Mike Napoli

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Red Sox 7, Rays 3: Mike Carp with a tenth inning grand slam. Good job extending your lead, Boston! Good job letting the Yankees pull to within one game of the wild card, Rays! Apropos of nothing, I’d give a lot to hear what Red Sox fans who love this beards thing had to say about Brian Wilson a couple of years ago.

Yankees 5, Orioles 4: The Yankees are Rasputin. No, they’re not mystic/visionary/healer/religious charlatans who hold the Tsarina in thrall. I’m talking about the part where you simply can’t kill them, no matter how hard you try. Homers from Cano, Granderson and A-Rod combine with a good enough effort from Andy Pettitte to pull the Yankees to within one game of the wild card. And one game closer to the delicious “A-Rod came back and turned the Yankees’ season around” narrative that will literally kill multiple New York columnists. Especially the ones who were convinced that he’d never play another game and/or was “physically unable to perform.” Still waiting for the mea culpas from those guys. Not holding my breath.

Marlins 5, Braves 2: Jose Fernandez held the Braves to to one run on five hits over seven innings while striking out five. He also hit a homer. He also stopped to admire it and then spit at the third baseman’s feet and fomented a benches-clearing situation. All in a day’s work. As for the pitching: holy crap this guy is good. He’s being shut down now, which makes sense. He should also be the consensus Rookie of the Year. As for the hubbub: I’m not a big fan of unwritten rules, I think that admiring your first ever big league homer is defensible and I think the Braves, as an organization, get too hung up on all that Play The Game The Right Way thing. Not saying the spitting was fantastic, but maybe your best revenge is to get hits off the guy or to humiliate him the next time he bats against you.  Anyway, what I really want to know, though, is what that old lady who thought Harper and Puig were “low class acts” and Fernandez was “such a nice young man” thinks of all of this.

Pirates 7, Rangers 5: If you’re not a fan of Fox you have to hope this is the World Series matchup, right? Not exactly a ratings bonanza, even if baseball freaks should love it. If you’re an AL team you shouldn’t like it either, as the Pirates are now 15-5 in interleague play this year after sweeping the Rangers.

Reds 6, Cubs 0: A solid if unspectacular game for Mike Leake and homers from Devin Mesoraco and Jack Hannahan helped the Reds avoid the sweep.

Royals 6, Indians 2: The Indians fail to take advantage of the Rays’ recent troubles — if they’d won these past two games they’d be in the wild card slot right now — and the Royals succeed in coming back from the near dead to find themselves only two games back. They’ve won 13 of 18. Imagine where they’d be if it wasn’t for a couple of sharp swoons at various points this year.

Giants 4, Rockies 3: The Giants were down 3-1 but then plated one in the seventh and two in the eighth. I feel like the Giants have been playing the Rockies for 12 straight games.

Phillies 4, Padres 2: Cliff Lee solid again. Eight innings, five hits, two runs, nine strikeouts and lowers the ERA to 2.97. Imagine what he’d do on a team with a bullpen and an offense.

Nationals 3, Mets 0: Five straight wins for the Nationals. Still six back in the wild card, but some nice baseball all the same. Dan Haren was fantastic again. If he had been anything close to this in the first half the Nats could be playoffs bound.

Angels 5, Blues Jays 4: The Angels season has sucked but at least C.J. Wilson has been good. Three earned runs in seven innings to win his eighth straight decision. Josh Hamilton was 3 for 3. He’s hitting .400 in the month of September.

Cardinals 5, Brewers 1: A good start from Lance Lynn and a four-run eighth inning helps the Cards win their fifth straight and maintain their lead over the Reds and Pirates.

Tigers 1, White Sox 0: Anibal Sanchez strikes out ten in seven and a third shutout innings. Tough break for Jose Quintana, who also pitched wonderfully. Omar Infante’s RBI single in the eighth was the only offense here. How a 1-0 game still goes three hours and sixteen minutes is a bit of mystery.

Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 1: Paul Goldschmidt went 4 for 5 with a couple driven and Patrick Corbin allowed one run in six and a third as the Dbacks avoid the sweep.

Athletics 18, Twins 3: Well, that was ugly. Every A’s starter had at least one hit, one run and one RBI. That’s practically socialism. Not that it mattered much, but there was a foul ball call that was reversed and turned into a double in this one after the umpires huddled and changed their call. After that Ron Gardenhire came out and argued forever and got an ejection. Can’t wait to see how managers react once challenges start.

Astros 6, Mariners 1: And the sweep. The Astros actually have a winning record in September. I don’t think momentum is a thing, but I’m sure this will make some Astros fans and players happy.

Indians sign reliever Tommy Hunter to $2 million deal

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that right-hander Tommy Hunter has agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with the Indians. It’s a major-league deal, so Hunter gets a spot on the 40-man roster and will be in the Opening Day bullpen if he’s fully recovered from core muscle surgery.

Hunter split last season between the Orioles and Cubs, totaling 60 innings with a 4.18 ERA and 47/14 K/BB ratio. He had a sub-3.00 ERA in both 2013 and 2014, and has generally been a setup-caliber reliever since shifting to the bullpen full time.

He has good control and a mid-90s fastball, but Hunter has never missed many bats despite the big-time velocity and often struggles to keep the ball in the ballpark. He’ll likely fill a middle relief role in Cleveland initially.

“YER OUT!” Jenrry Mejia permanently suspended for a third positive PED test

Jenrry Mejia
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You knew someone would be dumb enough to do this eventually, you just didn’t know who. Now we do: MLB just announced that reliever Jenrry Mejia has been permanently suspended after testing positive for Boldenone. That was his third positive test and under the Joint Drug Agreement that means his career is more or less over.

Mejia’s three strikes came in pretty rapid succession. On April 11, 2015 it was announced that Mejía had been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for use of stanozolol. On July 28, 2015 it was announced that Mejia had failed a test for Stanozolol again and Boldenone to boot, giving him a 162-game suspension, which he’d still be serving at the beggining of the season. Now this third test.

Mejia has played five seasons in the big. He started with so much promise, looking like a great prospect coming up. His performance only matched the promise in fits and starts, however, resulting in a 9-14 record with a 3.68 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 162/76 in 183.1 innings, all with the Mets.

Per the rules of the Joint Drug Agreement, Mejia can apply for reinstatement after being banned for two years. But it would obviously require him to spend two years doing a lot of smart things he hasn’t been doing in the past year. And it would also represent a near-unprecedented comeback. It could happen, I suppose, but it’s a far safer bet that his career is over.

I’m going to break it to you: some teams will stink this year. Like every year.

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There’s an AP story out today talking about how — brace yourself — some teams are going to be bad this year. It’s true. There are some teams, such as Atlanta, Philly, Colorado, Cincinnati and probably Milwaukee who seem certain to lose a lot of games.  The article’s author notes that, while a lot of money was spent in free agency this winter, not everyone was spending. He says “for some clubs, 2016 is basically over before it starts when it comes to contending.”

That sort of framing sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Isn’t it exactly the sort of thing we heard back in the early 2000s when people were still stumping for salary caps? Boston and New York were outspending everyone, the low money teams couldn’t keep up and, as spring training dawned, the season was over before it even began for half the league at least. There were scads of articles like that written 10-15 years ago. Bud Selig and others even used that exact construction — teams going to spring training already knowing they couldn’t compete — as points of rhetoric in the leadup to the 2002 labor battle with the players. Indeed, here’s the exact language from the 2000 Blue Ribbon economic report that Bud Selig commissioned which, by the way, should be read as a piece of labor propaganda, not as an actually useful or illuminative report:

What has made baseball’s recent seasons disturbing, and what makes its current economic structure untenable in the long run, is that, year after year, too many clubs know in spring training that they have no realistic prospect of reaching postseason play. Too many clubs in low-revenue markets can only expect to compete for postseason berths if ownership is willing to incur staggering operating losses to subsidize a competitive player payroll.

Different circumstances, obviously, but the same general bogeyman: some teams have no chance to compete!

Using that as the concern for whatever ails baseball has never made much sense to me as there will always be teams that are bad. Really, go look at any year’s league standings going back to the 19th century and there will be bad teams. It’s sort of the other side of the coin of good teams. Hard to have one without the other. And it’s probably a good thing to have some good and some and teams. Who wants a total crapshoot every year? What is this, Lake Woebegone, where every team is above .500? God, how boring.

The real issue is not that some teams will be good and some will be bad. It’s why they’ll be good and why they’ll be bad and whether the dynamic which creates good and bad teams is itself positive or negative for the game.

In the 40s and 50s, almost the entire American League knew that it had no chance to compete with the Yankees but they kind of liked that because they were making a lot of money not fielding competitive clubs. That was bad. In the late 1990s maybe some felt the same way too and it was because of no revenue sharing or incompetent management. Not great, and a lot of tweaks were made. Now a small handful of teams can’t compete because they’re doing wholesale rebuilds which some people call “tanking” and others think is not an issue.

As I recently wrote, to the extent people do think “tanking” is a problem, it’s important to (a) put it in perspective; and (b) look at the incentives teams have to tank and talk about whether they should be adjusted. As far as the perspective part goes, I’d say that only having five or six out of 30 teams with no realistic shot is actually pretty good compared to other points in baseball history. There’s a lot more parity now than there used to be. As far as the incentives: look at the dumb draft rules which were imposed to save owners a buck when it came to paying amateurs but which GREATLY increases the importance of picking high and thus losing.

The AP article touches on that, but it’s buried fairly deep down, well after the hand-wringing about teams entering spring training with no chance to win. As spring training progresses, there will likely be a lot of talk of just how bad some of these rebuilding teams will be as well. Most of that analysis will stop at the current state of the team and the hopelessness the fan bases are supposed to be feeling.

As a critically-minded fan, don’t let it stop there. If your team stinks, think about why it does and why it’s pursuing the course it is. Twenty years ago you could probably be safe in saying “well, my team’s GM is dumb and the owner is cheap.” That’s not really the case for most teams now. Now, I think, it’s far more about the incentives in play which make putting a lousy product on the field in the short term preferable to not doing so. Call it tanking, call it whatever you want, but if this is concern for you — and if this is a problem for Major League Baseball — the focus needs to be on the incentives.  Not on the fact that some teams are going to stink. Because teams will always stink. The important question is why.

Marlins sign left-hander Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow
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After spending the past four seasons in the Red Sox’s bullpen left-hander Craig Breslow has signed with the Marlins on a minor-league deal.

Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports that the contract comes with an invitation to spring training and will pay $1.5 million if Breslow makes the Opening Day roster.

Brewslow has struggled in back-to-back seasons, posting a 5.96 ERA in 2014 and a 4.15 ERA last year. At age 35 he’s not a great bet to bounce back in a huge way, but Breslow posted a 1.81 ERA as recently as 2013 and is certainly still capable of being a useful middle reliever.