Ryan Howard’s ability to hit lefties is not a matter of opinion

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I was just reading this profile on Ryan Howard over at Philly.com. It’s your standard spring optimism piece. Howard feels way better now than last year and is ready to return to form. Nothing all that notable in the story.

But midway down the story, a poll appears:

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Internet polls are all pretty meaningless, especially the actual results. But this one is particularly astounding to me inasmuch as it treats something which is wholly empirical — whether or not Ryan Howard can hit lefties — as though it were a matter of opinion or belief. Which may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about it this is the exact reason why so much sports conversation is stupid.

For better or worse, people have been conditioned to think that their opinions and beliefs, no matter how loony they are, are just as valid as anyone’s else’s. So when one challenges a given opinion or belief, one understandably gets an extreme amount of pushback and intransigence. That’s well and good when we’re talking about a lot of opinions or beliefs. I believe that “Tonight’s the Night” is the best Neil Young album. I don’t care how many of you ninnies think “After the Gold Rush” is better, I’m simply not going to buy it and if you insist on it I’m ultimately gonna think poor things of you and ignore you. For your part, I hope you feel the same way about me in this respect.

But when someone treats something that is purely empirical as thought it were belief, that’s the road to lunacy and ignorance.  No matter how big a Phillies fan you are and no matter how badly you want to see Ryan Howard take Clayton Kershaw downtown the next time they meet, it is inescapable — it is a matter of pure, immutable fact — that Ryan Howard has struggled mightily against lefties for his career and that he has gotten worse, not better, at hitting them as time has gone on. This is true whether he has been healthy or injured. With few, long ago exceptions, he has always been a liability against lefthanders.

Sports fans — and even a lot of sports writers — treat empirical things as though they were matters of belief. They believe Howard can hit lefties. They believe Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s. They believe that Michael Young’s leadership and professionalism make him an MVP-caliber player. They believe that Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop.  And if someone says “he can’t,” “he wasn’t,” “it doesn’t” and “he isn’t,” you’re not just wrong, you’re assailing one’s belief system, and that makes you an awful person.

Empiricism vs. Belief. It’s the core of a lot of political arguments. It’s also the core of a lot of baseball arguments. If only we could all agree which things are matters of which, imagine how much better everyone would get along.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 12, Rockies 6: Cody Bellinger hit two homers and drove in four and now he’s slugging a ridiculous .679. He also made news over the weekend by saying that he did not know who Jerry Seinfeld was. I’ll have some more thoughts on that later this morning. In other news, Colorado blew an early 5-0 lead and a later 6-4 lead and the Dodgers piled it on late with three in the seventh and five in the eighth. Oh, and closer Kenley Jansen doubled, driving in a run. It was only his eighth plate appearance in his career. Of course, dude used to be a catcher, so he knows which end of the bat is which.

Twins 4, Indians 0: Last weekend the Indians swept the Twins in Minnesota and took over first place in the AL Central. This weekend the Twins sweep the Indians in Cleveland and took over first place in the AL Central. Which means that you can probably ignore that stuff I said about last week being a turning point or order being restored or whatever the hell else I said. Probably a good policy regardless. Ervin Santana tossed six shutout innings and Jason Castro drove in three of the four runs. The fourth came via an Eddie Rosario homer.

Rangers 7, Yankees 6: It was Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium, and Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry and Sparky Lyle were all on hand. Too bad they didn’t stick around because the Yankees might’ve been better off with them on the bump for the game that counted. Texas scored six runs off of Michael Pineda in the first two innings and seven over four, thanks in parts to homers by Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and Drew Robinson. The Yankees made it close, adding four in the fifth and two in the seventh, but they’d fall one short. Next time, give it to Whitey.

Blue Jays 8, Royals 2:  Jose Bautista homered and drove in four. Francisco Liriano allowed two runs on six hits while pitching into the seventh to pick up his 100th career victory. In other news, Jays closer Roberto Osuna struck out three in a scoreless ninth inning a day after saying he was dealing with anxiety issues. Everyone is fighting a battle you don’t know anything about. Good to see Osuna having a positive day as he fights his.

Marlins 4, Cubs 2: Addison Russell left with a pain in his shoulder and the Cubs lost a game they probably should’ve won. Three of Miami’s four runs were unearned following a first inning error by Russell and the Cubs managed to turn eight hits and seven walks into only two runs. A Giancarlo Stanton homer in the seventh gave the fish some insurance. Ichiro started in center field, by the way, becoming the oldest man to ever start a game at the 8. He was 43 years, 246 days old yesterday. Rickey Henderson had the previous record for a center field start, doing so on the day he was 43 years and 211 days old back in the 2002 season with the Red Sox.

Orioles 8, Rays 5: It was tied at five heading into the ninth when Caleb Joseph and Seth Smith reached base in front of Joey Rickard‘s tiebreaking double which scored Joseph. Smith came in to score when Jonathan Schoop was hit by a pitch. Then Rickard scored on an Adam Jones sac fly. Joseph, Trey Mancini and Schoop all homered for the Orioles.

Angels 4, Red Sox 2: A week ago Parker Bridwell and Doug Fister were in the same dugout for the Salt Lake City Bees. Yesterday they faced each other following Bridwell’s callup and Fister’s release and signing by the Sox. Bridwell got the better of Fister, allowing two runs while pitching into the seventh. Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley Jr. homered for the Sox in a losing cause.

Brewers 7, Braves 0: Zach Davies tossed seven shutout innings, but he didn’t need to be that good given what his teammates did to Julio Teheran. Keon Broxton hit a solo shot and drove in two with a single. Travis Shaw hit a two-run shot to kick off the scoring. The Brewers snap the Braves four-game winning streak and salvage one in the three-game series.

Reds 6, Nationals 2: The Reds got pummeled by the Nats on Saturday night but they came out swinging on Sunday, putting up five runs in the first. Scooter Gennett had an RBI single in the first and hit homered in the second. Scott Feldman allowed two runs over seven innings.

Athletics 5, White Sox 3: There were rumors last week that some contender might trade for Sony Gray and make him a reliever. Seems fine as a starter to me: he pitched four-hit ball over seven innings. Oakland trailed until the eighth but took the lead on Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso RBI singles. They padded the lead in the ninth with homers from Adam Rosales and Matt Joyce.

Mets 8, Giants 2: Rene Rivera hit two homers. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each went deep once. Slackers. Or maybe Bruce was just more efficient because he drove in the same number of runs Rivera did — three — with one fewer dinger. Baseball: it’s full of mysteries. Anyway, the Mets sweep the Giants, who have lost five in a row and 12 of 13.

Astros 8, Mariners 2George Springer, Yuli Gurriel and Evan Gattis all went deep as the Astros finish up a 6-1 road trip. Emergency starter Francis Martes had a rough go of it, but four relievers combined to shut out the Mariners on three hits for seven innings. These guys have the best record in the game and, like, 80% of their rotation is hurt. Pretty scary team.

Diamondbacks 2, Phillies 1Daniel Descalso hit a walkoff single, scoring Paul Goldschmidt in the 11th. Goldschmidt knocked in the snakes’ other run earlier in the game. Arizona has won 11 of 13

Tigers 7, Padres 5Mikie Mahtook drove in three runs via an RBI triple in the fourth and a tiebreaking two-run single in the ninth to help the Tigers end their eight game losing streak. The Padres blew 3-0 and 5-3 leads.

Cardinals 8, Pirates 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth, a Randal Grichuk homer and a Jed Gyorko RBI double tied things up and then a four-run seventh inning put things away. Four Cardinal relievers combining to allow only one hit over three scoreless innings helped put it away too.

Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title

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The Marlins announced on Sunday that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title when the city of Miami host’s the All-Star Game festivities next month.

Stanton, 27, defeated Todd Frazier in the finals of last year’s Home Run Derby at Petco Park, hitting 20 home runs to Frazier’s 13. Stanton hit a total of 61 home runs in the Derby. This will be the third Home Run Derby in which Stanton has participated.

Stanton also went 1-for-3 with a solo home run to help the Marlins defeat the Cubs 4-2 on Sunday. He’s now batting .274/.357/.551 with 20 home runs and 49 RBI in 311 plate appearances.