Why is the baseball season starting in Australia?

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Baseball has long dispensed with the Cincinnati Reds getting the first game of the season at home. I’m generally OK with this. People in Cincinnati complain about it all the time because they claim status as the oldest baseball franchise and thus feel entitled to the first game each year, but the fact is (a) the current Braves franchise has way more of a claim to being the oldest franchise, not the Reds; and (b) how does the fact that baseball has been played elsewhere earlier detract from Opening Day festivities if you’re on the ground in Cincinnati enjoying things?  You still get your parade and your day baseball and your soupy chili, so don’t worry about it.

But the Opening Day grumpiness has spread beyond Cincinnati as baseball has eschewed an American Opening Day more and more in recent years. In 1999 the Rockies and Padres met in Monterrey, Mexico to kick things off. The season began in Puerto Rico in 2001. It kicked off in Japan in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Now, it begins in Australia, with the Dodgers facing the Diamondbacks at 4AM Eastern time tomorrow morning.

Why?

Baseball’s answer is that it wishes to globalize the sport. Here’s Bud Selig in the press release announcing the Australia series last year:

“The globalization of our game continues to be paramount to Major League Baseball, and Australia is an essential part of our long-term efforts to grow the sport.”

Likewise, late MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said that the players “view this series as an important step in furthering their commitment to help increase the global popularity of baseball.”

Popularity and globalization can mean a couple of different, albeit related things. On the one hand there is popularity of the sport within the country. Getting the Australians to like baseball more and play baseball more. To develop little leagues and prep leagues and the like. To boost the importance and quality of Australia’s (already respectable) national team for the WBC and, perhaps one day, the Olympics if baseball is restored as an event. To help support the Australian Baseball League, Australian Baseball Federation and MLB Australian Academy Program. This is the stuff we hear a lot about in connection with this series.

Of course, it’s probably worth noting that the Australians have done quite an excellent job of growing the sport in their country already. Its little league participation is large, trailing only the United States, Canada and Mexico, and recently began competing in the Little League World Series. It has produced multiple major leaguers in recent years, including Grant Balfour, Dave Nilsson, Peter Moylan and Graeme Lloyd. In 2004 Australia won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics.

Given that strong foundation, it’s wrong to think of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks coming to to Australia as some sort of “let’s show Australians what baseball is all about” thing. And it’s certainly wrong to say that Major League Baseball’s trip to Sydney is some silly “The Gods Must Be Crazy” exercise in playing baseball where it isn’t understood, wanted or loved. Australians aren’t baseball fanatics like the Japanese, but there is already considerable knowledge and appreciation for the sport there.

Which leads to the second, less-publicized aspect of Major League Baseball’s visit to Australia: marketing. I don’t think it’s some dirty secret nor do I think anyone associated with Major League Baseball would deny it if asked point blank, but along with growing Australia’s appreciation of baseball, a clear co-motivation for this series is to grow Major League Baseball’s brand in Australia. To give Australian fans a glimpse of baseball played at a significantly higher level than they’re used to seeing and maybe whet their appetites for the MLB product. Maybe it leads to a fledgling broadcasting deal there? Maybe it sells a bunch of Diamondbacks and Dodgers caps? Maybe it sells some MLB.tv subscriptions? Again: nothing wrong with that at all, and not anything I think anyone is hiding or ashamed of. It’s in Major League Baseball’s interests to grow its brand and this presents a good opportunity to do that.

Ultimately, it’s only two games. And ultimately U.S. fans will think of their own team’s Opening Day as the beginning of the baseball season. Even Dodgers and Dbacks fans will likely become more engaged once their teams are back in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The stuff going on tomorrow and Sunday in Sydney will be forgotten here. Which is fine, because it’s not for us. It’s for the Australians and the league.

Report: Dodgers are considering a trade for Addison Reed

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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Dodgers are “exploring a possible deal” for Mets’ right-hander Addison Reed. It’s not the first time the righty has incurred interest from a top contender. The Brewers, Yankees and Red Sox are all supposedly in on Reed, and Newsday’s Marc Carig adds that up to half a dozen teams have already made inquiries prior to the trade deadline.

Reed, 28, is currently in his third campaign with the Mets. He’s coming off of a career-best performance in 2016, during which he looked nearly unhittable with a 1.97 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.5 SO/9 through 77 2/3 innings. His numbers have regressed a little in 2017, but he’s still working with 16 saves and a solid 2.35 ERA, 1.2 BB/9 and 9.2 SO/9 through his first 46 innings.

While there’s no doubt Reed would help stabilize any bullpen he’s dealt to, the Dodgers may have less of a prominent position to offer the right-hander. Kenley Jansen has already locked down the closing role in Los Angeles, which would likely see Reed in some kind of set-up role as he finishes his last season before hitting free agency.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Cardinals 11, Cubs 4: The Cubs finally dropped their first game following the All-Star break, snapping a six-game win streak in dramatic fashion as the Cardinals took Chicago’s bullpen for a ride in the eighth inning. Carl Edwards Jr. kicked off the rally with a double and three consecutive walks, helping the Cardinals to their first run of the inning with a bases-loaded walk. The Cards’ offense did the rest, taking the series opener after they piled on another eight runs to top the Cubs, 11-4.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1: The Brewers aren’t running away with the NL Central anymore, thanks to a skid that was extended to six games on Friday night. Aaron Nola held the club to one run in seven innings, striking out nine of 26 batters to notch his seventh win of the season. Matt Garza kept pace for five innings, but a late-game implosion gave the Phillies a four-run lead — and their 33rd win of the year.

Astros 8, Orioles 7: The Astros looked dominant for eight long innings, from Colin Moran’s first career triple and first career home run to a four-hit night for Yuli Gurriel. None of that seemed to matter in the bottom of the ninth, however, when the Orioles came roaring back with a five-run spread against James Hoyt and Chris Devenski. With two outs and Mark Trumbo at the plate, Ken Giles hung on to preserve the Astros’ lead with a four-pitch strikeout.

Marlins 3, Reds 1: The Reds finally caught a break against the Diamondbacks earlier this week, taking their first win of the second half on a 4-3 nail-biter. Friday saw a return to their slumping ways, with another close call during their series opener against the Marlins. Billy Hamilton put the club on the board with a sac fly in the third inning, but the offense couldn’t solve Jose Urena, who pitched 6 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball.

Mets 7, Athletics 5: Michael Conforto‘s second two-run homer proved the difference maker in Friday’s win. The center fielder took Clayton Blackburn in the third inning with a blast to center field, and returned in the seventh to pad the Mets’ lead with another two-run shot off of Frankie Montas:

Things weren’t all doom and gloom for the A’s: Marcus Semien logged four hits, tying a career-high mark, and the team rallied with RBI singles in the eighth to bring them within two runs of tying the game. Still, it wasn’t enough to close the gap — especially after losing Ryon Healy on a grisly infield hit.

Rangers 4, Rays 3 (10 innings): With all the trade rumors swirling around Texas hurler Yu Darvish, it’s hardly surprising that both the Cubs and Dodgers had scouts in attendance during Friday’s series opener. They couldn’t have picked a better outing to attend: Darvish was lights-out, tossing eight innings with three runs and five hits and striking out a season-high 12 batters.

Indians 13, Blue Jays 3: The Indians rebounded from a series loss to the Giants this week and took their first game against the Blue Jays with a stunning eight-run inning. After carrying a two-run lead against the Blue Jays through the first six innings, the club padded their lead with four consecutive RBI hits against Toronto lefty reliever Jeff Beliveau in the seventh. With a runner on first and one out, Cesar Valdez was brought in to relieve Believau, and instead gave up another three back-to-back RBI to bring the score to a lopsided 13-3.

Tigers 6, Twins 3: Victor Martinez only needed two home runs to carry the Tigers’ 44th win of the year and move them within six games of the division lead. His big moments were only slightly overshadowed by the loss of Miguel Cabrera, who was felled by a line drive in the fourth inning and left the game with a bruised collarbone. Austin Romine replaced the slugger at first base, going 0-for-2 as the bullpen combined for 3 1/3 scoreless frames to lock down the win.

Royals 7, White Sox 6 (10 innings): Yoan Moncada is off to an auspicious start with the White Sox after plating four runs on Friday, including a bases-loaded triple in the third inning.

It wasn’t enough to top the Royals, who came storming back in the 10th with Whit Merrifield’s walk-off sac fly, but Moncada still managed to set a season record during his dash from home plate to third base:

Pirates 13, Rockies 5: After 103 days, the Pirates are back over .500 again. Rookie first baseman Josh Bell carried the Bucs through their double-digit win, going 4-for-6 at the plate and driving in four runs with an RBI single in the first inning and a three-run double in the second. He wasn’t the only one turning heads, either:

The deep fly ball landed for Jhan Marinez‘s first base hit of the year and the first by a Pirates’ reliever since Wade LeBlanc smacked his first RBI single back in May.

Diamondbacks 6, Nationals 5: One bad start does not a bad pitcher make, but this one may have stung just a little too much. Max Scherzer kickstarted his fourth no-decision of the season with not one, not two, but three consecutive home runs in the first inning:

It’s the first time the Nationals’ ace has given up three homers since May 2016, when he issued a career-high four homers to the Cubs’ Tommy La Stella, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. He allowed another RBI single and double before settling down, and issued three scoreless innings before making his exit in the bottom of the fifth. It wasn’t quite enough to salvage the game, however, as the Nats went on to lose in the bottom of the ninth on Brandon Drury’s walk-off single.

Red Sox 6, Angels 2: Chris Sale is pitching on another level right now. The Red Sox’ lefty took on the Angels during Friday’s series opener, mowing down nine of 24 batters en route to his 12th win of the year. One pitch — a 1-2 heater to catch Kole Calhoun swinging in the sixth — moved Sale into elite company:

The strikeout, Sale’s ninth and final whiff of the night, was also his 200th of the season. According to MLB.com’s Ian Browne and the Elias Sports Bureau, only three major league pitchers have whiffed 200+ batters by their 20th start of the year: Hall of Famer hurlers Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

Braves 12, Dodgers 3: Jamie Garcia’s fifth-inning grand slam was the centerpiece of the Braves’ win on Friday night, catapulting the team to a nine-run lead and giving them the cushion they needed to lock down their second win of the series.

Garcia’s antics weren’t the only thing powering the Braves’ efforts: Garcia plated his first runs of the night on a fielding error, Freddie Freeman went oppo-taco in the fifth and Tyler Flowers clubbed a three-run shot off of the Dodgers’ Grant Dayton. Dodgers fans, meanwhile, tried their best to derail everything by doing this:

Yankees 5, Mariners 1: Aaron Judge has mashed some impressive taters in his rookie year so far: the 400-footers, the base-clearing knocks, the game-winning blasts. This one ranks somewhere among his top home runs of the season, as it very nearly cleared the perimeter of Safeco Field — a feat made all the more astounding by the park’s pitcher-friendly dimensions.

The Mariners couldn’t recover after Judge’s homer or five solid innings from CC Sabathia, and have yet to produce more than one run per game in either of their back-to-back losses this series.

Padres 12, Giants 9 (11 innings): The seagulls that roost in AT&T Park have things to do and places to be, man. They don’t have time to wait around for an 11-inning marathon to reach its inevitable conclusion, nor do they have the patience to split center field territory with Denard Span:

Even a horde of low-flying gulls couldn’t keep the Padres at bay, however: George Kontos and Kyle Crick combined for back-to-back-to-back base hits, allowing San Diego to amass a three-run lead in the 11th and clinch their second win of a four-game set against the Giants.