NLDS Braves Giants Baseball

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.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.