Quote of the Day: Undermining The Basis of the WBC Edition

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My thing on the World Baseball Classic is not that it isn’t fun and cool. It is! Having gone to a couple of games and having talked to people involved with it, there’s no denying that it’s fun. Especially this time of year when all of the other baseball being played consists of meaningless exhibitions. There has been genuine electricity and excitement at Chase Field, Marlins Park and AT&T Park over the past week and change.

But I do take issue with those — be they MLB officials or national columnists — who claim that the WBC determines something truly important or tells us something even remotely meaningful about the state of international baseball. For starters, it’s not globalizing baseball in a basic sense, because as Twitter friend @yakyunightowl noted last night:

It may put an official, MLB-led imprimatur on international baseball, complete with marketing and broadcast rights and all of that stuff, but no one involved in these finals is truly introducing baseball to their homelands. It was already there.

But marketing and broadcast rights are part and parcel of the 21st century, so that’s fine. If they want to claim that stuff is significant they won’t get too strong an argument from me. I lost that fight years ago.

That said, anyone who claims that these games tell us something meaningful about the relative baseball power of the countries involved in the tournament will get a strong argument from me. Because as the hero of last night’s game, Alex Rios, noted himself, the best players in the thing are not exactly playing at full strength:

“For us, this is like Spring Training,” Rios said. “We’re still in a preparation phase. We have to understand that we’re not at our maximum. We have to work on our approach and the game and do our job as well as we can. We can’t just be worried about mechanics. It’s just the approach. Thanks to our results, which were favorable tonight, we have done well.”

Good for him and other major leaguers for fighting through all that rust and bad mechanics to play competitive baseball, but please note the rust and bad mechanics. They’re simply not at full speed and skill, and to suggest that we’re seeing the pinacle of baseball right now is like watching Led Zeppelin play Live Aid in 1985 or listened to the Beatles sing “Free as a Bird” and saying you saw the pinnacle of rock and roll.

It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s baseball. It’s just not telling us anything particularly meaningful.

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.