New look Astros

2013 Preview: what’s new in the new season?

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For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Next up: new things to watch for in the coming year.

We’ve previewed the teams, so now let’s look at some of the new things to watch for in 2013:

Rules changes

Nothing too drastic, but the changes that were made will be pretty visible:

  • When visiting the mound, managers and coaches will be allowed to bring interpreters with them in the event the pitcher is not fluent in English. No word on whether Phillies pitchers gets interpreters to translate manager Charlie Manuel’s 1940s detective novel slang-speak (hint: “what’s the rumpus?” is Manuelese for “how does your arm feel?” and “give this guy the kiss-off” is when he orders an intentional walk;
  • Teams will be allowed to have seven uniformed coaches in the dugout. Previously the limit was six. This change was necessitated because many teams have hired assistant hitting coaches. Which I suppose was simpler than spending the effort trying to figure out what the existing hitting coaches actually do in the first place; and
  • The pickoff move in which a right-handed pitcher fakes to third base and throws to first is now a balk. Broadcasters are now scrambling to find another oftentimes useful play which they can erroneously claim “never works.”

Schedule changes

With the Houston Astros going from the National League to the American League, giving us 15 teams in each league, it will now be required that, at all times, an interleague series be taking place. This contrasts with past practice of interleague series all occurring during specified blocs during the season. This will also lead to teams playing 20 interleague games a piece instead of the 15-18 interleague games in previous years. There will still be the old construct of “interleague rivals” which in good cases lead to series like Yankees vs. Mets and Giants vs. Athletics. And in bad cases lead to Pirates vs. Tigers and Astros vs. Rockies. Eh, this is where we are now. Those of us who remember and pine for the days of the NL and AL being separate are closer to AARP membership than we are to relevance in this now-over debate.

New Managers

Six teams will sport new managers in 2013:

  • The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine and hired former Blue Jays manager John Farrell;
  • The Indians fired Manny Acta and hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona;
  • Jim Tracy resigned as Colorado Rockies manager and was replaced by rookie manager Walt Weiss;
  • The Astros fired Brad Mills before last season ended and hired former Nationals coach Bo Porter;
  • The Marlins fired Ozzie Guillen after one season and replace him with rookie manager Mike Redmond; and
  • The Blue Jays essentially traded John Farrell to the Red Sox and hired former manager John Gibbons

Uniform changes

  • The Astros, befitting a team with a new owner, new front office, new manager, new league and a throughly-reamed roster, have a whole new look. Gone are the brick red/sand colored uniforms of old and back come the traditional orange and blue the team sported from their inception and on through the early 90s. There’s a bit of a twist to the orange and blue look — they’re not throwbacks to the rainbow days — but it is definitely a familiar and welcome look;
  • The Mets are going with two new alternate jerseys: a home alternate with “Mets” in script and a road alternate featuring “NEW YORK” in block. These look at lot like the 1980s duds.
  • The Cardinals are joining the trend of off-white home alternates which almost always look fantastic. They are also adding “St. Louis” to their road uniforms for the first time in 80 years. All teams should have their city name on the front of the jersey. It’s just cool. And frankly, probably leads to more jersey sales due to local pride and stuff like that.
  • The Pirates have a new home alternate for Sunday games. It’s essentially a throwback to their look from the 1970s, complete with the yellow caps.
  • The White Sox continue last year’s tradition of an alternate throwback uniform. This year it honors the 1983 team. This is a guilty pleasure uniform for me even though it came from the dark days of the pullover double knits; and
  • The Brewers are going to go all-gold on special occasions which they used a couple years ago but had abandoned for a while.

Of course, for all the changes, it will still be baseball.

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.

Mets unhappy with Dodgers’ request to make outfield markings to position fielders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  The 1986 New York Mets are honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The New York Mets are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1986 championship season.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.

However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.

According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.

The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.