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Will Venezuelan ballplayers soon have trouble getting into the U.S.?

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Back in November, we talked about whether then-president-elect Trump’s immigration policies would have any impact on Major League Baseball. It was grounded in speculation, of course, because we had no idea what Trump might implement. His campaign was never firm on specifics, obviously, and no one knew what he might actually do once in office.

In the past week we’ve seen what he’s done with respect seven specific countries: suspending immigration entirely for a set period, including restricting people who were already visa or green card holders who had lived and worked in the United States. What happens after the set period is unclear, but there will no doubt be greater restrictions and scrutiny of those seeking to enter the United States.

As this is not an international affairs blog, we’ll leave that aside for a moment. But as a baseball blog, news that the Trump Administration may extend similar immigration restrictions to Latin American countries is of relevance:

According to the Colombian radio station, the US embassy in Bogota is set to announce tougher requirements that would make traveling to the United States for Colombians more difficult than it already is. While the radio station did not say which requirements would be made more difficult, Blu Radio implied that it could affect the automatic extension of visas, meaning that Colombians who already have a visa could be obligated to undergo renewed scrutiny and repeated interviews by embassy officials . . .

Many reports strongly suggest that Venezuela will be covered by similar restrictions. As you know, a lot of baseball players come from Venezuela.

A couple of observations on this:

  • When we first talked about this in November, reader sentiment tended to be “this stuff will affect new immigrants and refugees, not people with jobs and permanent residence and all of that.” Welp, that was certainly not the case with the restrictions put in place on the seven Middle East countries last week. People who have long had U.S. green cards and work visas, including people in medical, academic and engineering fields, and their families, have been caught up in it and have been unable to enter the country, even if they’ve lived here a while. As such, saying “this will not affect baseball players, who are uniquely-skilled entertainers” may be incorrect.
  • Even assuming an extension of restrictions to Latin American countries is handled less ham-handedly than last week’s restrictions and no ballplayer is simply denied entry, they will almost certainly be placed under more scrutiny when they attempt to return. That could likewise have implications, as we saw post-September 11, when a number of players were found to have lied about their ages and identities, only to have their deception revealed after security was tightened.

Major League Baseball is a sport that relies on a large number of immigrants here on temporary travel documents to function. We’re in a world right now where such folks are under fire. Maybe it doesn’t ever touch Major League Baseball, but I bet people at MLB headquarters and the MLBPA, not to mention team offices, are monitoring all of this closely. And, maybe, strongly suggesting that players who are currently in Latin America report extra early for spring training.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

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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.