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J.J. Hardy: the best shortstop in baseball?

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I didn’t see this, but reliable correspondents tell me that Billy Ripken was on MLB Network a few minutes ago and said that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in baseball. The general idea was that he was reliable and played every day and “started the 6-4-3 double play.” Which, man, if he didn’t do that he’d be fired for not carrying out his job responsibilities. Or at least would get written up by his supervisor.

But I’m not sure on what planet that makes him the best in the game. He’s reliable and sure-handed and has some pop, but I think I’d take Troy Tulowitzki, Andrelton Simmons, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and maybe a couple of others over him. Long term his teammate Manny Machado is a better bet at shortstop than Hardy is.

Which isn’t to slight Hardy. Just to say that this is the flipside of that stuff I talked about with Alfonso Soriano yesterday. Just as we seem to have a hard time talking about some players without being negative due to things like contracts and expectations, there are some players we can’t seem to praise without going crazy and talking about them in terms that are wild exaggerations. Ask Michael Young — also a very good player — who has been talked up as the best or one of the best far too much. Doesn’t take away from what he is, but certainly distorts the conversation about him.

Is it a TV thing? Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring? Is this just an ex-ballplayer thing? I dunno. But I feel like we have a tremendous difficulty, overall, properly assessing most ballplayers due to a tendency to say some are the best ever and some are the worst ever while ignoring the fact that the vast, vast majority of ballplayers fit in neither category.

Red Sox set a new major league record with 11 strikeouts in a row

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: Starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez #52 of the Boston Red Sox works the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Lost in the nifty base running by Dustin Pedroia that won Sunday’s game against the Rays, the Red Sox set a new major league record by striking out 11 batters in a row, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out the final six Rays he faced and reliever Heath Hembree struck out five Rays in a row after that. Tom Seaver had the previous consecutive strikeout streak of 10, set on April 22, 1970 against the Padres.

The Red Sox also set a team record with 23 strikeouts in total: 13 by Rodriguez, five by Hembree, one by Matt Barnes, and four by Joe Kelly. Per Abraham, that’s the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game since at least 1913 and the most in a game of any length since 2004.

For Rodriguez, Sunday marked the first double-digit strikeout game of his career. He has pitched quite well since returning to the rotation at the start of the second half. Over 13 starts, the lefty has a 3.10 ERA with a 70/23 K/BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings.

Dodgers clinch NL West on Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home run

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Charlie Culberson #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs to first base after hitting a single RBI in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.

The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.

Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.

It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.