The Braves entered the day with a magic number of one to clinch the NL East and eliminate the Washington Nationals from division title contention. If they could overcome Cubs starter Travis Wood, they could bust out the bubbly at Wrigley, but the Cubs had other ideas.
Wood surrendered a run in the fourth on an Evan Gattis RBI single to right, but other than that, he was very sharp. The lefty allowed just the one run in seven-plus innings of work, allowing five hits and walking four while striking out seven. Braves starter Kris Medlen was even better, however, holding the Cubs scoreless through seven innings. He took the mound for the eighth and even got the first out of the inning, but he was pulled after allowing a single to Starlin Castro. Lefty reliever Scott Downs came in but promptly gave up a single to Donnie Murphy and an RBI double to Anthony Rizzo, allowing the Cubs to tie the game at 1-1. David Carpenter replaced Downs, but wasn’t any better, allowing an RBI single to Dioner Navarro and a sacrifice fly to Nate Schierholtz, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead entering the ninth.
Pedro Strop tossed an impressive ninth inning, striking out the side to wrap up the 3-1 victory and stave off the Braves’ celebration until at least the end of tonight’s Marlins-Nationals game. If the Marlins win, the Braves will clinch the East. Otherwise, the Braves will attempt to clinch tomorrow afternoon behind rookie starter Julio Teheran.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.