The Braves moving to a new park is understandable but perverse

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I’m still processing the announcement that the Braves are abandoning a 17 year-old ballpark for a new ballpark in the Atlanta suburbs. But in the meantime, here are my initial thoughts:

  • If anyone sees what the Braves are doing and STILL argues for public funding of ballparks, they should have their head examined. Turner Field was built for the Olympics and converted for baseball at great cost — some private, some public — and remains a more or less new and near state-of-the-art ballpark. Now Cobb County is going to pay for a new park. At some point it should begin to dawn on governments and tax payers that professional sports teams are playing them, but I’m not sure when that point is.
  • We live in a world where the Rays are stuck in Tropicana Field and the A’s are stuck in the Oakland Coliseum, yet we will soon have two perfectly wonderful ballparks in the Atlanta area, serving a team that rarely fills one. Thanks antitrust exemption. If baseball owners were forced to deal with the same competitive environment as most business this wouldn’t happen. Someone would come take over Turner Field. Or move to New Jersey. Whatever the case, this is sorta perverse.
  • That said, the impulse for the Braves to want to move makes some amount of sense. The Braves are a business and their goal is to make money. They have a crappy TV deal so stadium revenue is paramount for them. They are clearly making a calculation that they can make way more money in the new ballpark under new circumstances than they can hope to make in Turner Field. The Braves released a map today which shows how large a proportion of their ticket sales come from the northern suburbs, where the new ballpark will be. They’re not idiots. The financial incentives in play are probably pretty compelling.
  • But let us not confuse what will surely be financial success with brilliant business acumen on the part of the Braves. At least not the sort of acumen which usually gets lauded as the genius of capitalism or whatever. MLB owners live in a world with basically zero risk in order to get their billions. As stadium financing shows, baseball owners live off of other people’s money. Usually public money. And no one ever seems to call these already rich men and corporations out on accepting millions from the government the way poor people are called out on accepting a few hundred or a couple of thousand because they can’t feed their families or get basic medical care.

Politics aside: I’m a Braves fan. I’ll probably always be a Braves fan. Why? Because fandom is inherently irrational. We root for laundry. We root to perpetuate memories and good feelings we had when we were kids. I root because I rooted for Dale Murphy and Bruce Benedict at one strange time in my life and then just followed the thread. We all have that same story. It’s why we give a longer and more charitable look at the new players our teams acquire and thus continue on with them too. You can’t just let that go.

But if it were rational? If we just chose who we rooted for based on objective criteria as adults? If you dropped us down on Earth for the first time in 2013 and told us to root for the team which most appeals to us in terms of the behavior of the organization as a whole, its fan base, its culture and everything else? Man, it would be harder than Hell to root for the Atlanta Braves right now.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.