Dodgers squandered plenty of opportunities against the Braves

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Despite making it close, the Dodgers had plenty of opportunities to score but came up empty plenty of times following Hanley Ramirez’s RBI double in the first inning. They couldn’t get the big hit against Braves starter Mike Minor from the second through the sixth innings, nor relievers Luis Ayala or Luis Avilan in the seventh.

Second inning: Juan Uribe lead-off single followed up by Skip Schumaker grounding into a 4-6-3 double play.

Third inning: Carl Crawford lead-off single followed up by Mark Ellis grounding into a 6-4-3 double play.

Fourth inning: Adrian Gonzalez lead-off single, followed by three consecutive unproductive outs.

Fifth inning: Nothing

Sixth inning: Hanley Ramirez one-out double, advances to third on Yasiel Puig’s infield single, but does not score.

Seventh inning: Skip Schumaker leads off with an infield single, then advances to second on a sacrifice bunt. Michael Young reaches on another infield single. Carl Crawford ends the threat by grounding into a 1-6-3 double play against reliever Luis Avilan.

Ninth inning: A.J. Ellis draws a one-out walk. Dee Gordon pinch-runs for him and immediately attempts to steal second base, but is thrown out by catcher Gerald Laird. To Gordon’s credit, replays showed that second base umpire Bill Miller got the call wrong.

Manager Don Mattingly made things worse in the bottom of the seventh being too mindful of the platoon advantage. With two Braves runners on first and second with two outs, Jose Constanza came to the plate to pinch-hit for Avilan. Constanza finished the regular season with a .516 OPS, not exactly the type of hitter you fear in a big spot. Nevertheless, Mattingly came out to the mound to replace right-handed reliever Chris Withrow with lefty Paco Rodriguez for the platoon advantage. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez countered by pinch-hitting Reed Johnson for Constanza. Mattingly countered by intentionally walking Johnson to bring up Jason Heyward — yes, Jason Heyward — for the platoon advantage. Heyward worked the count to 2-0 in his favor, took a slider for a strike, then drove a second slider back up the middle for a two-run single to put the Braves up 4-1. Bad managing strikes again.

This is not to take anything away from Braves starter Mike Minor, who made pitches when he had to and wasn’t hit particularly hard. Nor is this to take away from the Braves’ bullpen as Avilan made a heck of a play to start that double play in the top half of the seventh and Craig Kimbrel was his usual dominant self. But the Dodgers were their own worst enemy tonight and now send the NLDS to Los Angeles knotted at 1-1.

Something needs to change to avoid future incidents like Machado-vs.-Welke

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that Padres third baseman Manny Machado was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for “aggressively arguing” and making contact with home plate umpire Bill Welke after a controversial strike three call in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rockies in Colorado. The clip of the incident is below, showing that Welke’s call was poor. Machado’s behavior was also poor, as he indeed made contact — inadvertently or not — with Welke and repeatedly swore at him. Machado also threw his bat, though it was not in anyone’s direction and no one was put in harm’s way.

Machado chose to appeal his suspension, as is his right. While that matter is in the process of being resolved, the Major League Umpires Association put out a lengthy statement on Facebook and a shorter but hashtag-laden post on Twitter. The statements were problematic for a number of reasons, chiefest being that the union is publicly commenting on an ongoing matter. MLB can keep Machado’s suspension at one game, which seems likely, or it can reduce his suspension to zero games. The league can also choose to reduce or remove the fine as well. Once the matter is resolved, the MLBUA should feel free to comment publicly on the matter.

MLBUA’s statement was also poorly proofread, hyperbolic, and creates a very legitimate argument for bias against Machado and/or the Padres going forward. The MLBUA described Machado as “violently” throwing his bat “with no regard to anyone’s safety.” It continued, “It is NOT okay to throw a temper tantrum and physically touch someone of authority, just because you don’t agree.”

MLBUA then moralized, asking, “What does this teach the MLB’s immense and ongoing influential youth movement trying to attract young fans to the game? Major League Baseball has to always lead by example in all cases of violent behavior, on and off the field.” It closed out, saying that the union was “extraordinarily disappointed” in MLB’s “inaction.”

Among the hashtags MLBUA used on Twitter were “#TemperTantrum,” “#RepeatOffender,” and “#Nonsense.”

Major League Baseball then released a statement on Tuesday night, saying, “…we do not believe it is appropriate for the union representing Major League Umpires to comment on the discipline of players represented by the Players Association.” The league added, “We also believe it is inappropriate to compare this incident to the extraordinarily serious issue of workplace violence.”

Whoever put out the message on behalf of the MLBUA should have asked themselves, “What is my purpose here and for whom am I posting this?” The entire purpose of a trade union is to create a cohesive unit, establishing bargaining power on behalf of labor versus capital. So, MLBUA is not writing this for fans, for players, or for MLB executives; it is publicly commenting for umpires. An ancillary benefit might be to engender public support for umpires vis-a-vis Welke.

It must then ask itself if the statement creates solidarity among umpires. And I think that’s a solid no. Machado is not the first player and will not be the last to make contact with an umpire and to throw a “temper tantrum” of that magnitude. So why single Machado out and die on this hill today? I would be shocked if more than a handful of umpires outside of Welke and his closest confidantes appreciated the MLBUA reacting the way it did. It doesn’t help them achieve any union-specific goals and might actually hurt them. Repeatedly referring to Machado’s actions as a “temper tantrum” and “nonsense,” and calling him a “repeat offender” is unprofessional. It’s something an Internet commenter would write in the heat of the moment, not the representative of a trade union in one of the most profitable industries in the country. Furthermore, in singling out Machado, Machado himself as well as his teammates have a legitimate reason to believe Welke and his crew might be biased against them not just for the remainder of the season but for the foreseeable future.

On a more pedantic note, the MLBUA wrote that it is not okay for players to act the way Machado did against “someone of authority.” It’s not the power that should shield umpires from workplace violence; it’s their humanity. Machado should no more or less scream and yell at an umpire than he should anyone else in any walk of life. However you rank umpires, coaches, front office executives, teammates, opponents, fans, etc. — they should all be treated equally.

All of this being said, there was one part of MLBUA’s statement that rang true. As mentioned, Welke did suffer violence in the workplace. I disagree with MLB that the comparison was inappropriate. There is nuance to what constitutes “workplace violence.” Is it a mass shooting? Of course not. But in no other employment setting would it be appropriate for one person to scream, curse, and throw items across the room during a disagreement. The union correctly wrote, “Physical contact simply cannot be tolerated.” The crux of all of this is that Major League Baseball doesn’t discourage altercations between umpires and players/coaches. Things have gotten better since the implementation of instant replay, but some instances — especially ball/strike judgment — can turn into very heated altercations.

MLB needs a flat rule instructing players and coaches not to argue with umpires. The team of the offending person(s) would incur an in-game penalty as well as a potential fine and suspension. In exchange for this loss of power on the part of players and coaches, the umpires should be subject to actual oversight. As it stands, umpires are almost never punished in any way for any kind of behavior towards players and coaches, nor are they often punished for poor results in terms of correct calls made. The umpires already have the advantage with their authority; their lack of oversight puts that advantage on steroids, which is why there’s often so much frustration. Umpires instigate confrontations a non-negligible amount of the time. If they felt like they would actually be held accountable for it, they might be much more reluctant to act, for example, the way Ron Kulpa did towards the Astros in early April.

MLBUA helped gain that power imbalance for its members, so it isn’t likely to give it up very easily. I don’t see my utopian dream coming to fruition anytime soon. But that’s the crux of every umpire-involved confrontation: authority. Umpires and players/coaches need to be on a level playing field in that regard, and the rules need to be crystal clear on what kind of behavior is allowed from both sides. Until that happens, we’ll be seeing a Machado-vs.-Welke incident once or twice every year ad infinitum.