Giants will have to weigh Tim Lincecum start in Game 2

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After beating the Reds in Thursday’s dramatic Game 5 to advance, the Giants can’t wait too long to start thinking ahead to their NLCS rotation. Whether they face the Cardinals or Nationals, it seems pretty certain that they’ll set it up so that Madison Bumgarner pitches Games 1 and 5 and Matt Cain goes in Games 3 and 7. That leaves three starts open for Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito.

After being passed over for the NLDS rotation, Lincecum pitched his way back into the picture by allowing one run and amassing an 8/0 K/BB ratio in 6 1/3 innings out of the pen against the Reds. He earned the win in Game 4.

Of course, the Giants also won both of the starts from Vogelsong and Zito in the series. Vogelsong bounced back from a shaky first to allow one run in five innings in Game 3. Zito was pulled after just 2 2/3 innings in Game 4. He walked four and was charged with two runs. Still, he’s the team’s good luck charm: the Giants have won each of his last 12 starts.

The matchups could play a role in the Giants’ thinking. The Cardinals were significantly better against lefties than righties this season, while the Nationals were pretty much neutral  Vogelsong, for what it’s worth, was outstanding in his one start against St. Louis and terrible in his one start against Washington this year. Lincecum struggled twice against the Nats and never faced the Cards. Zito had one quality start against the Cards and never faced the Nats.

The least likely scenario has the Giants giving Zito two starts in the NLCS. My guess is they’ll pick between Vogelsong and Lincecum in Game 2 and then weigh the other against Zito in Game 4. One would think Lincecum is worthy of the second chance to start. However, the Giants could hold him back and use him in middle relief initially, postponing a decision on whether to start him in Game 4.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

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Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.

 

Bronson Arroyo retires from baseball

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Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds’ right-hander Bronson Arroyo has decided to officially retire from Major League Baseball. At this point, the announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 40-year-old starter was placed on the Reds’ 60-day disabled list after sustaining a right shoulder strain several months ago and hasn’t pitched in a game since June.

On Saturday, the Reds honored Arroyo during a pre-game retirement ceremony, gifting the pitcher with a rocking chair and custom guitar, among other commemorative gifts. He returned after the game — a 5-0 loss to the Red Sox — and showcased another of his talents with a 40-minute concert.

The timing of the ceremony was fitting, too. Not only had Arroyo logged nine seasons with the Reds, compiling a 4.18 ERA and 16.4 fWAR over a whopping 279 starts in Cincinnati, but he also spent a memorable three seasons with the Red Sox from 2003-2005 and helped carry them to an incredible, drought-snapping World Series championship in ’04. While he didn’t have the most dominant run in 2017, dragging a 7.35 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 5.7 SO/9 through 71 innings before succumbing to injury, the fact that he made another run at the majors was miracle enough.

“It feels now like my senior year in high school and I’m ready to get out,” Arroyo said. “I’m honestly ready to go.”