Sherrill, Ibanez, and the unpredictable playoffs

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Count me among those who think that the playoffs involve a lot more luck and random chance than most people would like to believe. An example of the unpredictable, anything-can-happen nature of the postseason was on display last night when George Sherrill came out of the Dodgers’ bullpen to pitch the eighth inning of a 5-4 game.
Sherrill is among the best left-handed relievers in baseball and was absolutely fantastic after joining the Dodgers in a midseason trade, posting a 0.65 ERA in 27.2 innings while holding opponents to a .192 batting average. Overall this season left-handed batters managed to hit a measly .128 with zero homers against Sherrill and he also held lefties to a .190 batting average last year.
So what happened? Well, first Sherrill walked Ryan Howard, a left-handed batter who hit just .207 with a putrid .653 OPS against southpaws this season. And then he walked Jayson Werth, which as ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark pointed out was the first time in Sherrill’s entire career that he’d walked back-to-back hitters leading off an inning that he’d started. But wait, there’s more.
With two men on base Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate, at which point Sherrill served up his first home run to a left-handed hitter since June 14, 2008. Now, to Ibanez’s credit he’s typically done well against left-handed pitching, so his hitting the homer isn’t so shocking. But the entire sequence had to come as a shock to Joe Torre, who’s spent the last few months watching Sherrill give up a grand total of one run in 30 appearances while being basically unhittable against lefties.
So naturally Sherrill walks the first two batters he sees, including a left-handed hitter who struggles mightily against pitchers like him, and then serves up his first homer to a lefty in 17 months. These are the types of things that determine who wins and loses in the playoffs, and there’s just no way to predict them in an environment where losing three or four games to a good team ends your season. It’s an awful lot of fun to watch, though.

Bryce Harper to Little League players: “No participation trophies, first place only”

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Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper had some words of advice for a local Little League team on Saturday, telling a crowd of young players and their parents that winning matters far more than any participation trophies they might receive for their efforts on the field.

“As much as they might tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you guys lost…’ No, Johnny, no,” Harper explained. “No participation trophies, okay? First place only. Come on.”

The panic over participation trophy culture has swelled over the last few years as studies continue to suggest that children are happier when they’re praised for their accomplishments, rather than rewarded for simply trying their best. The general idea is that kids aren’t motivated to succeed when they know they’ll receive a ribbon or medal celebrating their efforts at the end of the day — regardless of whether they win or lose. (Granted, it stands to reason that every kid can feel the difference between winning a championship trophy and receiving a participation ribbon.) Some have taken the idea to an extreme, claiming that when a child receives too many accolades for mediocre or poor performances, it can warp the way they view the world by generating a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Harper kept his tone light during the Q&A session, however, drawing cheers and applause from the majority of parents and a few of the kids. The 2015 NL MVP has routinely taken his own advice over the years, earning Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star nominations and a Silver Slugger award since he broke into the major leagues in 2012. Next on his list? A World Series championship.

Indians to move Danny Salazar to the bullpen

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MLB.com’s William Kosileski reports that Indians starter Danny Salazar is being moved to the bullpen and will be available as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. The Indians will go on a five-game road strip starting on June 2, and manager Terry Francona said that Salazar could get a start during that trip.

Salazar, 27, has struggled to a 5.50 ERA over his first 10 starts this season. While none of those starts were absolute disasters, he failed to finish the sixth inning in seven of those 10 starts. It’s a far cry from his performance over the last two seasons, when he finished with a 3.45 ERA and 3.87 ERA.

Salazar’s walk rate is up to a career-high 11.9 percent, per FanGraphs, and he’s allowing many more line drives at the expense of ground balls. Compared to 2016, his line drive rate is up 8.9 percent and his ground ball rate is down 10.4 percent. All of that could explain Salazar’s struggles to some extent.