And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Phillies 3, Reds 2: Aroldis Chapman is usually automatic. But he surrendered back-to-back bombs to the murderers row that is Erik Kratz and Freddy Galvis as the Philly walked off Cincinnati. Heck, the inning started with Chapman walking Delmon Young on four straight pitches, so you know he wasn’t on it yesterday. And Cliff Lee probably needs to buy Galvis dinner: Lees pinch ran for Young and was caught stealing. If he hadn’t, Kratz’s homer wold have been enough. Galvis saved his bacon.

Cardinals 4, Brewers 2: The Cardinals beat old friend Kyle Lohse for the third straight time. After the game said “Baseball is a stupid game. Baseball is weird, man.” They should have sent a poet.

Rangers 11, Tigers 8: Three homers, five driven in and a 4 for 4 night for Miguel Cabrera are still not enough for the Tigers to beat Texas. The Rangers rapped 18 hits, scoring five runs of Doug Fister and six off the bullpen. Four driven in for David Murphy. I was back and forth into this game all evening as I did and watched other things. It seemed to last eleventeen hours.

Red Sox 5, Twins 1: This one featured a three-hour rain delay during which the fans who stayed got to see the movie “The Sandlot” in its entirety on the video board. Secondary game highlights included a nice start from John Lackey and homers from Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks.

Pirates 1, Astros 0: Jeff Locke shut out the Astros for seven innings. A solo shot from Pedro Alvarez in the fifth was all Pittsburgh needed. This one was the anti-Tigers-Rangers game, as it was done in a cool two hours and twenty-four minutes.

Rays 3, Orioles 1: I knew Matt Moore had pitched a great game the moment I learned that my girlfriend inadvertently left him on the bench on her fantasy team. There was much cursing and such. Moore’s seven strong innings ups him to 8-0 on the year.

Indians 6, Mariners 0: Justin Masterson struck out 11 in seven shutout innings and Cleveland roughed up Felix Hernandez for six runs (five earned) in five innings. The Tribe has won 17 of 21 and now lead the AL Central by two games.

Marlins 2, Diamondbacks 1: Ricky Nolasco adds to the parade of nice starts yesterday, striking out 11 in eight innings and helping the Marlins end their seven-game losing streak.

Mets 4, Cubs 3: When I was writing the Rangers recap I accidentally wrote “Daniel Murphy” instead of “David Murphy.” I would have likely left that mistake up there had I not looked at the box score of this one and been reminded that Daniel plays for the Mets and David for Texas. I think I’ve made that mistake a half dozen times in the past couple of years. Anyway, here Daniel batted leadoff and hit the tie-breaking homer in the eighth. The Mets won their first series at Wrigley in six years.

Rockies 5, Giants 0: Barry Zito being relatively good recently has probably made some forget how much of a disaster he was for several years. Putting him in Coors Field is a helpful reminder. Zito was touched for five runs on 11 hits in five and two-thirds. The Giants have lost five of six. Their rotation has gotten bombed lately and now has the third worst rotation ERA in the NL.

Padres 13, Nationals 4: Speaking of beat up starters, Dan Haren surrendered seven runs in five innings and overall the Padres did a Gashouse Gorillas conga line around the bases against Nats pitching getting the series split.

Braves 5, Dodgers 2: This game featured two hours of rain delays and the Dodgers bullpen failing to hold a lead for Matt Magill, who allowed only one unearned run in five innings. Atlanta didn’t hit a homer, which is kinda rare for them in a win.

Athletics 4, Royals 3: The Royals skid continues — they’ve lost ten of their last thirteen games and have sunk back to .500 — as Oakland sweeps ’em. Yoenis Cespedes singled and scored and hit a homer.

Angels 6, White Sox 2: Jake Peavy walked guys with the bases loaded twice. He walked five in all and allowed four runs on four hits. Which is weird because when you see a guy walk the bases loaded once, let along twice, it feels like he’s giving up, like, a dozen runs no matter what. Or maybe that’s just some weird hangup of mine about bases loaded walks.

Blue Jays vs. Yankees: POSTPONED: All at sea again. And now my hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain. To bathe me again. My ship’s a sail. Can you hear its tender frame? Screaming from beneath the waves. Screaming from beneath the waves. All hands on deck at dawn. Sailing to sadder shores. Your port in my heavy storms. Harbours the blackest thoughts. I’m at sea again. And now your hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain.

Goose Gossage, Pete Rose and “unwatchable baseball”

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There are a lot of things that, in my view and in the view of many others, are suboptimal in today’s game.

You’ve either heard me go on about them in the past year or two or you’ve heard others go on about them, but a short, non-exclusive list includes the view that there are too many home runs and strikeouts now, bullpen use has changed the nature of the game in less-than-great ways, and the game-going and sometimes merely game-viewing experience has become prohibitively expensive for some and annoying in many respects to everyone, to the point where it has become a barrier to even enjoying the product in the first place.

While I never hesitate to make my views known on these matters, I also acknowledge that I do not have a monopoly on wisdom with respect to them. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said about all of these issues — both in support and in pushing back against my views on them — to further the discussion. Baseball has been around a long time, it changes more often than our nostalgic view of its history suggests, and all of us have our blind spots. The only way to deal with that stuff is to talk more about it, to add more voices to the conversation and, perhaps most importantly, to accept that we’re never gonna settle on anything definitive. One person’s ideal game is one person’s “unwatchable” game and it has always been thus.

Are there are limits to who we should talk to about all of this, though? For example, do we really need to know what Goose Gossage and Pete Rose have to add to this conversation? Bob Nightengale of USA Today thinks so. Here’s Gossage:

“I can’t watch these games anymore. It’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it’s all gone. It’s like a video game now. It’s home run derby with their (expletive) launch angle every night.”

Rose:

“It’s home run derby every night, and if that’s what they want, that’s what they’re going to get. But they have to understand something … Home runs are up. Strikeouts are up. But attendance is down. I didn’t go to Harvard or one of those Ivy League schools, but that’s not a good thing.”

As a matter of editorial philosophy I question whether it ever makes sense to ask Goose Gossage and Pete Rose about anything that is not specifically about Goose Gossage or Pete Rose and even then I’d exercise caution. Gossage has spent the last ten years as every writer’s go-to for easy quotes hating on anything that has happened in baseball since 1988. Rose, in addition to being a loathsome human being who is banned from the game, is also one of those dudes who thinks his generation and his generation alone Played the Game the Right Way. The less we hear from them on this stuff the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet, they’re not wrong.

At least they’re not wrong as far as what they’re saying above. That’s how frickin’ messed up baseball is right now. Even Goose Gossage and Pete Rose are on my side of the matter. It’s enough to make a guy sit down and take stock, ya know? At least it’s enough to make me want to be more specific and objective about what it is that bugs me about the game today, so as not to lazily fall into an “everything is new sucks” stance, which I suspect is what animates these two particular stopped clocks.

I think it helps to break it all down into two categories, which lead to very different conversations. One category is the aesthetics of baseball. The other is the structure of baseball.

On the aesthetic side we’re dealing with how any given game plays out. How, on any given night, it seems, that we have nearly a dozen 14-7 games in which the bat boy, or someone quite like him, hits three homers while also taking the mound and striking out 14 guys but somehow getting the loss anyway, with the game ending a crisp four hours and sixteen minutes after the first pitch. This is a slog. It has a lot to do with the juiced ball and the manner in which both hitters and pitchers have been selected for thanks to analytical trends, changes in the strike zone and all of that.

On the structural side we’re talking about the business, economics and leadership of the game and how it has led to a situation in which multiple teams are tanking — telling their fans that, at best, they’ll be competitive two or three out of every ten years — while fielding a roster of players who would have at least a moderate fight on their hands to ensure first place in the International League. This while still charging ridiculous prices for tickets, concessions, and parking while making the games harder and harder to watch on TV without paying for premium cable plans. Nightengale notes that attendance is down something like 800,000 overall so far this year, coming off last year’s 15-year low in attendance. None of this is an accident, of course. When you tell fans you’re not going to try to win while giving them no other incentive to come to the park, you’re going to have fewer fans coming to the park.

As I said, these are two different areas of complaint. I’m open to the idea that my aesthetic distaste for what’s going on in baseball right now is merely my opinion. I’m a middle aged guy and, even if I work extra hard to not be some nostalgic, sentimental simpleton, I’m not immune from falling into that trap of “everything was better when I was 12.” I probably do that more than I care to admit. I don’t think I’m alone in hating the juiced ball game right now, but I also have to nod in deference to people who love it, as I’m sure there are many.

Where I start to become less “it’s all good, everyone’s opinion is valid” about all of this, though, is when observe that a lot of the aesthetic stuff is a direct product of the structural stuff.

  • We have home run fests because we have a lot of guys pitching who have no business being out there but are because a lot of teams are tanking. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because a non-trivial number of teams aren’t interested in competing;
  • We have home run fests because the ball is juiced. MLB denied this for a while and then when it became undeniable they accepted it and claimed it was an accident but now it’s gone on so long it’s an accident that they seem to have no interest in fixing whatsoever. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because of a juiced ball;
  • We have a legion of high-velocity strikeout pitchers because that’s who front offices have all, almost uniformly, decided to favor, and it’s been helped along by a redefinition of the strike zone — there is no wide strike anymore — that has made control or finesse pitching close to impossible. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because of a lack of creativity and a lack of latitude to be creative when it comes to talent development;
  • We have front offices who see no incentive to be creative when it comes to talent development because — thanks to baseball revenues being substantially detached from winning baseball games — there is no upside to going against the prevalent orthodoxy and/or taking any financial risks. And with that, we go back up to bullet point number one.

Again, it’s OK to like the current state of baseball. It’s OK to presume that some of us — be it Goose Gossage, Pete Rose or me — are turned off by it to some extent because we’re just crotchety old dudes who hate change. But it’s fair to say that, like most change in baseball, it has not been exclusively organic. Like most change it is the product, at least in part, of a change in circumstances and incentives. Though, in this case, that change is not necessarily benign. It’s driven by a bottom-line mentality that, while always present in baseball, has far more of an impact on the game on the field than it has in a very, very long time because it’s a bottom-line mentality that can afford to be indifferent about the winning and losing of baseball games.

Maybe history will prove me to be a crank when it comes to this stuff. But I feel like it’s worth examining the roots of the aesthetic issues in baseball via reference to what led to them. If it’s garbage-in, is that which comes out not garbage?