And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

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Braves 8, Phillies 7; Giants 3, Padres 0: You gotta feel bad for San Diego. They played above their heads all year. You also gotta feel bad for the people who were wishing for the awesome three-way tie that would have occurred had the Padres won yesterday. Braves and Giants fans are pretty darn pleased, though. 

For their part, the Braves made it way more interesting than it needed to be, frittering away an 8-2 lead in the seventh and making it into an 8-7 nail-biter in which Billy Wagner needed to throw 37 pitches — his highest total of the season — to secure the four-out save. After the game, the Braves let fans stay in the ballpark to (a) watch REO Speedwagon in concert; and (b) watch the Padres-Giants game on the big screen. It was a rough last few days for Atlanta, but they rode the storm out and now it’s time for them to fly. To San Francisco.

The Padres had all kinds of trouble scoring runs as the season wound down, and it continued until their final game. Jonathan Sanchez shut them out for five innings and five relievers pitched in to finish the job. One of them was Brian Wilson who, with that Just For Men beard, that lame haircut, his unbuttoned jersey and his orange shoes is easily the schmuckiest looking pitcher in baseball these days. I will enjoy despising him during the NLDS. Even though his home run likely sealed his Rookie of the Year award, thereby preventing Jason Heyward from winning it, I can’t hate Buster Posey. That guy is awesome, and I look forward to seeing the guy the Giants didn’t think was ready for the majors back in April lead them into the playoffs in October.

At about this time someone, somewhere, is thinking that the wild card made this a pretty interesting weekend. Query: wouldn’t it have been more interesting if four teams in three games — the Padres, Giants, Yankees and Rays — were all playing for their playoff lives yesterday instead of three teams in two games?  Just sayin!

Rays 3, Royals 2: Thanks to the Yankees’ loss it was official before this game was over, but the Rays are your AL East champs for 2010. That’s two division titles in three years, by they way. I remind you in case you’re the type that will yell (again) about how baseball needs a salary cap and realignment and all that jazz when the Yankees sign some 30+ year-old player this winter.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 4: It’s not often you see the Yankees fade late, but a 29-30 record since August 1st constitutes a fade. Still, I’m not too worried about them. Muscle memory has to come into play when it comes to the postseason with these guys, right? They go on to play Minnesota in the first round.

Blue Jays 2, Twins 1: And as you can see, the Twins aren’t exactly finishing the season on a high note themselves. The Jays hit two more dingers in this one, upping their season total to 257. That’s tied for the third most in MLB history.

Astros 4, Cubs 0: And on the last day of the season the Astros edge out the Cubs for fourth place. I’m guessing this will lead to a lot of people overrating Houston heading into next season.

Cardinals 6, Rockies 1: At various times this season both the Cardinals (April-May) and the Rockies (early-to-mid September) seemed like two of the stronger teams in baseball, destined for playoff glory. Fitting they end the season playing one-another. Jeff Suppan with six shutout innings. Where the hell did that come from? The Rockies finished 1-13. Where the hell did that come? It’s going to be a long winter in Denver and St. Louis.

Marlins 5, Pirates 2: And with this loss the Pirates tie the 1963 Mets for the worst road record in baseball history. Sweet. John Russell is probably going to get fired. Which is sweet for him too, but only in the way that a mercy killing can be sweet under the right circumstances.

White Sox 6, Indians 5: I once saw the Indians play the White Sox to close out the season on October 3rd. It was in 1993. In that game Ozzie Guillen went 0 for 1 with a walk and a sacrifice.  A young Albert Belle sealed the AL RBI title. Bob Hope sang “Thanks for the Memories” while standing on home plate of Municipal Stadium. I keyed a car in the parking lot because it parked with its bumper touching that of my midnight blue 1987 Chevy Cavalier RS, which was something You Just Did Not Do, because that car was awesome. In other words, not much has changed in 17 years.

Reds 3, Brewers 2: Jay Bruce enters the playoffs hot, smacking his fourth homer in a week. This was probably Ken Macha’s last game at the helm of the Brew Crew.
 
Tigers 4, Orioles 2: A .500 season for the Tigers. It seems like a million years ago, but they were in first place and ten games over .500 for a brief spell back in July. Baseball seasons are long and there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.

Nationals 2, Mets 1: It’s hard to think of two teams who needed their seasons to end more than the Nats and Mets did, so of course they played fourteen innings. And it’s hard to think of a more fitting way for the Mets season to end than having Oliver Perez walk in the losing run.

Angels 6, Rangers 2: Peter Bourjous hit a homer. He strikes me as the guy who’s going to get a whole bunch of feature stories written about him next spring but who won’t live up to the hype. That homer notwithstanding, I just don’t have faith in the bat. Josh Hamilton finishes at .359 after a one for four. Texas goes on to St. Pete to play the Rays.

Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s finish at .500. As I’ve been saying it for a while now, but they probably have the biggest offseason ahead of them out of everyone. If they load up with some bats, they’re the favorites in the AL West next year. If they don’t, forget it.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: Joe Torre wins what will, in all likelihood, be his last major league game as a manager. It’s been a pretty uninspiring year for Torre and the Dodgers, but that will all wash away soon and we’ll remember that Bobby Cox wasn’t the only managerial titan leaving the stage in 2010.

And with that, the regular season ends.

Yes, we have a month’s worth of playoffs ahead of us and that’s wonderful, but the last normal day of the season is always bittersweet to me. Why? Because I enjoy dog day baseball way more than postseason baseball. I get
antsy when games start to truly matter, even if my team isn’t involved. I prefer games after which you can
turn off the TV and not think much about them because, hey, there will be another one tomorrow night.

To me, baseball is about hot nights. Baseball is about low leverage. Baseball is wonderful because it’s there every day.  Don’t get me wrong — the postseason is great — but it’s different, and in some important ways it lacks the stuff I love the most about the game.

And That Happened was launched in order to try and capture the “none of this really matters in and of itself, but taken together it means everything” nature of the regular season. So, even if I continue to recap last night’s games during the postseason, what I enjoy most about the feature is over until April. I mean, you guys are all going to watch all the games now, so me coming up with some factoid or bit of snark like I do about a near-meaningless Marlins-Nationals matchup in August that none of us watched won’t make much sense.  But that’s OK, I guess.

For those of you whose teams are marching on: good luck. For those of you whose teams are done for the year, I offer you the most beautiful thing a Commissioner of Baseball ever said:

It’s designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains comes, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.

Thank all of you for showing up each morning to read my little riffs. Let us now put on our jackets and plunge into the playoffs and beyond.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.