Neighborhood play

The umpires let the Mets challenge a “neighborhood play” last night. They’re not supposed to do that.

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The “neighborhood play” — where the middle infielder catches the ball off the bag, throws to first base in an attempt to both avoid an incoming runner and complete a double-play, and is nonetheless given credit for the force out — is not reviewable by instant replay. And this makes perfect sense as, if it were, some manager would force replay officials to note that, no, technically speaking the bag was not tagged and the runner was thus safe, thereby creating an incentive for middle infielders to stick in longer and have their knees mangled.

But in last night’s Braves-Mets game there was a play that looked an awful lot like a neighborhood play turned by the Braves which was challenged by Mets manager Terry Collins. And, upon review, the initial call of a force out at second was overturned.

Watch the play here. If you can’t watch it, know that, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied and a runner on first, the Mets’ Juan Lagares dropped a sacrifice bunt attempt down the third-base line. Braves third baseman Chris Johnson fielded it and fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, covering second base. Simmons stretched to receive the throw, dodged the baserunner and then fired to first base. The baserunner coming from first was ruled out on the force, while Lagares beat the throw at first. If you watch the play, it looks an awful lot like a neighborhood play.

Except Terry Collins challenged the call at second, arguing that Simmons didn’t keep his foot on the bag through his catch. And the umpires reviewed it, the repay showed that Simmons’ foot was off the bag and everyone was called safe. Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue and was ejected. Major League Baseball issued a statement after the game:

“The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be a neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the player receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”

Again, watch the play and try to tell me that Simmons was not trying to avoid a runner bearing down. The umpires said after the game that Simmons was not moving off the bag to protect himself, but that he was really set up like a first baseman and was really trying to get an errant throw. But watch again: the throw was perfectly on-target. At worst Simmons was doing what a lot of first baseman and taking a step off as he fielded the throw. What he was likely thinking and doing on instinct, however, was coming off the bag to make a turn and fire to first, just like he and every other middle infielder is trained to do in order to, you know, not have his ACLs ripped apart.

This didn’t end up mattering in the outcome of the game, but it was a bad call. At the very least it will inspire managers to challenge more of these plays, undercutting the rule about neighborhood plays not being reviewable (“Hey, just trying to see if it was a neighborhood play in the first place!”). At worst, it will create an incentive for middle infielders to stick on the bag longer to the detriment of their safety.

The Mets are set to host the NL wild card game

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 01: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets is congratulated after hitting a two-run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on October 1, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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In the end, the Mets’ march into the playoffs played out just how they imagined: three innings of a Bartolo Colon perfecto, four combined innings of one-run ball from five different relievers, a James Loney home run. Well, maybe it looked a little different when they drew it up.

Colon guided the Mets through five innings for his 15th win of the year, striking out six and giving up a two-run homer in the fifth. Behind him, the Mets combined for five runs off of RBI base hits from T.J. Rivera and Jose Reyes, finding an edge with Loney’s go-ahead homer in the sixth and a bonus RBI single from Asdrubal Cabrera in the ninth inning. Despite a pair of well-placed home runs by Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf, the Phillies found themselves in scoring position just twice and were unable to close the two-run gap to tie the game.

The Mets’ 5-3 win over the Phillies clinched their spot in the postseason, sans tiebreaker. They also secured home-field advantage for Wednesday’s wild card game, during which they’ll face either the Cardinals or the Giants. On Friday, the wild card winner will advance to the Division Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

As MLB.com’s Jeff Passan and Joe Trezza simultaneously pointed out, it will be an unconventional playoff run for the Mets, who approach October without Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Neil Walker, David Wright, Zack Wheeler, or Ben Zobrist. Now, if ever, seems like an appropriate time for some champagne.

Indians’ postseason rotation is still up in the air

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 16: Starting pitcher Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field on September 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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With Game 1 of the Red Sox-Indians ALDS set to commence on Thursday, there’s no better starter for the job than Corey Kluber. The only question is whether or not the right-hander will be up to the task after sustaining a mild quadriceps strain earlier this week.

Indians’ manager Terry Francona appeared optimistic about Kluber’s chances of recovering in time for the Division Series, but admitted that he doesn’t have his rotation set in stone for the first couple of postseason games. Complicating matters is Monday’s potential make-up game between the Indians and the Tigers, which they’ll be forced to play if the outcome has bearing on playoff seeding.

Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Francona doesn’t have a starter for the make-up game, either, though he clarified that rehabbing right-hander Danny Salazar would not be eligible. Salazar is still working his way back from a forearm injury in hopes of joining the Indians for their postseason run, and needs to toss another simulated game before he can be expected to return to the mound. Kluber, meanwhile, will throw off the mound on Sunday.

With Kluber or Salazar limping out of the gate, the Indians will likely have to fall back on right-handers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. Bauer is slated for Saturday’s face-off against the Royals and confirmed his willingness to pitch on short rest through the playoffs. The 25-year-old also spoke to the Indians about his ability to pitch out of the bullpen, though it’s an option they appear unlikely to exercise. While Francona’s comments on Friday stressed the club’s patient approach toward their rotation, Bauer appeared revved and ready to go:

If it was up to me, […] I’d pitch and be ready to start or be available out of the ‘pen every game. In the playoffs, there’s really no reason to save anything. So, whenever I can get in there, whenever they want me to get in there, I’ll be ready.