J.J. Hardy: the best shortstop in baseball?

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I didn’t see this, but reliable correspondents tell me that Billy Ripken was on MLB Network a few minutes ago and said that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in baseball. The general idea was that he was reliable and played every day and “started the 6-4-3 double play.” Which, man, if he didn’t do that he’d be fired for not carrying out his job responsibilities. Or at least would get written up by his supervisor.

But I’m not sure on what planet that makes him the best in the game. He’s reliable and sure-handed and has some pop, but I think I’d take Troy Tulowitzki, Andrelton Simmons, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and maybe a couple of others over him. Long term his teammate Manny Machado is a better bet at shortstop than Hardy is.

Which isn’t to slight Hardy. Just to say that this is the flipside of that stuff I talked about with Alfonso Soriano yesterday. Just as we seem to have a hard time talking about some players without being negative due to things like contracts and expectations, there are some players we can’t seem to praise without going crazy and talking about them in terms that are wild exaggerations. Ask Michael Young — also a very good player — who has been talked up as the best or one of the best far too much. Doesn’t take away from what he is, but certainly distorts the conversation about him.

Is it a TV thing? Are you trained as an analyst to say extreme things like “J.J. Hardy is the best shortstop in baseball” because saying “J.J. Hardy is good and solid” is considered too boring? Is this just an ex-ballplayer thing? I dunno. But I feel like we have a tremendous difficulty, overall, properly assessing most ballplayers due to a tendency to say some are the best ever and some are the worst ever while ignoring the fact that the vast, vast majority of ballplayers fit in neither category.

Brewers on the brink of their first pennant in 36 years

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A series that had swung back and forth twice already swung back in Milwaukee’s favor last night with a convincing win. That it was convincing — it was not at all close after the second inning — is a key factor heading into today, as Craig Counsell has his bullpen set up nicely to shorten the game if his Brewers can get an early lead.

Josh Hader — who, if you are unaware, has not allowed a run and has struck out 12 batters in seven innings of postseason work — did not pitch yesterday or in Game 5. As such, he’s had three full days off. Given that this is a win or go home day and, if they win, he’s guaranteed two more days off before the World Series, he’s good for two innings and could very well go for three. That’s not what you want if you’re the Dodgers.

But it gets worse. Jeremy Jeffress pitched last night but it was only one pretty easy inning, so he could go two if he has to. Corey Knebel pitched an inning and two-thirds but he could probably give Counsell an inning of work if need be. Joakim Soria didn’t pitch at all yesterday. Between those guys and the less important relievers, all of whom save Brandon Woodruff are all pretty fresh, the Dodgers aren’t going to have any easy marks.

But the thing is: Counsell may not need to go that deep given that Jhoulys Chacin, their best starter of the postseason, gets the start. So, yes, in light of that, you have to like the Brewers’ chances tonight, and that’s before you realize that the home crowd is going to be louder than hell.

Not that the Dodgers are going to roll over — it’ll be all hands on deck for them with every pitcher except for Hyun-Jim Ryu available, you figure — but if they’re going to repeat as NL champs, they’re going to have to earn it either by bloodying Chacin’s nose early and neutralizing the threat of facing Hader and company with a lead, or by marching through the teeth of the Brewers bullpen and coming out alive on the other side.
NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Breakdown:

The most important part of this breakdown — the stuff about the Brewers’ pen — has already been said and, I presume anyway, the starters here will have the shortest of leashes. Chacin’s will be longer, as he has not allowed a run over 10 and a third innings in his first two postseason starts, making him the Brewers’ defacto ace. Every inning he goes tonight makes things much, much harder for the Dodgers once he’s gone as it means Milwaukee will be able to rely more and more on Hader and Jeffress, so the Dodgers had best get to him early.

Buehler has come up weak so far this postseason, having allowed nine runs in 12 innings, including surrendering four runs on six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory. Still, it’s not hard to remember how dominating he was in the second half of the season. If that Buehler shows up and can keep things close, we’ll have a ballgame. If L.A. finds itself in an early hole once again, theirs will be the tallest of orders.