Final thoughts on the NLCS and our first peek ahead to the World Series

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We’re going to have plenty of time between now and Wednesday night to break down the Rangers vs. the Giants. For now, some general impressions and observations, both of last night’s NLCS clincher and the upcoming World Series:

  • Jonathan Sanchez’s third inning meltdown in which he walked Placido Polanco, plunked Chase Utley and then sparked the little pushing shoving thing may have been the best thing that happened to the Giants all night. Sanchez can be good, but when he’s bad, he’s really bad, and he looked bad last night. If he doesn’t lose his head like he did, maybe Bochy leaves him in. But he was obviously rattled, and replacing him with Affeldt, Bumgarner and Lopez ended up being the key to the game. The Phillies couldn’t touch ’em;
  • Ryan Howard’s  final strikeout is going to stick in Philly fans’ craws all winter. The fact that his $125 million extension doesn’t kick in until [gulp] 2012 is going to stick in it even longer;
  • I didn’t have a strong rooting interest here, but as I watched each game of the NLCS I definitely found myself pulling for the Giants. As a result, I was happy that they won Game 6. The only real downside to it: no Game 7 tonight. Because remember, no matter who you’re rooting for, more baseball is always better than less baseball;
  • The storylines to this World Series are many, but the one I like the best so far is that Bengie Molina may very well be in line to collect a World Series share no matter who wins. He was beloved by his Giants teammates before the trade, and it’s common for someone to get their postseason cut even if they left the team before the season ended. Maybe there’s a rule against it here. Maybe Molina will just give it to charity anyway. Still: very cool. Or at least it will be until Buck and McCarver start beating it into the ground once the Series starts;
  • You’re going to hear a lot about the low TV ratings this World Series is going to bring in the coming days. And it may bring low ratings. I don’t care and if you care at all about baseball, neither should you. Warrant and Creed sold more albums than the Pixies and Pavement ever did and the popularity of the former doesn’t diminish the greatness of the latter in any way. This is an evenly matched series pitting two teams with a bevy of interesting and exciting players against one another, many of whom aren’t all that well-known by the general public. If people don’t watch, that’s their loss. Besides, many of the same people who will be wringing their hands over the ratings are the same people who wring their hands over the Yankees or the Red Sox being in it all the time. Some people complain about everything;
  • As for the series — which, again, we’ll certainly be breaking it down more in the coming days — I’m left with a strong first impression that the Rangers are going to take it. They have the best pitcher going in Cliff Lee, the much, much better offense and the better defense as well. Predicting baseball is a sucker’s game so I won’t do it, but I think Texas looks decidedly stronger;

I guess the last question is whether I and other non-partisans will develop a rooting interest here. Like I said above, both teams are likable, so in some ways I’m just rooting hard for baseball here in a way I probably haven’t for several years. Really, I pick some reason to either love or hate a World Series team every year. For example, last year I rooted for the Phillies because I can’t bring myself to root for the Yankees in any situation. In 2007 it was the Rockies because to hell with Red Sox Nation. In 2006 it was the Tigers because of ancient Tigers DNA in the recesses of my body and my distaste for Tony La Russa. You get the idea.

Here, though, I can’t identify a strong reason to pull for either team over the other. I’m willing to take arguments in either direction.

Max Muncy and Matt Beaty step on Rhys Hoskins’ ankle on consecutive plays

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In the 10th inning of Game 4 of the NLCS last year, infielder Manny Machado — then with the Dodgers — stepped on the foot of Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar. Aguilar, understandably, wasn’t happy about that and both teams’ benches spilled onto the field. It was a continuation of a tumultuous series for Machado, who was also vilified for not hustling and sliding hard into Orlando Arcia twice. The Machado-Aguilar dust-up served as a referendum on Machado’s character until he finally signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres.

Recently, Machado criticized the analysts on MLB Network for holding double standards. Dan Plesac and Eric Byrnes argued with Greg Amsinger about the Jake Marisnick collision at home plate with catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Amsinger felt Marisnick was in the wrong; Plesac and Byrnes defended Marisnick. On Instagram, Machado said if he had been the one who bulldozed Lucroy, Plesac and Byrnes wouldn’t have defended him, in part because he is Latino. Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Jones said earlier this year that Machado would “one hundred percent” be treated differently if he were white.

With that context in mind, something interesting happened in the fourth inning of Thursday afternoon’s game between the Dodgers and Phillies. Leading off the top of the fourth inning against Aaron Nola, Max Muncy grounded out to shortstop Jean Segura. As Muncy crossed the first base bag, he stepped on first baseman Rhys Hoskins‘ ankle. On the next play, Matt Beaty beat out an infield single hit to third baseman Maikel Franco, shifted up the middle. As Beaty crossed the first base bag ahead of the throw, he tripped over Hoskins’ ankle. MLB.com hasn’t posted video of the incidents yet, but here’s a look at both plays from @jomboy_ on Twitter:

We rarely see runners tripping over the feet of first basemen, but here we have it happening on back-to-back plays. Hoskins’ footwork around the bag was textbook given the situations. The commentators on the exclusive YouTube broadcast gave the runners the benefit of the doubt. Other than that, there has surprisingly been little discussion of these plays. A July 18 game isn’t exactly Game 4 of the NLCS, but look at how much conversation the Marisnick-Lucroy play generated and that was less than two weeks ago. These plays deserve a “Was it dirty?” conversation.

One wonders what the conversation would have looked like if it had been black or Latino runners stepping on Hoskins’ ankle on back-to-back plays. Would they have gotten the immediate benefit of the doubt like Muncy and Beaty? Would malicious intent have been ascribed to them instead? That, really, is Machado’s point about the double-standard applied to non-white players. It doesn’t excuse any of his obviously terrible behavior, but if we’re going to criticize players for bad behavior, we should do so evenly and fairly. Muncy and Beaty deserve criticism for their poor, sloppy, dangerous base running. Frankly, Major League Baseball should consider fines and/or suspensions. Machado was fined for stepping on Aguilar.