Yu Darvish and David Freese win The Final Vote, and now baseball needs to fix the All-Star Game

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The suspense was killing you, I’m sure:

Good for them. Even better for Bryce Harper when, inevitably, a member of the NL squad goes down with an “injury,” requiring MLB’s most marketable young talent in decades to have to go to Kansas City for next week’s game. Purely by coincidence, I’m sure.

And once again, let me note the wonderful, over-the-top disconnect between Major League’s official position regarding the All-Star Game — it determines home field advantage for the World Series and thus, by definition counts for something truly important — and its practical approach to it: the All-Star Game is a marketing, public relations and philanthropic opportunity, and the Final Vote’s greatest utility comes from driving traffic to MLB.com and followers to its Twitter account:

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with baseball using the All-Star Game this way. Indeed, in a day and age in which fans can see any player whenever they want and the distinctions between the National League and American League are approaching non-existent, that may very well be the highest and best purpose for the Game as opposed to some actual semi-serious competition like it was decades ago.

But given this, it is high time baseball take away the one thing that doesn’t fit with all that is today’s All-Star Game: actual baseball consequences.  Take the World Series home field advantage out of the equation. Let the 98% of how Major League Baseball approaches the All-Star Game — fan-friendly fun, promotional event and money maker — rule, and stop making something that matters like home field advantage in the World Series be decided by things that do not matter:

That’s fun and all, but seriously guys, it should have no bearing on the World Series.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.