And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Major League Baseball celebrated Otherwise Good Teams Get Shut Out Night last night. It was quite festive.

Marlins 9, Nationals 0: Look, maybe this will start a conversation no one thinks we’d ever have about an ace pitcher on a first place team, but maybe the Nationals should consider shutting Stephen Strasburg down (5 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER). That’s five straight losses for the Nats. Ricky Nolasco with the five-hit shutout.

Pirates 9, Cardinals 0: Pedro Alvarez hit two homers and drove in four. James McDonald pitched fantastically and the Cardinals were accused on the very pages of this blog of being “dipwads.”  Can’t say I disagree with that.

Rangers 1, Rays 0: Yu Darvish struck out ten over seven innings. The game’s only run came on an Ian Kinselr homer in the fourth.

Orioles 6, White Sox 0: Chris Tillman handled seven innings and Brian Matusz, relief pitcher, took it home for the final two. A Nick Markakis bases-clearing double in the second was all Baltimore would need. But they got three more anyway.

Braves 2, Padres 0: Overall the Padres aren’t an “otherwise good team” this year, but they certainly have been lately, so they fit Theme Night. Kris Medlen now has a scoreless innings streak of 28 and two-thirds. He’s easily Atlanta’s best starter right now, which is nothing anyone truly expected before the season started. Heck it was nothing anyone expected in late July. Oh, and he has a music video too. Nice muscles, Dan Uggla.

Athletics 7, Indians 0: This one doesn’t count as part of Theme Night, because they stink, but it is worth noting that the Indians haven’t scored in 22 innings and haven’t scored in 45 of their last 48 innings. They’ve lost 12 of 13. There are three teams with worse records than Cleveland, but really no one who feels as miserable as they do, day-in, day-out.  The A’s, meanwhile are rolling and stay atop the wild card standings, winners of 10 of 12.

Angels 6, Red Sox 5: What in the hell were you doing, Bobby Valentine?

Royals 9, Tigers 8: Wow, I would not have called “the Royals are gonna rock Justin Verlander for eight runs on 12 hits in five and two-thirds” if you gave me any odds on the planet. Just not what you want happening on a night when your division rivals lose and your ace is on the hill.

Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1: Phil Hughes allowed one run over seven innings. Rickey Romero lost his 11th straight, but at least this time he didn’t get shelled. Rafael Soriano locked down the save one day after he blew one in major fashion. Then he sat and held forth with the media about the great issues of the day. Quite the raconteur he is when he wants to be.

Brewers 4, Cubs 1: Jeff Bianchi hit a three-run homer early and that’s all the Brewers needed. OK, I’ll grant that the Cubs may feel as bad as Cleveland.

Mets 9, Phillies 5: Wait, I thought it was the Mets who were the ones who typically gave up 3+ runs in extra innings. So confusing. B.J. Rosenberg broke the heck down in the 10th, allowing an RBI double, an RBI single and a two-run homer. Kelly Shoppach hit the bomb and earlier drove in another with a double.

Mariners 5, Twins 2: Three driven in for Dustin Ackley on a homer. Hisashi Iwakuma allowed only one run — zero earned — in six. Then he handed it over to the capable hands of Oliver Perez. OK, Ollie only threw eight pitches so it didn’t matter. I just can’t get over the fact that he’s in the big leagues again.

Giants 3, Astros 2: The Giants were down 2-1 heading into the ninth, but it was rally time. Brandon Belt singled, Joaquin Arias doubled him in and then Hector Sanchez singled in Arias.

Rockies 8, Dodgers 4: All kinds of bad news. Another bad loss to the Rockies and, worse, the loss of Matt Kemp to a knee contusion and possible jaw problem. Wilin Rosario went 3 for 4 with a homer and three driven in. I bet you there are only, like, a dozen people outside Colorado who know that guy has 22 homers and his slugging .500.

Reds 5, Diamondbacks 2: Johnny Cueto wins his 17th, allowing two runs over seven.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

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It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.