Boston Red Soxs

The League Championship Series storylines are … complicated

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Not gonna lie: it’s going to be a bit of a mess trying to graft your narratives on to this year’s LCS matchups and potential World Series matchups, folks.  All of the easy stories about the plucky Pirates, the quasi-homeless A’s and Joe Maddon-as-baseball’s-Phil Jackson are out the window. Everyone’s happy the Braves are gone.

So what do we have? We have four classic, old school MLB teams from the original 16 (if that’s a thing). We have four teams sporting grand histories. We have teams with several superior, MVP-caliber players who make a lot of money. We have one huge payroll team, another team that has had more literary and sportswritery lore spun about it than the next ten teams combined and two teams who have had all kinds of success in recent years. There are no underdogs here, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. We have a couple of gimmicky character types — Yasiel Puig, Matt Adams — but no ready-made sportswriter storylines that will easily spring from scribes’ keyboards over the next three weeks.

So where do we go for our precious, precious narratives?

Based on the sense I’ve gotten from readers and on Twitter, the Dodgers are probably what most closely passes for “plucky upstarts,” partially for their joie de vivre (Joie de Puig?) and partially because they came from nowhere this year. But that makes little sense. The Red Sox have a lot of joie de vivre too with the beards and all of that. And they came from nowhere too given how horrible last year was for them. And they sport a lower payroll as they’re doing it. What’s the argument for “The Dodgers are a better storyline than the Red Sox?” Most of those 2004-07 players are long gone. Can the presence of David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury change everything so greatly? I don’t feel like it should.

Of course you have that big Dodgers-Red Sox trade from last year which, if those two teams meet in the World Series, will likely dominate the discourse. I feel like it will dominate it in a dumb way, though. Most people will couch it in terms of who really won the trade and will try to use the results of such a World Series as some sort of proof of their position. But it seems to me that the most notable thing you can take away from that trade is that it made sense for both teams and helped both teams in important ways. I guess that’s not very satisfying for a sports world that likes thinks in black and white, however.

So: the Cardinals. With the Braves out of it they seem to be the most hated team in the playoffs. And I can understand the Cardinals fatigue out there. They’ve been on this stage so often in recent years that we’re all tired of them. But I also can’t remember a team that has a pretty low payroll, comes from a pretty small market and has an overwhelmingly home-grown roster and fabulous farm system not getting a ton of love from the baseball commentariat. Especially the SABR-y ones, who usually love that stuff. But not this year. Not with St. Louis. Maybe because the Cardinals are the only home-grown, low payroll team that can still manage to come off smugger than all hell.

The Tigers: They have the likely Cy Young guy, the likely MVP guy two-years running and several other high-priced, award-winning stars. They were just in the World Series last year, for crying out loud. A key component of their team just came off a 50-game PED suspension. I don’t feel people hate them or are sick of them, really, but it’s not like they have any compelling narrative about them that will get people who aren’t already Tigers fans to rally around them. Plus, that whole “the Tigers are helping rally a beleaguered city!” thing has been done. And was pretty stupid and condescending in the first place.

None of any of that makes for easy (or at least smart) narratives. Which makes for a pretty sobering realization: we’re gonna have to focus on the [gulp] actual baseball in the LCS and World Series.

I hope our nation’s sportswriters and television commentators are up to the task.

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.

Mets unhappy with Dodgers’ request to make outfield markings to position fielders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  The 1986 New York Mets are honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The New York Mets are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1986 championship season.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.

However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.

According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.

The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.