Beating the streak meaningful to McCann, NL

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The American League’s dominance in the All-Star game had become such a joke that David Ortiz was free and easy with some pre-game trash talk, albeit of the good-natured variety, and Ichiro was pressured yet again into giving his annual pre-game inspirational speech – against his will.

The AL players clearly had a swagger about them, and relished their run of success. But the 13-year streak was put to rest on Tuesday night when Brian McCann turned on a Matt Thornton fastball for a three-run double in the seventh inning, sparking the NL to a 3-1 victory.

It was the first win for the NL since 1996. And while seven of those losses were by two runs or less, including a 4-3 defeat last season in St. Louis, the streak was on the players’ minds.

“We’ve had to answer that question the last five times for me,” said McCann, who was named the game’s MVP. “To be able to come through in a big spot was something I’ll never forget.”

NL manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have been in each of the last two World Series, says he stressed the importance of the game to his players, and that home-field advantage in the Fall Classic was indeed a carrot worth reaching for.

“The last two years the Phillies have been in the World Series and it was big,” Manuel said. “Two years ago we won it when we played the Devil Rays in Philly and won three straight, we definitely did not want to go back down to Tampa and play. I think home-field advantage, definitely, it’s a big deal.”

Manuel managed the game in an unconventional manner – at least for an All-Star game. Bringing in left-handed middle reliever Hong-Chi Kuo in the fifth inning to face a string of AL left-handers, leaving established stars like Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum (who did not pitch) on the bench.

Then in the sixth inning, Manuel removed his own ace Roy Halladay after just 17 pitches — granted Halladay was struggling — in favor of Washington Nationals reliever Matt Capps.

Both moves were unusual considering the All-Star setting, but even though Kuo allowed an unearned run as the AL took a 1-0 lead, the moves worked out in the end.

Manuel said he thought that the streak didn’t weigh too heavily on his players’ minds, that it was of more interest to the fans and the media. But McCann’s comments on the matter were a little more revealing.

“Everybody knows that it counts,” he said. “We want to win it. We don’t come out here just to play like it’s OK to lose. Everybody in there is competitive and that’s why we’re here. We’ve been like this our whole lives. We want to win.”

And with his Atlanta Braves sitting atop the NL East, he admitted that home-field advantage was on his mind.

“It means a little more to me this year than in the past because we’re in first place,” he said. “You think about it more when you’re in that position, instead of coming here 10 games out, 12 games out.”

And for AL manager Joe Girardi, whose Yankees are among the favorites – if not THE favorites – to reach the World Series in October, he knows this was an opportunity lost.

“It’s extremely important, and whoever is in the World Series is going to have to work hard,” he said. “And ending the streak is disappointing as well, but we have an opportunity to start a new one next year.”

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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]