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Scenes from Spring Training: Wake me up when Kerry Wood comes in

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I’m not gonna lie to you: it was not the most riveting day at the ballpark.  Low energy game and a low energy crowd. It happens.  Random notes:

The Cubs took the field wearing their full-blown home whites with pinstripes. LOVED it. I’m not a big fan of the lazy looking spring training warmups some of these teams wear. Wanna be professional? Look professional.  Says the jeans-and-untucked-shirt-wearing sports writer.

Also: pitchers batted today. No DH sullying the proceedings. Excellent.

The Cubs played sloppy defense. Three errors as I type this, and the game is still going.  Some nice leather from an unexpected source, however: Ryan Braun.  In the first inning he ranged far to his right to snag a sinking line drive that would have dropped in front of a lot of guys. Then, a couple of batters later he gunned down Reed Johnson who was trying to tag up from third. Braun with the defense. Who knew?

Cubs GM Jim Hendry sauntered into the press box around the third inning and just sort of hung out for a bit.  I’ve been to about 12 spring training games between this year and last year and that’s the first time a GM has just bopped around like that. Fun fact: the number one rule of the press box is that you’re not allowed to cheer.  That rule does not apply to the guy who runs one of the teams involved. It made me quite happy, actually, that Hendry cheers and roots like some regular fan.

By dint of the Brewers playing the Cubs, this was easily the most Midwestern Day of spring training thus far.  Lots of Big Ten sweatshirts in the crowd. Lots of guys who looked like this.  I almost felt like I was at home.

Except that I would never, ever be allowed to eat that hellacious creation to the left if I were at home. My wife is gonna kill me. If my diet doesn’t kill me first.

HoHoKam Stadium features organ music. Honest to goodness organ music, not piped in rock or pop.  This gave me a happy.

I wandered the crowd during the fifth and sixth innings. There was a vendor yelling “Lemonade, lemonade, just like grandma made!”  I’m sure he’s not the only lemonade vendor on the planet that uses that one, but I liked it.  Another vendor yelled “Old Style! Ice-cold Old Style!” in an extreme Barry White basso profundo. Imagine my surprise, then, when I got a look at him and saw that he was a skinny white blond kid in his mid-20s.

Kerry Wood came into the game to pitch the top of the sixth. He got a standing ovation. A bigger round of applause than the team got taking the field to start the game. Too bad he gave up two runs on three hits and a wild pitch in his inning of work.

Late game substitutions for the Brewers: Cutter Dykstra, son of Lenny. He’s someone I’m rooting for.  Also in the game: number 94.  When he was announced no one in the press box could figure out who he was because his name wasn’t listed on the roster.  Finally someone figured out it was Reggie Keen. With a number that high and a name that hard to find, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that he doesn’t make the 25-man out of camp.

Oh, and when Keen came up to bat in the eighth he was wielding a skinny orange bat that looked like a fungo. He cracked it on a foul ball and substituted it with a new one that looked far more normal. Then he walked.

It’s 5-3 in the top of the eighth now, Keen on first and nobody out. I could wait until it’s officially over to post this update, but I’m guessing nothing terribly notable is going down.  I’ll stay here and watch it anyway. Wouldn’t you?

I was originally planning on seeing the White Sox tomorrow, but I may kick them until Thursday because they’re playing the Brewers tomorrow and I kind of want to see as many different teams as possible.  As I sit here, I’m thinking — surprise! — it will be Padres-Royals instead.

Seriously: the Royals play in Surprise so even if you weren’t expecting anything it is, technically speaking, a Surprise.

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.