The Giants win, the Braves are eliminated, Bobby Cox rides off into the sunset

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The last at bat of the game was pretty emblematic of this season. The Braves, undermanned, finished the game with a hitter who probably shouldn’t have been there, really. But you know what? Melky Cabrera took a good hack. He hit it fairly hard. He even ran hard. Maybe he did it because he realized that Bobby Cox was watching and he didn’t want to let his manager down.

Game 4 was much like all the other games in the end.  Not much punch for the Braves. A homer from Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly was it.  Defensive lapses, though nothing egregious from Troy Glaus, surprisingly enough.  A move from Bobby Cox that, in hindsight, was a bad one. Like I said earlier today, Bobby Cox has lived and died by trusting his players.  This day he died by it, leaving Derek Lowe in the game in the seventh inning against his better judgment. Lowe said he could get Pat Burrell out. He couldn’t. He walked him and extended the inning. If Cox decides not to trust Lowe there, maybe the Braves get out of the jam. If Cox doesn’t trust his players, however, he doesn’t manage for 29 years in the bigs.

Ultimately, though, this was about a team without enough talent. There weren’t enough bats. If there were Melky Cabrera and Diory Hernandez would never have been allowed to the plate. Not enough competent fielders. If there were, Glaus wouldn’t have been playing third base. Derek Lowe showed tremendous heart pitching six and a third strong innings on short rest. Brian McCann was tremendous both at the plate and behind it. But it takes more.

The Giants had that little extra that a team needs to move on. Cody Ross — a savvy midseason pickup — was responsible for both of the Giants earned runs.  Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson bent a bit, but never broke. The balls fell when the Giants needed them to. The pitchers made the pitches when they needed to. The opposition crumbled at the worst moments and the Giants took advantage. San Francisco never excelled, but they endured and, ultimately, survived.  They’ll now go on to face the Phillies in the NLCS.  I hope for their sake they step things up, because the Phillies are a much, much better team than the Atlanta Braves.

And thus ends the career of Bobby Cox. When the game ended and Cox emerged from the dugout, the Giants players stopped their on-field celebration and applauded the man. He deserved it. Not because he was the best manager ever. He probably wasn’t. Not because he was the most likable guy ever. God knows he wasn’t.  But because he’s been running baseball teams since before most of them were born, and that’s a pretty rare things these days.

Bobby Cox returned to Atlanta to take over as general manager for my Braves when I was 12 years-old. I’m 37 now. I loved that team even when they were still a laughingstock, but eventually the novelty would have worn off.  I’m not sure what would have happened to my baseball fandom if I had lost interest in the one team I could see on TV every day back in the late 80s and early 90s. Maybe I would have stuck with the lovable losers, but I suppose I may have just let it go too. Hard to say.  It’s a question I’m glad I never had to answer thanks to Cox building that team back to respectability and then taking it over to lead it to glory.

Thanks Bobby. Thanks for everything.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.