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.

Dusty Baker on struggling Jonathan Papelbon: “He doesn’t look very good.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Washington Nationals looks on after coming out in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.  The Padres won 10-6.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The Nationals lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, as the Indians overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals 7-6. Closer Jonathan Papelbon faced five batters but was unable to record an out, yielding a leadoff walk, a double, a bunt that ended up very successful due to a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error, an intentional walk, and a single. Oliver Perez came in and eventually allowed one of his inherited runners to score, saddling Papelbon with the loss.

Papelbon also served up four runs in the outing before Tuesday’s, on Saturday against the Padres. The two clubs entered the top of the ninth tied 6-6, but a walk followed by three two-out singles and a bases-clearing double off of Papelbon allowed the Padres to take a 10-6 lead.

On the season, Papelbon is 19-for-22 in save chances with a 4.18 ERA and a 30/12 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings. If the season were to end today, the right-hander’s 21.4 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest mark of his career and his 8.6 percent walk rate would be his highest mark since 2010.

Manager Dusty Baker didn’t indicate that he’s going to make a change at closer, but he sounded dissatisfied with Papelbon’s performance thus far. Via Mark Zuckerberg of MASN, Baker said, “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter. But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”

The non-waiver trade deadline is on Monday, August 1. The Nationals, at 58-42, still have a four-game lead over the Marlins and a 4.5-game lead over the Mets. Tuesday’s loss has motivated the club to attempt to upgrade the bullpen, Jon Morosi reports. The Nationals were in the mix for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees sent him to the Cubs. Perhaps Andrew Miller could be next on the Nats’ wish list.

Blue Jays trade Drew Storen to the Mariners for Joaquin Benoit

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Drew Storen #45 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the eleventh inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Tuesday night that the club traded reliever Drew Storen and some cash to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit.

Storen, 28, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Sunday after posting a 6.21 ERA with a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Jays acquired him during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later.

Benoit, 38, struggled as well, putting up a 5.18 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings with the Mariners.