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The Panic Index: The Red Sox, Giants, Rays and Brewers

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Panic on the streets of Boston … St. Pete, Frisco and Milwaukee …

OK, fine, so the Smiths sang about panic better than I can, but the “oh noes!” quotient is pretty high among some fans this morning. Fans who, it seems, forgot that baseball is not football and three or four games don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but their pain is real even if it’s not entirely rational.

Or is it?  Based on random comments, emails and tweets, fans of four teams seem to be most concerned on this fine day. Let’s see if they’re taking to their fainting couches prematurely or if they really do have something to worry about. Let’s rate the panic on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that you’re just mad about Saffron, and ten meaning that it’s time for fans to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside:

Red Sox: Yeah, it was an ugly weekend with the pitching staff serving up meatballs, but I really do think this is just a blip. The Sox are not the first team to leave The Ballpark with an ugly ERA and they won’t be the last. The Rangers are good. Everyone is healthy. The 1998 Yankees began the season 0-3 and they somehow found 114 wins lying around over the next six months, so there’s no reason to push the panic button in Beantown. Panic Index: 3

Giants: Yeah, the chalk outline of Aubrey Huff in right was funny, but with the way he’s flopped around out there I’m worried for his safety, be it from going into a wall Bump Bailey-style or be it from his pitching staff murdering him. The defense is a huge problem for San Francisco. Perhaps a bigger problem than we assumed this spring. Still, Cody Ross will be back soon, moving Huff to left, and you can’t really get down on a team with this kind of pitching. Panic Index: 5

Brewers: Eh, hard to say if it’s panic time yet. The Reds are good. Milwaukee should have won that Opening Day game. Zack Greinke will come back and restore order. But the defense, while not as spectacularly shaky as the Giants was this weekend, was bad, and Randy Wolf made everyone flash back to the Brewers’ pitching struggles in 2010.  Panic Index: 6

Rays: This is a problem. No, not the anemic showing against the Orioles as such — Chris Tillman and Zach Britton are going to make a lot of guys look bad over the next few years — but because of the injuries. Evan Longoria could be on the shelf for three weeks if you believe Joe Maddon, and Johnny Damon — a guy whose primary value at this point is his dependability — is hurting only two games into this thing.  For the Rays to have a hope at being relevant, everything needs to go their way. They need to get the breaks. Losing their best player and their starting left fielder is not something they need. Panic Index: 8

So there you have it.  Knowing these things won’t prevent you from panicking, of course, but at least you now know how rational your panic truly is. And knowing is half the battle.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.