Orioles pick Joe Saunders as Wild Card playoff game starter

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UPDATE: Sure enough, the Orioles just announced that they’re going with Saunders over Johnson against the Rangers. Showalter indicated that Johnson’s knee injury played a factor in the decision.

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Yu Darvish will start the Wild Card playoff game for the Rangers, but the Orioles remain undecided on who they’ll have on the mound. Or at least manager Buck Showalter hasn’t made his choice public yet.

It will either be left-hander Joe Saunders, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks on August 26, or right-hander Steve Johnson, a 25-year-old rookie who made just four regular season starts.

Based on experience and track record Saunders would be the obvious pick and he’s pitched pretty well since joining the Orioles with a 3.63 ERA and 23/8 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. On the other hand the Rangers are a very right-handed heavy lineup aside from Josh Hamilton and led the league in OPS versus left-handed pitching. Not surprisingly Saunders has pretty brutal career numbers versus Texas.

Johnson was excellent in 38 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, posting a 2.11 ERA and 46/18 K/BB ratio, but he’s been dealing with some knee problems and … well, trusting an unheralded rookie with four career starts in the team’s first playoff game in 15 years would certainly be a gutsy call by Showalter.

White Sox to extend protective netting to the foul poles

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Recently two more fans suffered serious injuries as the result of hard-hit foul balls at major league games. One of those fans was hurt at a White Sox game at Guaranteed Rate Field earlier this month. In response, the White Sox have taken it upon themselves to do that which Major League Baseball will not require and extend protective netting. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The White Sox and Illinois Sports Facilities Authority are planning to extend the protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field down the lines to the foul poles, according to a source.

Exact details will be announced later, but the changes will be made as soon as possible this season.

If recent history holds, they will not be the last team to do it.

Major League Baseball has taken a laissez-faire approach to protective netting over the past several years, requiring nothing even if it has made recommendations to teams to do something. The last time it made a suggestion was in December 2015 when teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate. In the wake of that recommendation only a few teams immediately extended their netting, primarily because if you ask a business to do something but say it is not required to do anything, it is not likely to do anything.

It would not be until September 2017, after a baby girl was severely injured at Yankee Stadium, that the rest of baseball was inspired to extend protective netting in keeping with MLB’s recommendations. Indeed, it was a land rush, with all 30 teams extending their netting by Opening Day 2018. While a generous interpretation would have everyone seeing the light simultaneously, my slightly more experienced eye saw it as a “don’t be the only team not to have extended netting by the time the next lawsuit hits” approach.

In the wake of the two recent injuries Major League Baseball issued a statement about how it “will keep examining” the matter of additional protective netting while, again, mandating nothing. Now that the White Sox are extending netting to the foul poles, however,  it’s not hard to imagine a situation in which other teams follow suit. Sooner or later, enough will likely have done so to create critical mass and make any team which has not done so to make the effort out of self-preservation.

Or, more generously, good sense.