And That Happened: Division Series Edition

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Giants 1, Braves 0: Congratulations, Major League Baseball: a playoff game was decided by a blown call. Sure, Tim Lincecum struck out 14 dudes — and I don’t want to detract from what was a clearly dominant performance on his part — but he would have been in the dugout with his very nice no-decision watching the bullpens battle in the 10th inning had the umpires made the correct call on Buster Posey’s stolen base in the fourth inning.  Posey admitted it after the game, going so far as to say “I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now.” That’s pretty much on the nose, is it not? Certainly we can’t change the outcome of baseball games that are in the books, but how Selig and the rest of the powers that be can continue to say everything is just dandy with umpiring and the state of replay is beyond me.

Setting that aside for now — and believe me, I’ll be saying more about it later — the Braves didn’t do themselves any favors whatsoever. Yes, Lincecum was good, but if the Braves had at any point in the game said “Hey, you know what? Maybe we should stop swinging at balls six inches out of the zone” it may have been a different game.  If Bobby Cox had not inexplicably intentionally walked Pablo Sandoval before the Cody Ross single that scored Posey, it may have been a different game.  But they didn’t and it wasn’t.

Ultimately, this was Tim Lincecum’s night. It was a fantastic performance by the guy, doing what he had to do to win a game in which his own offense wasn’t doing him any favors themselves. He went the distance, saving his pen for tonight’s game and putting the Giants in an excellent position to go up 2-0 before heading to Atlanta.

Yankees 5, Twins 2: More bad umpiring here, though this was balls-and-strikes bad, not calls-in-the-field bad. Maybe in a just world we have replay for disputed calls right now, but I don’t think any set of circumstances would have us living in a world with automated ball-and-strike umping at present. But jeez, look at Hunter Wendlestedt’s zone. Ick.  It all culminated, of course, in what should have been strike three to Lance Berkman
in the seventh. Instead, Wendlestedt called it a ball and Berkman
hit what ended up being the game-winning double on the next
pitch. He ended up scoring too, making it 4-2 ,and that was basically all she wrote.

But like with the Braves’ awful at-bats against Tim Lincecum, the Twins have a bigger issue to deal with here. Namely the fact that tattooed on the rear end of each and every Minnesota Twins player are the words “Property of the New York Yankees Baseball Club.”

Rangers 6, Rays 0: And for our third bad call of the day, we go to Tampa, where Michael Young’s three-run homer came one pitch after he stayed alive on a disputed — an ultimately incorrectly-called — check-swing.  Unlike the other two games, though, this wasn’t the deciding factor. James Shields was terrible, the Rays’ bats listless and Texas was never challenged.  Leave it to Mitch Williams of all people to correctly analyze the problem here: “there are three other guys who should have started that game over James Shields.” OK, maybe that overstates it a little — and I still don’t know that I’d want Shields starting in Texas — but Joe Maddon’s decision to go with him in Game 2 doesn’t look too spiffy at the moment. Not that he really had control over things . . .

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: