NLCS Giants Phillies Baseball

Final thoughts on the NLCS and our first peek ahead to the World Series

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We’re going to have plenty of time between now and Wednesday night to break down the Rangers vs. the Giants. For now, some general impressions and observations, both of last night’s NLCS clincher and the upcoming World Series:

  • Jonathan Sanchez’s third inning meltdown in which he walked Placido Polanco, plunked Chase Utley and then sparked the little pushing shoving thing may have been the best thing that happened to the Giants all night. Sanchez can be good, but when he’s bad, he’s really bad, and he looked bad last night. If he doesn’t lose his head like he did, maybe Bochy leaves him in. But he was obviously rattled, and replacing him with Affeldt, Bumgarner and Lopez ended up being the key to the game. The Phillies couldn’t touch ’em;
  • Ryan Howard’s  final strikeout is going to stick in Philly fans’ craws all winter. The fact that his $125 million extension doesn’t kick in until [gulp] 2012 is going to stick in it even longer;
  • I didn’t have a strong rooting interest here, but as I watched each game of the NLCS I definitely found myself pulling for the Giants. As a result, I was happy that they won Game 6. The only real downside to it: no Game 7 tonight. Because remember, no matter who you’re rooting for, more baseball is always better than less baseball;
  • The storylines to this World Series are many, but the one I like the best so far is that Bengie Molina may very well be in line to collect a World Series share no matter who wins. He was beloved by his Giants teammates before the trade, and it’s common for someone to get their postseason cut even if they left the team before the season ended. Maybe there’s a rule against it here. Maybe Molina will just give it to charity anyway. Still: very cool. Or at least it will be until Buck and McCarver start beating it into the ground once the Series starts;
  • You’re going to hear a lot about the low TV ratings this World Series is going to bring in the coming days. And it may bring low ratings. I don’t care and if you care at all about baseball, neither should you. Warrant and Creed sold more albums than the Pixies and Pavement ever did and the popularity of the former doesn’t diminish the greatness of the latter in any way. This is an evenly matched series pitting two teams with a bevy of interesting and exciting players against one another, many of whom aren’t all that well-known by the general public. If people don’t watch, that’s their loss. Besides, many of the same people who will be wringing their hands over the ratings are the same people who wring their hands over the Yankees or the Red Sox being in it all the time. Some people complain about everything;
  • As for the series — which, again, we’ll certainly be breaking it down more in the coming days — I’m left with a strong first impression that the Rangers are going to take it. They have the best pitcher going in Cliff Lee, the much, much better offense and the better defense as well. Predicting baseball is a sucker’s game so I won’t do it, but I think Texas looks decidedly stronger;

I guess the last question is whether I and other non-partisans will develop a rooting interest here. Like I said above, both teams are likable, so in some ways I’m just rooting hard for baseball here in a way I probably haven’t for several years. Really, I pick some reason to either love or hate a World Series team every year. For example, last year I rooted for the Phillies because I can’t bring myself to root for the Yankees in any situation. In 2007 it was the Rockies because to hell with Red Sox Nation. In 2006 it was the Tigers because of ancient Tigers DNA in the recesses of my body and my distaste for Tony La Russa. You get the idea.

Here, though, I can’t identify a strong reason to pull for either team over the other. I’m willing to take arguments in either direction.

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.