Looking ahead to a full slate of division series action today

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Four games, two possible eliminations. Let’s see what the playoffs have in store for us today:

Cardinals vs. Nationals, 1:07 PM, MLB Network

The Nats and Cards split in St. Louis and now play a best of three in Washington, which will host its first playoff game since 1933.  The back-from-the-dead Chris Carpenter faces off against Edwin Jackson, whose last posteason win came in the 2011 NLDS for the Cardinals. The Cards offense exploded in Game 2, and Jackson needs to stop them or else the “why did they shut down Stephen Strasburg?” chorus will grow even louder.

Giants vs. Reds, 4:07 PM, TBS

An extra innings win last night was nice, but the Giants still have their backs up against the wall, facing elimination. They are also facing an offensive drought, having scored a mere four runs in three games while hitting .126. Barry Zito takes the hill for San Francisco. And if anyone says they would have predicted that he, rather than Tim Lincecum, would be the go-to guy in an elimination game, they’re lying like a cheap rug. With Johnny Cueto out, the identity of the Reds starter is still up in the air. It could be Mike Leake or Mat Latos.

Orioles vs. Yankees, 7:37 PM, TBS

This one has the feel of a series that is going to go all five, with each team beating the other’s brains out. The Yankees have the presumed pitching advantage here, with Hiroki Kuroda — perhaps their most reliable starter all year — facing off against Miguel Gonzalez. Of course, thanks to the New York media narrative, all eyes will be on and most announcer words will be about Alex Rodriguez, who has struggled mightily of late. Never mind that the entire team has struggled to some degree — Rodriguez didn’t strand all ten of those baserunners himself on Monday night — but that’s how it is when A-Rod is involved.

Tigers vs. Athletics, 9:37 PM, TBS

Speaking of cold bats, the Tigers have them now, as the A’s pitchers carved them up last night, cutting Detroit’s series lead to 2-1. A.J. Griffin will take the ball in the do-or-die game for Oakland. The very-banged-up-but-now-allegedly-healthy Max Scherzer goes for the Tigers. If he is on, the A’s may be in trouble. Scherzer’s second half performance was the stuff of aces. The last time we saw Griffin pitch, he was digging a hole for his teammates in game 162 against the Rangers.  If he does that again, he can’t count on being bailed out like he was last time. The rookie has pitched a lot more innings this year than he expected to, and he may be running out of gas.

Get your snacks ready and watch baseball all day long. I doubt your spouse or your boss will mind one bit. Tell them I said it’s cool.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.