Max Scherzer give up zero earned runs, gets ripped for it

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Max Scherzer pitched against the Mets yesterday. He was very good. He allowed zero earned runs. He struck out eight guys. His offense, however, was virtually helpless against Bartolo Colon and his defense was poor. As a result, an ill-timed walk (which came as a the result of a questionable ball two call) and maybe the only sharply-hit ball of the day by a Mets hitter led to a couple of runs. Scherzer took the loss even though he was effective and, at times, dominant. That happens in baseball.

But Thom Loverro of the Washington Times either does not understand or does not care that, on occasion, the outcome of a game can largely be out of the starting pitcher’s hands. After acknowledging that there was bad defense and that the Nats’ bats were silent, he says:

But the difference maker in a game like this is supposed to be Scherzer. That’s what great pitching does — erases miscues and not allow the big hit when they need it . . . Great pitching is supposed to overcome all. The guy on the mound with the ball still has control of the game . . . Max Scherzer pitched well. And he will likely be in control and dominate on the mound as part of this great Washington Nationals pitching staff.

But on Monday, Bartolo Colon pitched better. That can’t happen.

May as well just give up on the season now. And, perhaps, explore legal remedies against Scherzer for theft as a result of that big contract he signed.

Seriously, though, I know that many of you will say that Thom Loverro is not worth paying attention to. That it’s not even worth anyone’s time. Maybe not, in and of itself. But as a new season dawns, I feel it is necessary to note that, while any given column may be dumb, it and others like it are what form the basis of sports discourse. Loverro and many of his columny counterparts double as talk radio hosts. This kind of dumbness feeds that chatter. That chatter, eventually, starts to seep into even the less-dumb columns and takes from the local sporting scene (e.g. references in stories and interviews to “some people are saying  . . .” etc.) It’s not a perfect echo chamber of course, but it is an echo chamber. Eventually, a non-trivial number of fans buy this garbage. Which makes even talking about sports with people in bars and at work a monstrous pain.

A big reason I criticize stuff like this is because I simply won’t surrender to the notion that sports are so unimportant that there’s no harm in sports journalism being bad. Bull. We’ve all seen great sports journalism. We know how edifying and enjoyable it can be. We know how, at times, it can even enhance our enjoyment of the game itself by its very existence. Not everything has to read like Roger Angell, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t at least aim higher.

But I also criticize such things because I hate that so much conversation about sports is dumb and that, as noted above, so many of the conversations we have about sports become monstrous pains. I’d love to sit down in a bar in Washington and have someone say “Scherzer pitched well, but the defense stunk and stuff happens, ya know?” Then move on to other, less-dumb things. We should all want that.

Every other part of media is subject to media criticism, often by dedicated media critics, which everyone accepts. Sports journalism should not be singularly immune. And for that reason, I will continue to point out and critique stuff like this when I see it.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.