And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

18 Comments

White Sox 12, Royals 6: K.C. had a 6-0 lead in the first and, thanks in part to Paul Konerko hitting a couple of two-run bombs . . . lost. I guess we have to just keep on trusting The Process.  Oh, and speaking of the process:  I make a religious point of not watching NFL football on Sundays when competitive baseball is being played (and a philosophical point of not watching NFL football on Sundays after baseball is over), but reader Levi Stahl alerted me to something that happened on the football field yesterday. Take it away Levi:

Fourth quarter, Lions-Bears: the Lions threw a heck of a touchdown pass from about midfield, the
receiver made a strong, leaping catch, was pulled down and rolled over,
in control of the ball the whole way, then, as he hit the ground, let
the ball go. It was obviously, in every way, from every angle, a
dramatic, game-winning TD 

But then it wasn’t. Apparently there’s new emphasis this
year on what the commentators (and a former head of officials back in
the studio) kept calling and calling and calling “the process.” The
receiver apparently has to maintain control of the ball throughout “the
process,” which, apparently now means not letting it go once you’re
down, successfully, in the end zone. It was bizarre: the announcers
weren’t horrified by this travesty of sports justice: they just kept
talking about “the process” and the fact that this was how the NFL was
going to be officiating this year, and that they’d warned everybody.
Very few bad calls in baseball that I’ve seen have
been anything like as bad as this was, and usually when we see a bad
call in baseball, it’s acknowledged as such, eventually. Here the
emphasis wasn’t on the way that fans had been robbed of what they’d seen
on the field, it was on the all-knowing, all-seeing NFL rulekeepers.

I don’t know enough about that rule or NFL officiating in general these days to say anything beyond what Levi said, but I totally buy the credulous announcers thing. Baseball can be messy sometimes, but I think of it as messy in the way democracy is messy. The NFL is like some authoritarian regime, in which fans and a healthy portion of the overly-compliant media just say “well, the NFL has decided it should be so, so it is.” Screw it. I’d rather argue all day over dumb baseball stuff than calmly accept dumb football stuff, and I don’t care how good the TV ratings are.

Oh, and if you think I mentioned all of that simply so I can take a potshot at the NFL on its opening weekend, let me be absolutely clear: you’re damn right. Being a baseball fan these past several days has been like belonging to some tiny religious sect that worships and exalts austerity at Christmas time. Everyone in America is celebrating the return of their gambling, beer drinking and fantasy sports pretext, and I couldn’t care less.

Giants 6, Padres 1: San Francisco takes three of four from the Padres in Petco and are now (kinda) tied for the NL West lead. They’re a game behind in the loss column. Lincecum allowed one run in seven with nine strikeouts. Sandoval had a great leaping catch. Buster Posey drove in a couple. Mat Latos had his worst start since April. The Padres and the Giants meet one more time: October 1st-3rd — closing weekend — at AT&T Park. Can we make it a round robin and throw the Rockies in too?

Rockies 4, Diamondbacks 2: Ten straight for the Rockies who, even if they don’t end up making the playoffs, have bought another two or three years of “well, we all know the Rockies are capable of going on amazing runs!” talk. Jason Giambi won it for Colorado on a two-run walkoff home run. Anyone who thought a couple of years ago that Jason Giambi would be hitting game-winning home runs in pennant races in 2010, raise your hand. You — with the hand up? I know you’re lyin’.

Blue Jays 5, Rays 4: I see my kiss-of-death endorsements continue to do their magic. Just the other day on HBT Daily I said that Rafael Soriano is the best closer pitching for a contender (non-Mariano Rivera division) and that I’d trust him with my life. I guess even the best ones blow a save once in a while. This one was blown in only five pitches: strike, single, strike, strike, Adam Lind home run, ballgame.

Tigers 6, Orioles 2: The Tigers scored five runs in the eighth, with the big blow being Miguel Cabrera’s bases loaded double. MVP! MVP! MVP! You can still chant that when your team is .500, can’t you?

Pirates 3, Reds 1: It’s been quite a sight to see Reds relievers not named Aroldis Chapman blowing games recently. Francisco Cordero allowed three runs in the ninth and it could have been more, actually, but for some dumb luck like comebackers with the bases loaded.

Twins 6, Indians 2: The Twins won their 4,000th game.  Not this season, though. That would be, like, a record or something. Since the franchise moved to Minnesota from Washington. The combined win total of the Twins and Senators is (I think) 4,080. The White Sox are all but put away at this point, but the Twins can put the stake in their heart this week, as they have a three-game series. Mmmmm . . . stake.

Angels 3, Mariners 0: Someone the other day — I think it was Keith Law — mentioned that the Mariners are on pace to have the worst AL offense since the advent of the DH. I haven’t looked at the numbers myself, but I’d buy it. Ray Oyler could probably DH for this team. And he’s been dead for nearly 30 years!

Phillies 3, Mets 0: Oswalt dominated the Mets, shutting them out on 113 pitches. Given that everyone on the Mets knows that they’re basically playing for nothing the rest of the way you can probably expect to see more of this sort of thing between now and October 3rd.

Brewers
2, Cubs 0
: Yovani Gallardo shut the Cubbies out for seven and the pen
took it the rest of the way in another listless performance from the
losing team. Maybe the Mets and Cubs really just wanted to watch the late NFL games?

Rangers 4, Yankees 1: Cliff Lee just sent a message to the Yankees that (a) they don’t want any part of him in a short playoff series; and (b) they’re going to have to unload the Brinks truck to sign him this winter. 8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER. The Rangers swept the Yankees, though New York somehow continues to hold on to their lead in the East. I reserve the right to change my mind between now and this afternoon, but I think for the first time this year we’re going to have our first non-AL East team leading the Power Rankings when they come out today.

Red Sox 5, Athletics 3: Beckett beats Braden, in a matchup of two guys who haven’t mattered a whole heck of a lot this season since, oh, mid-May.

Astros 7, Dodgers 4: Houston and L.A. split four. Oh, and John Lindsey got his first major league hit. A single to left, pinch hitting for Ronald Belisario. He’s the only reason to root for the Dodgers as the season winds down.

Marlins 6, Nationals 5: Mike Stanton bangs two out the yard as the Feesh sweep the Gnats. Their season series is over too, with Florida beating Washington 13-5.

Cardinals 7, Braves 3: This Pujols fella? Yeah, he can play a little bit (2 for 5, 2 HR). But hey, at least with dumb old football on opposite this one at least no one was watching it, right?

Joe Maddon is on the hottest of hot seats

Getty Images
1 Comment

Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic have written a fantastically revealing article about the 2019 Chicago Cubs.

The story, on the surface anyway, might be confused for one of those pre-Opening Day team philosophy pieces in which a bunch of players and executives talk about how they need to “go about their business” a better way, focus on the little things and all of that common, cliche-driven material. And yes, there is a fair amount of that in there.

But the larger arc of it is more revealing than that. The whole thing reads like a warning shot from the front office toward the players and coaching staff, with Joe Maddon standing out as a particular subject of rebuke. Indeed, it’s hard to read the thing without believing that, absent a super fast start and a return to championship form, Maddon is gonna be fired this year.

The article has been shared on social media a lot since going live yesterday, and most of that sharing has focused on little things like the Cubs wanting players to eat less fast food this year and batting practice being mandatory a certain number of days a week. But it’s bigger than that. The article doesn’t contain any incendiary quotes or veiled threats, but it seems pretty clear that Maddon is taking blame for the team not being focused in the past.

Part of that comes from the structure of it. The idea here is that the 2018 season ended badly and that, in the offseason, the front office made a point to talk to the players. Theo Epstein talking to Jason Heyward in the batting cage after everyone else has gone home for the offseason. Epstein, Jed Hoyer and other front office officials visiting Jon Lester at his home in Georgia. Epstein and Hoyer going to Anthony Rizzo‘s wedding in Florida. There’s a lot of talk from all of them about hatching the new forward-looking philosophy but everything from Maddon comes from past quotes or quotes given in reaction to the new philosophy. It seems clear that the front office and the players are on the same page and that Maddon is kinda going along for the ride with it, even if he’s saying all the right things.

As far as the substance of the new 2019 philosophy goes, there is a lot of stuff couched in terms of “here’s a good thing we’re going to start doing this year” that come off like criticisms of Maddon for not doing them in the past.

For example, there is talk about how Maddon plans to talk to players and coach more which are hard to read, in context, as anything other than criticism of him being removed or aloof before. They plan to give players lineups several days in advance, characterized as a means of helping them plan, but there is reference to the sense that they were pressing to impress Maddon and not be written out of the lineup in the past. There’s stuff about how the players are “coddled” with clubhouse amenities and how Maddon’s office was too far away from them and how he talked to the press too much and to the players too little. Again, not explicitly stated as a current criticism but, rather, couched in terms of a “here are good things we’re going to do now.” It’s clear, though, that the unspoken idea is “. . . and we should’ve done it differently before.”

When put together with other things in the article — things like (a) Maddon not getting a contract extension and thus being a lame duck; (b) top executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer making a point to travel with the team more on road trips and show up more in the clubhouse at Wrigley; and (c) a Theo Epstein/Jon Lester-driven narrative that makes references to both the Chicken and Beer and Bobby Valentine-era Red Sox — it all puts one in mind of the late Terry Francona-era Boston Red Sox. To be sure, it’s reported and stated much more more artfully than that. This is not an anonymously-source hit piece driven by a Sox chairman or VP with an axe to grind or anything. It’s a good article. But it makes one think that a message is being sent to and/or about Joe Maddon, even if it’s being sent more subtly than the kind of message you might’ve seen sent in, say, the Boston Globe back in the day.

No matter what you think of it all, it strikes me that Maddon is on the hottest of seats right now and that, if and when he’s fired, this article will stand in hindsight as a pretty obvious harbinger of it.