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Baseball says the challenge system will foster baseball’s “uniqueness and charm.” Baloney.


Baseball officials announced their expanded replay plan a little while ago. There was no formal vote on it today. Owners will vote on that come November. It will have to be approved by the players and the umpires unions as well.

The upshot: Managers will have one challenge each in the first six innings of each game. They will be given two more from inning seven until the end of the game.  If they use a challenge in the first six innings and they’re successful, they retain the right to challenge. If they are wrong, they’ve burnt it. It is unclear if an unused challenge in innings one through six carries over to give a manager three challenges in the final three. It is also unclear what happens if a game goes 18 innings or something. Guess it’s tough luck?

As for the breakdown of challenges: it makes total sense once you realize that bad calls in games all cluster toward the end rather than toward the beginning, by definition. And that games can truly only be decided on bad calls at the end rather than early on. And that managers should be penalized by losing challenge rights if they make a challenge on a close play they legitimately thought was wrong early on but were mistaken. This is a clearly and scientifically thought out process, you see.

But it’s not just for the science. The owners truly have baseball’s flavor and history in mind:

In the event that you didn’t catch my sarcasm above, do know that I am convinced that a challenge system is a bad idea. I’ve felt this way for a long time. But what I didn’t know until a few minutes ago is that it is being promoted by clearly delusional people who are either unwilling or incapable of providing a real reason why a challenge system is the best system rather than peddle this obvious nonsense.

There is nothing “unique” here as the NFL has a challenge system that baseball is just trying to graft on to its own sport regardless of the differences in pace of play, time stoppages and nature of the game. And it’s not like “uniqueness” should be in the top ten of all reasons to do replay. Indeed, the only point of replay is to make sure calls that are wrong are corrected. If your plan has an aim or effect that strays from that point — like, say, it only allows a certain number of calls to be corrected in certain random situations — you have created a system that misses the bleedin’ point.

As for “charm,” well, I personally find nothing more charming than a manager who is up to his neck in stress over the matchups and bullpen situation of a close game trying to quickly ascertain (a) whether a call is right or wrong; (b) what the relevant rule is for the given call; (c) whether he should challenge it or not; and (d) whether, even if doesn’t think it was wrong, if there are ulterior motives for challenging it. All this is going on while Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are talking about the challenge choices and comparing it to the NFL. Boy, that’d be as charming as a kindly old grandfather with a Georgia accent sipping lemonade on a front porch under decorative bunting.

I want ALL calls that are missed being corrected, not just some. I want baseball and its umpires working to make sure the calls are correct — not managers — because it is their responsibility to get calls right in the first place. I want a fifth ump in the booth who can watch plays on video in real time and call down to his crew-mates if a mistake is made. Short of that I want a guy in a control center in New York who can, effectively, do the same thing. The key is for umpires to get collaborative, constructive assistance in getting things right, not to be challenged — literally challenged — when they make a mistake.

Listen to your former boss, Mike Port, umpires, and vote this down. Save yourself from being stuck in the clubhouse watching on TV so you can alert your skipper when a call is blown, players, and vote this down too. Owners and Bud Selig? Drop this pure baloney about “uniqueness and charm” and either provide an actual, adult reason why this is the best system you could come up with or else drop it and go with something that isn’t so manifestly flawed.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.