A.J. Burnett pitches Pirates within one game of home field advantage in the NL Wild Card playoff

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Pirates starter and potential upcoming retiree A.J. Burnett shut the Reds down over eight solid innings of work, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out six. The lone run came on a Todd Frazier solo home run in the fourth.

Homer Bailey wasn’t sharp, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks while striking out three in five innings. The Pirates scored twice in the third on Marlon Byrd’s two-run single to left and twice in the sixth on Pedro Alvarez’s two-run homer. The Cincinnati bullpen did their part to keep the game close, but Burnett was just too good, lowering his ERA on the season to 3.30.

Jason Grilli entered the game in the ninth and worked around two lead-off singles to record his 33rd save of the season.

The win moves the Pirates to 92-68, two games ahead of the Reds, meaning that a win either tomorrow or Sunday will give the Pirates home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card playoff game. As Travis Sawchik explained in a column posted last night, home-field advantage could prove to be an important asset to the Pirates specifically. Francisco Liriano projects to be the starter and he carries a 1.47 home ERA compared to a 4.32 road ERA.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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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.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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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.