yeah that’s pretty much gone now, reduced to a mere 3 1/2 games (the second closest division race, behind the AL Central).

The plucky Rockies have even been making moves just to show how serious they are, taking a flyer on veteran pitcher Russ Ortiz as insurance for the injured Aaron Cook, and hoping that Jason Giambi will find his legs after being deemed finished in Oakland.

It makes for a huge week ahead for the boys in black. Following the fourth and final game of their series vs. the Giants on Monday, the Rockies host the Dodgers in a huge three-game set, then head to San Francisco for a rematch with the Giants.

Will Cinderella dance again? This week could gives us a strong indication.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

Tigers at Angels, Aug. 24-26: The only matchup of division leaders this week, featuring the high-powered offense of L.A. vs. the tough pitching of Detroit. Go figure.

Rangers at Yankees, Aug. 25-27: Speaking of tough pitching, how about those improved Rangers? We’ll see if Yankee International Airport — I mean, Stadium — does anything to change that.

Dodgers at Rockies, Aug. 25-27: Colorado has won seven of 10 and all of a sudden the Dodgers’ NL West lead has shrunk to 3½ games. Division race, anyone?

Braves at Phillies, Aug. 28-30: Funny that it’s the Braves, and not the Mets, who are keeping the heat on Philly. Although, at 6½ games back, not THAT much heat.

Rockies at Giants, Aug. 28-30: The Rockies took two of three from the Giants this weekend, even beating Tim Lincecum. Now, the rematch of NL wild-card contenders.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 10:05 p.m. ET: Tigers at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rangers at Yankees (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Tigers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Mets at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Dodgers at Reds (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]