If you think Cards can recover, you're nuts

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holliday_error.jpgCongratulations Matt Holliday, you’ve just entered Steve Bartman territory. Of course, Bartman would have caught that ball.

For those of you who missed it – and judging by the empty seats at Dodger Stadium tonight, I’m guessing some of you did – Holliday helped the St. Louis Cardinals snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by dropping what would have been the game-ending fly ball in Game 2 of the NLDS on Thursday night.

Catch the ball and the Cardinals win 2-1, tying the best-of-5 series at one game apiece. Instead, James Loney’s liner sought out Holliday’s, umm, lower midsection, completely missing his glove along the way. One Ryan Franklin meltdown later and the Dodgers were sitting pretty with a 3-2 victory, a 2-0 series lead, and needing just one more victory to advance to the NLCS.

(Watch the Holliday play here. You will be amused, unless you’re a Cardinals fan.)

If this had been the World Series, Holliday’s gaffe would be on par with Bill Buckner’s famous error in 1986.

As it is, he’ll just get to watch the blunder over and over again on ESPN, TBS, FOX sports – heck, probably even Al Jazeera — and wonder if that single play will affect the dollars thrown his way in free agency. (Here’s wondering if that single mistake will actually encourage the Mets to sign him. Seems like a good fit, no?)

It’s a shame for Holliday, who is not only a great hitter (who hit a home run on Thursday, by the way), but is normally a quality defender. In fact, he has rated above average in range rating throughout his career and above average in UZR every year but 2006. He had made only one error in 63 games after being dealt to the Cardinals this season.

Manny Ramirez, he is not.

But while Holliday must now figure out how to deal with his newfound infamy, the more important thing from the Cardinals’ point of view is to figure out how to beat the Dodgers — in a hurry.

Can they do it? Well the Cardinals certainly have the right attitude, banding together to back Holliday while placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of … Dodgers fans?

“I mean, that ball got lost in 50,000 white towels shaking in front of Matt’s face,” (Adam) Wainwright added. “It doesn’t really seem fair that an opposing team should be able to allow their fans to shake white towels when there’s a white baseball flying through the air. How about Dodger Blue towels?”

Wainwright’s bravado, while admirable, probably will not be enough to save St. Louis. Teams that suffer through a gaffe like this tend not to recover. The Red Sox certainly didn’t rebound from Buckner’s error in 1986. The Cubs didn’t bounce back from Bartman in 2003. And the Cardinals were unable to recover from Don Denkinger’s blown call in 1985. (See a list of famous goats here)

And in the current series, St. Louis just went 0-2 with their two Cy Young candidates – Chris Carpenter and Wainwright — on the mound. The offense racked up 21 hits and six walks in those two games, yet scored just five runs, stranding 21 base-runners in the process. That’s 1.2 runners stranded per inning.

The Dodgers have made it a point to avoid Albert Pujols, the likely NL MVP, who has only one single in the series, yet a .444 on base percentage on the strength of three walks. Would someone like to drive Pujols in once in awhile? The time to do so would be now, Cardinals.

St. Louis will send out Joel Piniero in Game 3 to face the Dodgers’ Vicente Padilla. Piniero has had a great season (15-12, 3.49 ERA), but then again, so had Franklin, and we saw how far that got him. If things go well, it’ll be the veteran playoff stud John Smoltz against Chad Billingsley in Game 4, then back to Carpenter in Game 5.

Maybe somewhere along the line, Matt Holliday will get a chance to redeem himself. Maybe he will make people forget about Thursday’s blunder. But he’s going to going to need a lot of help from his teammates, and it’s going to have to take an epic comeback to do so.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: