The Week Ahead: Hey, isn't that Johnny Damon?

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damon-100509.jpgIt’s reunion time in Detroit as the New York Yankees come to town to take on the Tigers. And this means the Yankees get a chance to see Johnny Damon and show him how little they miss him.

OK, so that’s a bit harsh, but at 21-9, New York is cruising right along. Remember the hand wringing when the Bronx Bombers decided to save their Damon money and go with Brett Gardner/Marcus Thames/Randy Winn in left field? Yeah, that was all for a whole lot of nothing wasn’t it?

The Yankees and Tigers already met up in spring training, but the contests in this four-game series count, so I doubt we’ll see any applause from A-Rod this time around.

Damon, who played a huge role in the Yankees’ championship run last season, is having a fine year so for in Detroit, hitting .302/.409/.443 with 22 runs and 14 RBIs as the Tigers sit at 17-14.

Curtis Granderson, the former Tiger acquired by the Yankees in the offseason, will reluctantly miss the trip as he works to heal from a strained groin.

“I was looking forward to seeing friends and teammates that I haven’t talked to over there,” Granderson said. “I’ve got to stay back and get better. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything; I’d still be inside getting treatment.”

In addition to a reunion with Damon, the Yankees will get a nice up-close look at Austin Jackson, the player they sent to Detroit in the Granderson deal. Jackson is hitting .370 with nine doubles, three triples and a home run in 29 games for the Tigers.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Nationals at Mets, May 10-12:
Believe it or not, this is a good matchup in the standings, as both teams are 17-14, two games behind the NL East-leading Phillies. Enjoy it while you can, fellas.

A’s at Rangers, May 11-13: Where are the Angels and Mariners? Battling it out for cellar space, that’s where. These two are your top two AL West teams – at least for the moment – with  the Rangers (18-14) holding a slim lead over the A’s (17-15). Both teams are getting some surprisingly good pitching.

Padres at Giants, May 11-13: Neither of these teams figured to have enough offense to compete this season, but that should only serve to teach us not to figure. San Diego (19-12) is tied for the second best record in the NL, with the Giants just a half-game behind.

Twins at Yankees, May 14-16: The Yankees can’t go after Joe Mauer anymore, so they’ll just try to be unfriendly hosts and steal some games over the weekend instead. These Twins, however, don’t look like the same old team the Yankees always seem to beat up on in the playoffs.

Indians at Orioles, May 14-16: They can’t all be Yankees-Red Sox, right? Both of these teams are pretty bad, but that could make for some entertaining viewing in itself. And if the game itself doesn’t make you laugh, maybe the postgame show will.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Astros at Giants (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rays (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Twins at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

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)
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)
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: