Nyjer Morgan was a jackass last night, but the Marlins were no saints themselves

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Between his mission to destroy opposing catchers, that ball-throwing thing, other run-ins with fans and the rhubarb he launched last night, I don’t think anyone would disagree that Nyjer Morgan has turned himself into baseball’s biggest villain in the past week. Still, someone needs to call out the Marlins for last night’s ugliness as well, because they seemed way out of line to me.

I get the first pitch that hit Morgan in the fourth inning. He unnecessarily slammed into Brett Hayes the night before, injuring his shoulder and ending his season. While I think throwing at guys is dumb, that’s probably going to get you hit, and Morgan got hit. He took his lumps and walked down to first base without incident.

The pitch behind Morgan that set off the brawl, however, was totally stupid. Morgan stealing a couple of bases with his team down 11 was the trigger there. Here’s the Marlins’ Wes Helms after the game explaining it:*

“I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get
back at us. We had to show him
that we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us after
last night but also trying to take the bases being [down] 10 runs. . . .
He gets under everybody’s skin. Especially mine.”

So what? Sure, Morgan is a punk. He has demonstrated that these past few days. But if you believe his press clippings, Helms is supposed to be a manager in training so maybe his skin shouldn’t be so thin. Morgan may have been trying to show Florida up, but he also came in to score on a sac fly that he wouldn’t have scored on if he hadn’t stolen bases. And while the Nats were down 11, the Marlins’ recent history shows that they’re not exactly a team that can be trusted to protect a lead, so you can’t assume the competitive portion of that game was over. I’m with Jim Riggleman here: the Nats will stop playing to win when the Marlins agree to stop trying too:

“I got no problem with” Morgan stealing the bases, Riggleman said. “We
decide when we run. The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run. We
will decide when we run. Nobody will decide when we run.”

Darn tootin’. Bad behavior is one thing, but playing baseball in a way that just doesn’t sit well with Wes Helms or whoever should not be something that gets you thrown at.

And of course the fight itself wasn’t Florida’s finest hour either. Gabby Sanchez gets points for style with that flying forearm he threw, but it seemed like excessive force to me. Morgan was certainly the aggressor, but he’s also a little guy who obviously can’t fight, and the guy he was going after (Volstad) is about seven feet tall or something. A bear hug or something seems more in order there. He’ll probably get fined for that, so no worries I suppose. As will Nats’ third base coach Pat Listach, who had no business getting in the fight the way he did either. He’s going to get a big suspension too, I bet.

But back to the Marlins. I’m not defending Morgan — he has been way out of line lately and charging the mound is never a good move — but they need to be bigger than this.

*That Washington Post story is by Adam Kilgore. I was already a big fan of his and found him to be a really nice guy when I met him briefly down at spring training in March, but I’m seriously turning into a fanboy of his. Why? Because he used the terms “ruckus” and “heel turn” in the same paragraph. Which is about 11 shades of awesome.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.