And That Happened: Wednesday's Scores and Highlights

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Phillies 1, Braves 0: All I can say at this point is woe be unto whoever has to face Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt in the playoffs. I suppose it still could be the Braves in the NLCS, but I’d just not prefer to think about that at the moment. A day off and six games against the Nationals and Marlins sounds just lovely right now.

Oh, and yesterday I mentioned things that will prey on my mind all winter. Here’s another one: The Phillies added Roy Oswalt at the trading deadline. The Braves added Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel, and then lost Chipper Jones. That’s an even exchange.

Padres 3, Dodgers 1: And the NL West see-saw continues, with the Padres back in first place. Miguel Tejada smacked his 300th homer. It feels like whoever gets to play the Dodgers last will win this thing, because they haven’t put up a fight in weeks, it seems.

Cubs 2, Giants 0: The Cubs have won seven of eight. Mike Quade: you’re passing the audition. The Giants win games nicely. But when they lose, boy do they lose. Four of their last five losses were shutouts.

Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 4: Colorado continues to fail to take care of business, and now find themselves three games back of San Diego. This one was particularly rough: Ubaldo Jimenez was staked to a 4-0 lead before he threw his first pitch. He couldn’t make it past the fourth, giving up five runs on six hits. Jim Tracy said he’s “mentally out of whack.” Maybe he’s just tired.

Rays 7, Yankees 2: After a rain delay knocked out AJ Burnett, Joe Girardi felt like the best way to win this one was to send out Royce Ring, Dustin Moseley, Chad Gaudin and Jonathan Albaladejo — four guys who are highly unlikely to find themselves on the postseason roster. Whatever, Joe.

Twins 5, Indians 1: I’m not going to say that the Indians have packed it in for the season, but when you get beat this badly by a bunch of hungover second stringers, you may not exactly have your head and heart in the game.

Marlins 7, Mets 5: Florida jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first and then held on. Jon Niese was all over the place for the Mets.

Red Sox 6, Orioles 1: A three-run homer and four RBI for Big Papi and a strong outing from John Lackey snap the Sox’ skid. And hey: a scoreless ninth for Papelbon. Miracle of miracles.

Pirates 11, Cardinals 6: Since taking over first place in that kicky and fighty series with the Reds in August, the Cardinals are 3-20 against teams with losing records. That’s absolutely astonishing. And if they lose four more games than they win before the season is out, they too will have a losing record. Which is even more astonishing given the talent on this team.

Brewers 13, Reds 1: Given that the Cards’ loss brought the Reds’ magic number down to three, this shellacking probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And there’s a bright side: seven or eight innings during which the outcome was not in doubt almost certainly gave Jeff Brantley ample time to talk about ice cream sundaes, barbecue, chilli dogs, professional wrestling and all of that stuff that makes me simultaneously love and loathe him as a radio guy. Just wish I had thought to tune in.

Mariners 6, Blue Jays 3: Jose Lopez went off for three homers, which is more air support than most Mariners starters get in a month.  From the game notes: “Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield and bench coach Nick Leyva
said they will apply to replace the departing Cito Gaston as Toronto manager.”  I like the use of the word “apply.” I picture the job vacancy being posted on the bulletin board above the coffee pot in the break room. I also picture a couple of bitter lifers in a table in the corner grumbling about how “they only post that internally because they have to. It’s all politics, man.”

Tigers 4, Royals 2: Miguel Cabrera got a leadoff single one inning. It was his only hit of the game. He had no other big moments or any RBIs. After the game, Johnny Damon said “Without him, we are probably in the cellar in our division. That’s how good he is.”  Somebody got the talking points!

White Sox 4, Athletics 3: Hey, the Sox won a game! They were down 3-1 in the eighth when Juan Pierre stole home to make it 3-2. Then a walk, a fielder’s choice, a single, a single and a double made it 4-3. Nice comeback for a team that has looked beat for the past two weeks.

Nationals 4, Astros 3: The game story makes an early, prominent mention of the fact that the Nats drew only 12,000 or so for this game.  I’m reading that 70s baseball book, and there is constant mention of teams — even good teams or teams with rich histories and deep fan bases — drawing pathetically by today’s standards. Things like the Yankees getting 19,000 on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium and stuff like that. The Nats’ 12,000 and change was roughly what the Cubs drew on average for the entire 1974, 1975 and 1976 seasons in Wrigley. Just a totally different era.

Rangers 2, Angels 1: Jeff Francoeur: secret weapon. He can take a hit-by-pitch. He can score on a passed ball in extra innings. He can find so many ways to beat you.  OK, not fair: he did hit a double to get into position to score on that passed ball.  The Rangers magic number is four heading into a four game series with Oakland, so this could all be done Friday night if everything breaks right.

Some equal time for the Rays defenders

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Yesterday I came out pretty sharply against the Rays recent moves. I stand by all of those comments, but I think it’s worth giving equal time to dissenting views.

Each of those posts contain analytically-based looks at each move and, for the most part, defends them on their baseball merits. I’ll let them stand on their own on their specific merits and not go in with point-by-point rebuttals (a) because that’s tedious; and (b) because I’m not the best-suited person to rebut analytical points.

There’s a (c) here, though, which is more important in my mind: no matter how many good points those articles make — and they do make many — it’s sort of beside the point. Because it seems to me that those of us slamming the Rays and those of us defending the Rays are talking past one another.

Sullivan, Drays Bay and others are arguing that the Rays front office was able to make some good moves. And they make those arguments pretty well in a vacuum. What they don’t address — and what I’m mostly concerned with — is the assumption that they HAD to make those moves. From where I’m sitting — and the credulousness some have for front office spin notwithstanding — Rays transactions in recent years, and certainly lately, seem to be pretty clearly mandated by ownership in order to either cut payroll or to keep it from growing and to shed arbitration-eligible dudes. That the GM and his team have made decent lemonade out of those lemons does not vindicate ownership’s mandate to cut payroll and shed arbitration-eligible dudes.

What’s more, such arguments — “hey, here’s the x, y, z of why trading away the face of the franchise is good!” — do not address the largest issue facing Tampa Bay Rays baseball, now and for the club’s entire history: fan apathy. Yes, they do relatively well in the TV ratings and their stadium and its location are a big hurdle to overcome, but the fact of the matter is that the Rays, as an organization, have rarely if ever done things which can be best explained in terms of giving the fans an entertaining product on the field. They have had some excellent teams, but they have, more than most clubs, let their baseball decision making be determined by the bottom line rather than making baseball decisions aimed at creating a consistently-winning and entertaining product.

A much simpler way to look at this is from the perspective of casual fans, families and the sorts of people who are not hardcore statistically-inclined diehards. What have the Rays done to attract these people? How does a 12-year-old kid get excited about the fact that they traded away Evan Longoria for payroll purposes and cut Corey Dickerson, an All-Star last year, because his 115 wRC+ far outpaced his projected 103 wRC+? That’s a consideration that a diehard fan who has, through big-time immersion, come to appreciate as a second-level thing, but it’s not how anywhere close to a majority of fans enjoy and experience the game. They like stars and familiar names and they want to believe that, if they go to a game, the team has a good chance to win it and that it’s fun in the process.

I’m not seeing any appreciation from the Rays’ defenders for that dynamic. I’m not seeing any acknowledgement that the Rays moves are making the team less familiar and less enjoyable for a casual fan and how that, when you take away some of your team’s better players and replace them with guys who might be better at some point down the road, there’s a good chance that the team will take a step back in the short term and how that that may turn off a lot of fans.

There’s an argument in the DRays Bay piece that those of us criticizing the Rays are doing so from some sort of pre-Moneyball, luddite perspective. This is ridiculous. Most of the folks who are leveling this criticism — and Drays Bay links our articles on this in their piece if you want to read them — are well-versed in team building theory. Many of us were deeply immersed in sabermetric reading and writing before the Rays even existed as a franchise. We’re well-aware of what motivations and incentives exist for general managers and the manner in which one builds a team for sustained competitiveness.

The point is that most people do not root for general managers. They do not care about long-term, sabermetrically-sound theories of team building. They want an entertaining team in which they can, over time, invest some loyalty and forge an emotional connection. If a club cannot serve those fans — which are, again, most fans — while also building their team for sustained competition, they need to explain why they can’t, given how many teams are able to do this. They are not entitled to the deference they and their defenders expect as a matter of course.